Sept 12, London: Rejecting the calls from some parliament members to boycott the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Sri Lanka in November, the British government has affirmed that the Prime Minister will attend the summit since "it is the right thing for the Commonwealth."
During the debate on human rights in the Commonwealth at the House of Commons Wednesday several members citing Sri Lanka's poor human rights record, objected to the British Government's decision to attend the summit in Colombo.
However the British Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Hugo Swire addressing the issue said the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary and he have decided to attend the meeting taking with them a clear message to the Sri Lankan government.
"That is the right thing for the Commonwealth-an organization we strongly support-which has a positive role to play in promoting freedom, democracy and human rights," Swire said.
"We will take with us to Colombo a clear message that the British Government have given consistently in this Parliament, in the UN human rights council and in our contacts with the Sri Lankan Government: Sri Lanka must make progress on human rights, reconciliation and a political settlement," Swire stressed.
He pointed out that at CHOGM in Trinidad and Tobago in 2009, Sri Lanka offered to host CHOGM in 2011 but the Heads of Government decided not to accept the offer and decided that Australia should host CHOGM in Perth in 2011 and Sri Lanka should host in 2013.
The decision was reaffirmed in Perth and there was no widespread support among the Heads of Government for a change of location, the Minister of State pointed out.
A key test of Sri Lanka's progress will be the Northern Provincial Council elections on 21 September, Swire told the House and added that the government is pleased that Sri Lanka had taken a positive step forward and invited the Commonwealth and the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation have been invited to observe the elections.
He said the UK and others in the Commonwealth share the strong concerns expressed by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay after her visit to Sri Lanka last month.
The British Minister of State said the CHOGM will focus attention sharply on the work yet to be done to achieve the aims that the Sri Lankan Government themselves have agreed in follow-up to the report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC).
"It will allow Commonwealth Governments to understand better the problems still affecting Sri Lanka and consider what support they, and the Commonwealth collectively, can offer," Swire noted.
He said the UK also has concerns about media and non-governmental organization's freedom at CHOGM and have pressed the Sri Lankan Government to allow unhindered access. He added that Under Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Alistair Burt will reiterate that message when he visits Sri Lanka in October.
Full text of the debate on Sri Lanka can be found here.