Commonwealth of Nations

Dipika Rangasami,

Correspondent (Asia- South)


COLOMBO — The Sri Lankan government was the subject of criticism from the global community over its human rights crisis as it hosted the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2013 (CHOGM) earlier this month.

The conference, held in Colombo, marked a controversial but strategic move by the Sri Lankan President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, to secure diplomatic ties and draw in investment, despite  his government facing several allegations of human rights abuse and war crimes committed during the civil war.

The week-long affair saw heads of states including British Prime Minister David Cameron and his Australian counterpart, Tony Abbott, who were present among discussions and developments, which unfolded as per the event’s theme: “Growth with equity, inclusive development.”

Many attendees, including Prime Minister Abbott, who spoke in the opening ceremony as the outgoing CHOGM chair, refrained from criticising the host government’s human rights situation and instead placed a focus on seeking positive and productive outcomes. The British Prime Minister, however, spoke directly to address the allegations of war crimes, having visited and met with the locals of an affected region of Jaffna in northern Sri Lanka.


Prime Minister Cameron held a forceful position, calling on Rajapaksa’s government to recognise the claims and take appropriate action or face an international inquiry by the UN as a consequence. The British Prime Minister recognised the efforts by the Sri Lankan government in hosting the conference as a means to employ ways to strengthen the nation’s post-conflict growth. However, he addressed the efforts by stating, “We do that not by gliding over the difficult issues, the human rights issues, journalistic freedom issues, reconciliation.”

The Human Rights organisation Amnesty International also raised concern regarding the nation’s dismal human rights record. Speaking in Colombo, Steve Crawshaw, Director of the Office of the Secretary General at Amnesty International, criticised the efforts made by Rajapaksa, calling them: “A PR disaster for the government.” He further stated, “Those responsible for past violations, including war crimes, must be held accountable and ongoing human rights violations stopped irrespective of rank; victims and survivors must see justice done. The past week has provided clear examples of the government’s repressive tactics.” Crawshaw also addressed the need for the international community to maintain pressure on the Sri Lankan government on human rights matters.

Despite a significant turnout, the conference was actively boycotted by some Commonwealth Heads of States, including those from Canada, Mauritius and India, over the prevailing issues of war crimes and human rights violations, echoing a global concern over the Sri Lankan government’s actions.

Image Courtesy: Umakanth Jaffna, Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported; Applysense, Released into the public domain | Wiki Commons