Oct 17, London: The members of the House of Lords of the British parliament on Thursday pounded on Sri Lanka's human rights issues during the debate on the future of the Commonwealth, in light of Sri Lanka hosting the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in November.
Lord Richard Luce introducing the debate said Sri Lanka's human rights record in recent times has been disappointing and the UK government has made it clear that it expects to see at CHOGM concrete progress on human rights, judicial independence, free and fair regional elections and proper access and freedom of movement for civil society and the media.
He said the reputation of the Commonwealth is at stake although the Commonwealth has been active in working for reconciliation and improvements in human rights in Sri Lanka.
Lord David Chidgey of Liberal Democrat party said despite the charter's intention to strengthen the Commonwealth, the controversy over Sri Lanka hosting this year's CHOGM while claims of war crimes committed against the Tamil Tigers remain unresolved threatens to undermine the Commonwealth's fundamental values.
Reminding that Prime Minister of Canada, responding to the large Tamil community in his country has decided to boycott CHOGM in Sri Lanka, Lord Chidgey told the assembly that there is a much larger Tamil population in southern India and If India were to similarly respond to the Tamil population in that country it could have a far greater influence.
Conservative Party member Lord Brooke said how the Sri Lankans play their hand matters more than the views of the rest of the Commonwealth, although the UK will have clues as to the sensible way it would deal.
Labor Party member Lord Wills, who was severely critical of the Sri Lankan government, accused Commonwealth of not always vigorously enforcing the strong, clear values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
Citing the unauthenticated reports of the British TV Channel 4, Lord Wills said the Sri Lankan Government host this meeting having made scant effort to secure accountability for the appalling atrocities committed by their forces in the brutal civil war, graphically documented by the UN and by the Channel 4 film which showed the deliberate targeting of hospitals by heavy artillery, deliberate denial of food and medicine to civilians in the no-fire zone and summary executions of civilians.
"Despite considerable international pressure on them to mend their ways, the Sri Lanka Government continue to target journalists and human rights activists. There are well substantiated reports of enforced disappearances, and the Government orchestrated the impeachment of the Chief Justice after she ruled against the Government in a key case," he said.
He asked the Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office Baroness Warsi how long the British government will continue to make representations if the Sri Lankan Government continues to refuse to show greater commitment to the Commonwealth values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law before the government (UK) concludes that they have failed to make any progress.
"What damage does the Minister think will be done to the credibility of the Commonwealth when those strong, clear values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law are being flouted in the country which is the next Commonwealth chair-in-office?" he asked.
Lord Hannay of Chiswick said the holding of the next meeting in Sri Lanka will certainly not strengthen Commonwealth's credibility, but "we should persevere in the effort in the medium and long term."
Conservative Lord Moynihan said world's media is increasingly focusing on the question of why the Sri Lankan Government have not yet independently or credibly investigated the allegations of war crimes; why there continues regrettably to be a lack of accountability for human rights violations; why the concerns of UN human rights chief Navi Pillay have not been addressed in full; and why political intervention with the media and judiciary go far beyond the norms of acceptability.
He pointed out that all member countries of the Commonwealth this year adopted the Commonwealth Charter, which sets out for the first time in a single document the Commonwealth's core values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law and the Charter commits its leaders to uphold those values.
"If, in year one of the existence of the charter, Sri Lanka does not recognise that the brick that has been removed from the base of the Commonwealth edifice by the decision of the Canadian Prime Minister may not be the last one,… and that the organisation is structured on values, any further "tinkering" or "inconsistency" by Commonwealth leaders…will not number among the last steps taken.
"If Sri Lanka does not recognise these realities, it is blind to its own destiny," he said.
He said it is critical that the values of the Commonwealth, which are under scrutiny, are brought under the international spotlight and that the Government of Sri Lanka are encouraged to respond positively.
"Now is the time for stronger diplomatic intervention by Commonwealth leaders and a determined response by the Sri Lankan Government," he said.
Referring to a statement made by Si Lanka's Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella that Prime Minister Harper's decision not to go to CHOGM in Sri Lanka is "a lone battle", Lord Moynihan said in fact, the lone battle is that being waged by the Sri Lankan Government.
However, speaking against a boycott, Lord Moynihan said at this time the answer is a "protracted and absolutely necessary process of diplomacy" and engagement, not isolation.
"We owe that to the wider world of the Commonwealth, and we owe it to the young people and the athletes of the Commonwealth, including those from Sri Lanka, who will be gathering in Glasgow for the Commonwealth Games next year. These issues must be resolved by politicians and diplomats, and must not lead to the easy resort of some politicians to call for sporting boycotts."