Press Sri Lanka on rights, Commonwealth countries told

New York


Government leaders should press Colombo to take credible steps to demonstrate respect for "Commonwealth values" of human rights and accountability during the Commonwealth summit in Sri Lanka, Human Rights Watch said Thursday.

The meeting will be held Nov 15-17.

Commonwealth members should support the call by the UN high commissioner for human rights for an independent international investigation into violations of international law during Sri Lanka's civil war.

British Prime Minister David Cameron endorsed an international investigation if Sri Lanka fails to conduct its own impartial inquiry.

"The world will be watching to see if Commonwealth leaders speak out for the victims of abuses or stay silent on behalf of the summit's host," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

"The Commonwealth risks its credibility as an international forum if it doesn't publicly press Sri Lanka on its rights record and the lack of accountability for wartime atrocities."

The Heads of Government Meeting brings together the heads of the 53 member countries of the Commonwealth of Nations to discuss a range of issues.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada and Prime Minister Navin Chandra Ramgoolam of Mauritius each decided not attend the meeting because of Sri Lanka's human rights record.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India, facing domestic pressure not to attend the summit, announced Nov 10 that he would not attend.

Summit participants should publicly raise the failure of the Sri Lankan government to provide accountability for abuses during Sri Lanka's civil war and the deteriorating human rights situation in the country, Human Rights Watch said.

There has been no serious government investigation into the numerous violations of international law during the nearly three-decade-long conflict that ended with the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in May 2009.

Abuses by both sides, including repeated shellings of hospitals, resulted in the deaths of up to 40,000 civilians in the final months of the fighting. Some 6,000 cases of enforced disappearances remained unaccounted for.

Despite pledges by President Mahinda Rajapaksa to the UN secretary-general to conduct investigations, and recommendations to do so by the government's Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, there has yet to be any significant progress.

Canada as well as the US has called for an international investigation should Sri Lanka fail to conduct its own impartial inquiry. - IANS