“So far Canada’s campaign to move CHOGM away from Sri Lanka has met with little success. Britain’s Conservative government has been critical of Rajapaksa but won’t support changing the conference venue. Australia has turned a blind eye to the continuing tragedy in Sri Lanka, apparently so it can justify returning Tamil boatpeople to their home country. And what of New Zealand? Our Government seems to be keeping as quiet as possible,” writes Keith Locke, former Green MP, in an opinion article published in The Dominion Post on Friday.
Excerpts from Keith Locke’s article follow:
“Holding CHOGM in Colombo will make a mockery of the charter just developed by the Commonwealth and signed in March by the head of the Commonwealth, Queen Elizabeth.
“This charter commits Commonwealth leaders to democracy, human rights, tolerance, freedom of expression, good governance and the rule of law – none of which are respected by the Rajapaksa government.
“To make matters worse, Sri Lanka’s president, as the CHOGM host, will become chair of the Commonwealth for the two years until the heads of state next meet.
“So far Canada’s campaign to move CHOGM away from Sri Lanka has met with little success.
“Britain’s Conservative government has been critical of Rajapaksa but won’t support changing the conference venue.
“Australia has turned a blind eye to the continuing tragedy in Sri Lanka, apparently so it can justify returning Tamil boatpeople to their home country.
“And what of New Zealand?
“Our Government seems to be keeping as quiet as possible.
“It is not as if the New Zealand Government is ignorant of the dire human rights issues in Sri Lanka. I was a member of Parliament’s foreign affairs, defence and trade select committee when, in 2009 and 2010, it was briefed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
“We were told about difficult conditions in the internment camps for Tamils and the limitations on access by international aid organisations; the absence of a political reconciliation process; and the danger to democracy following the arrest of Rajapaksa’s opponent in the February 2010 election, General Sarath Fonseka.
“Since then Rajapaksa has strengthened his grip on power, supported by his brother, Gotabhaya, who is defence secretary; another brother, Basil, who is economic development minister; and a fourth brother, Chamal, who is Speaker.
“Amnesty International, in its latest report on April 30 said the "violent repression and the consolidation of political power go hand in hand" and "there is a real climate of fear in Sri Lanka, with those brave enough to speak out against the government often having to suffer badly for it".
“The reputation of both New Zealand and the Commonwealth is at stake here. New Zealand rightly challenges abuses of democracy in our region – such as in Fiji (which has been suspended from the Commonwealth). But we can be accused of a double standard if at the same time we allow the Commonwealth to be chaired for the next two years by a president who refuses any accountability for the deaths of so many innocent civilians in his country’s civil war and who is governing in an increasingly authoritarian manner. ”