Colombo Telegraph

Sri Lanka And The Commonwealth: ‘Britain Must Take A Stand’ – Tamils For Labour

David Cameron should be clear about the progress Sri Lanka needed to make before confirming his attendance at CHOGM, says UK based Tamils for Labour.

Issuing a statement today Tamils for Labour urges all parliamentarians and Labour members to call for the boycott of CHOGM and to continue to prevail upon the British Government and all members of the Commonwealth the need to ensure accountability, justice, reconciliation and lasting peace in Sri Lanka.

We publish below the statement in full;

“I am deeply concerned that Sri Lanka, despite the opportunity provided by the end of the war to construct a new vibrant, all-embracing state, is showing signs of heading in an increasingly authoritarian direction.”

David Cameron

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has given a damning critique of the ground realities in Sri Lanka.

Speaking at the end of her visit to the country in August, she expressed her grave concerns regarding the “curtailment or denial of personal freedoms and human rights […] persistent impunity and the failure of the rule of law.”

The human rights of all people on the island are under threat. Tamils are treated as second class citizens, with Tamil areas militarised. Attacks on Muslim individuals, businesses, and cultural practices are on the increase. Unarmed Sinhalese protestors, campaigning against the contamination of a local water supply, were shot dead by Government forces in the town of Weliweriya last month. Not even high office can protect you – Sri Lankaʼs Chief Justice was illegally impeached and removed from her position in January for having the audacity to question the actions of President Rajapaksaʼs regime.

Four and a half years on from the end of the brutal armed conflict, what hope is there for justice, reconciliation and sustainable peace?

In such circumstances, how can Sri Lanka be the host of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in November? The British Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary should not attend. Human rights and challenging the culture of impunity must take precedence over trade considerations. The statement made by Ms Pillay demonstrates that the Sri Lankan Government is abusing the rights of its people. Sri Lankaʼs wilful violation of its international obligations can be seen in its failure to uphold many of the core principles enshrined within the new Commonwealth Charter. It is astonishing to think that a Government accused of complicity in war crimes and the perpetration of on-going human rights abuses will, as host of CHOGM, take over the Chair of the Commonwealth for two years, with the right to sit on the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group – a body mandated to deal with serious and persistent violations of the Commonwealthʼs fundamental political values.

As Douglas Alexander rightly stated earlier this year, David Cameron should be clear about the progress Sri Lanka needed to make before confirming his attendance at CHOGM. After all, the Canadian Prime Minister has stated that he wonʼt attend without significant and substantial signs of human rights improvement.

However, no definable benchmarks have been laid down by this Government and the consequences threatened by Nick Clegg if Sri Lanka ignored its international commitments in the lead up to CHOGM have failed to materialise.

In 2009, it was a Labour Government which successfully campaigned to defer CHOGM in Sri Lanka, so as to act as an incentive to improve the human rights and political situation. This weak and rudderless foreign policy of the current British Government can only encourage President Rajapaksa.

His regimeʼs actions must be repudiated, however holding such a prestigious event in Sri Lanka would amount to an endorsement. CHOGM 2013 is a watershed moment for the Commonwealth and the credibility of British foreign policy. Given that the Labour Party is the only party with a principled and consistent position on Sri Lanka, Tamils for Labour urges all parliamentarians and Labour members to call for the boycott of CHOGM and to continue to prevail upon the British Government and all members of the Commonwealth the need to ensure accountability, justice, reconciliation and lasting peace in Sri Lanka.

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