Sri Lanka rejects commonwealth criticism

April 30, 2013 at 12:04 AM
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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, April 30 (UPI) -- Sri Lanka's external affairs minister hit back at criticism over the country being chosen to host the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in November.

External Affairs Minister Gamini Lakshman Peiris said the government has made great strides regarding reconciliation since 2009 when it overcame Tamil separatists after a civil war lasting more than 25 years.

The Sri Lankan regular army defeated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam -- the Tamil Tigers -- who were fighting a guerrilla campaign to create an independent Tamil state called Tamil Eelam in northeastern areas of the island.

Peiris said choosing Sri Lanka for November's four-day meeting shows commonwealth countries back Sri Lanka and its "strong leadership" that overcame terrorism, a report by the Daily News said.

Sri Lanka as the venue "is all the more satisfying because of the large resources at the command of the forces opposed to Sri Lanka," Peiris said.

Peiris never mentioned any disapproving country by name but his comments come after Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird expressed disquiet over the choice of Sri Lanka.

In an interview with the BBC, Baird said Sri Lanka lacks fundamental Commonwealth values of "freedom, democracy, human rights, the rule of law and good governance."

There has been "little, if any, accountability since the war ended" and "no meaningful attempt at reconciliation with the Tamil population. If anything it's getting worse," Baird said.

"Canada finds it appalling that the government in Colombo would be given the honor and the privilege and responsibility of hosting commonwealth leaders."

Human rights group, freedom of speech organizations and the United Nations have been critical over the years of how both sides in the conflict treated civilians.

Just before the war ended in 2009, U.N. High Commissioner of Human Rights Navi Pillay said the number of civilian deaths was "truly shocking" and it could reach "catastrophic" levels.

As many as 100,000 people are thought to have been killed in the civil war.

Since war's end in 2009 tensions remained high during attempts to integrate Tamils into mainstream national life.

In February 2012 Sri Lanka's military appointed a five-member Court of Inquiry to look into civilian deaths allegedly at the hands of the army during the civil war.

Peiris, in the Daily News article, said some countries continue to send money that would have gone to buy weapons to organizations whose goal is to destabilize Sri Lanka.

He said the Sri Lankan public should "rally round the government to hold anti-national elements at bay and to consolidate the fruits of a hard-won victory."

In April 2011 Peiris defended his government's war, saying a U.N. Panel of Experts report, based on 10 months of work could rekindle nationalistic flames and destroy trust on all sides.

"Among other deficiencies, the report is based on patently biased material which is presented without any verification," Peiris said at the time.

Sri Lanka remains a dangerous place for journalists reporting on sensitive political issues, ranking 162nd out of 179 countries, the 2013 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders said.

In March Reporters Without Borders said state-owned Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corp. is censoring retransmissions of the BBC's Tamil-language broadcasts.

Censorship started March 16, a day after the start of the U.N. Human Rights Council's latest session, which is looking at the issue of war crimes in Sri Lanka.

"Those responsible for this censorship are also directly undermining the national reconciliation process," Reporters Without Borders said in a statement with the press freedom group Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka.

Reconciliation "has already been weakened by arbitrary control of news and information and by violence targeting journalists who try to cover this process."

Every two years, commonwealth leaders from 54 countries of the former British Empire meet to discuss global and commonwealth issues and agree on collective policies and initiatives.

Issues include international peace and security, democracy, sustainable development, debt management, education, environment, human rights and trade.

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