CMAG should shift venue says HRW

A senior Commonwealth advisory group should  recommend the organization shift the venue of its November 2013 Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) from Sri Lanka unless the government makes prompt, measurable, and meaningful progress on human rights, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said today.

The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), a grouping of Commonwealth leaders that addresses “serious or persistent violations” of the Commonwealth’s fundamental political values, including human rights, will meet in London tomorrow (April 26).

HRW says the Sri Lankan government under President Mahinda Rajapaksa has taken no meaningful steps to address serious abuses by government forces in the final months of the armed conflict with the LTTE in 2009, during which the United Nations (UN) has estimated that up to 40,000 civilians died.

“The Commonwealth will rightly face international ridicule if it goes ahead with its summit in Sri Lanka,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The CMAG meeting should send a message to the Sri Lankan government that the scale and severity of its abuses violate the Commonwealth’s core values and will not be rewarded.”

On March 14, the Canadian government confirmed that Prime Minister Stephen Harper will not attend CHOGM in November unless the Sri Lankan government makes progress on human rights and judicial independence. On April 2, India’s Shipping Minister, G.K. Vasa, citing concerns about the rights of Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority population, urged Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to demand that CHOGM be relocated from Sri Lanka to an alternate location. The Commonwealth Lawyers’ Association, Commonwealth Legal Education Association, and Commonwealth Magistrates’ and Judges’ Association issued a resolution on April 15 which stated that allowing the Sri Lankan government to host CHOGM would “call into grave question the value, credibility and future of the Commonwealth.”

However, a spokesman for Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma told reporters on March 26 that CMAG members, which include Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Jamaica, Maldives, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Trinidad and Tobago, and Vanuatu, would not discuss relocating CHOGM from Sri Lanka. The spokesman defended the decision by stating that CMAG “is not the first option of action” in dealing with human rights abuses of member states.

In addition to hosting the 2013 Commonwealth summit, Sri Lanka will hold the chairmanship of the Commonwealth from 2013 to 2015, undermining the credibility of the Commonwealth on human rights matters, Human Rights Watch said.

“The Commonwealth needs to have the courage of its convictions and its values and inform the Sri Lankan government that its rights record makes it ineligible to host the 2013 CHOGM,” Adams said. “To allow Sri Lanka to host the summit without rapid improvements would be to reward an abusive government with an undeserved badge of international acceptance.” (Colombo Gazette)