Exclusive: David Miliband and Sir Malcolm Rifkind call on the Commonwealth Secretariat to stop Sri Lanka from hosting its heads of government meeting because of the country’s poor human rights record.
David Miliband, Labour’s former foreign secretary, described as "grotesque" the notion of the Queen attending the meeting as head of the Commonwealth, if it is to be hosted by what he called a repressive regime, fast "moving towards pariah status".
Speaking exclusively to Channel 4 News, former Conservative foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind likened it to Pretoria hostingthis November’s heads of government meeting (CHOGM) while South Africa was under apartheid.
Sri Lanka, some of whose leaders face allegations of war crimes and whose increasingly authoritarian government is accused of persistent and serious human rights abuse, would assume chairmanship of the Commonwealth during the CHOGM.
Channel 4 News twice requested an interview with Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma, a former Indian diplomat, to respond to the growing disquiet. A spokesman said he did not want to let "the Sri Lanka issue" overshadow events in Commonwealth week, which started on Monday.
The secretary general pointedly ignored a question on Sri Lanka when approached in person by Channel 4 News at a Royal Commonwealth Society banquet on Sunday night.
‘Mistake’ for Sri Lanka to host
"I think it’s a mistake for Sri Lanka to be invited to host the heads of government meeting," Sir Malcolm told Channel 4 News. "The present Sri Lankan government has done very little to address the human rights issues; tens of thousands are still displaced; there has been no political reform, the rule of law has been traduced – the chief justice was recently sacked – and there’s not been any independent investigation into what was probably the mass murder of Sri Lankan Tamils."
This "Sri Lanka issue" is known to be an area of concern to the foreign and commonwealth office, which, in a statement to Channel 4 News, said it was yet to decide whether it would boycott the CHOGM in November.
Sri Lanka has breached the most fundamental aspect of democracy, namely the separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary. Geoffrey Robertson QC
"The host for each Commonwealth summit should embody our shared values, including respect for human rights and democracy," the statement read, adding that human rights in Sri Lanka were a matter of concern.
The Queen will on Monday night sign a new Commonwealth charter which commits member states to respect for democracy and the protection of human rights.
The charter lists democracy, human rights, freedom of expression, judicial independence, rule of law and good governance among the "shared values" it seeks to promote. Sri Lanka’s record in all of these areas has been questioned at the highest level.