The heads of Commonwealth governments should not attend the 2013 Commonwealth summit in Sri Lanka in November because of the government’s unwillingness to address ongoing human rights concerns, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to the 54 heads of Commonwealth countries. Those governments deciding to attend should send a low-level delegation as a public message of dissatisfaction.
During a visit to Sri Lanka in August, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, expressed grave concerns about lack of accountability, unresolved enforced disappearances, and decreasing fundamental freedoms, among other issues.
"The Sri Lankan government should be shunned – not rewarded – for failing to hold anyone accountable for war crimes during the country’s recent conflict," said Brad Adams, Asia director. "Attending a summit in Sri Lanka so soon after the UN rights chief decried a worsening situation sends the wrong message to the government and to victims seeking justice." Since the end of the country’s civil armed conflict in May 2009, the human rights record under the administration of President Mahinda Rajapaksa has remained poor. The government has become increasingly authoritarian, attacking the independence of the judiciary and severely limiting the space for public criticism by the media and human rights groups. Despite credible allegations by both the UN Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts and the government’s own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) of numerous wartime abuses by both sides, the government has undertaken no serious investigations or prosecutions. The Panel of Experts estimated that as many as 40,000 civilians died in the final months of the war. The Sri Lankan government’s unwillingness to address these concerns resulted in the UN Human Rights Council adoption of a resolution in March 2013 calling on Sri Lanka to implement the many recommendations made by the LLRC. Since the resolution, the Sri Lankan government has made many pronouncements about adopting the recommendations, but has demonstrated little genuine progress in implementation. "Holding the summit in Sri Lanka casts serious doubts on the Commonwealth’s stated commitment to supporting human rights and democratic reform," Adams said. "Instead of participating in a propaganda coup for the Sri Lankan government, Commonwealth heads of government should stay home and publicly press Sri Lanka on its repressive policies and lack of accountability."