News / Asia

Some Boycott Sri Lanka Commonwealth Meeting

Some Boycott Sri Lanka Commonwealth Meetingi
November 12, 2013 12:22 AM
The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting gets underway in Sri Lanka on Friday. Critics say the organization - which has its roots in the former British Empire - should not hold its summit in Colombo because of allegations of human rights abuses by Sri Lankan government forces. And they warn the Commonwealth risks losing relevance if it fails to confront the issue. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Henry Ridgwell
The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting gets underway Friday in Sri Lanka.  Critics say Colombo should not host the summit because of widespread allegations of human rights abuses by Sri Lankan government forces.  Those ciritcs warn the Commonwealth, which has its roots in the former British empire, risks losing relevance if it fails to confront the issue.  

Human rights groups allege up to 40,000 civilians were killed in 2009 as Sri Lankan government forces waged a final assault against ethnic Tamil separatists.  The battle ended the three-decade long war against the Tamil Tiger militants, but at a huge cost, says Yolanda Foster of Amnesty International.

“We are talking about deliberate shelling of civilians, targeting of hospitals; and the U.N. described these violations as a grave assault on international law," said Foster.

The war may be over, but Foster says allegations of human rights abuses continue to emerge from Sri Lanka.

“We receive reports of enforced disappearances, attacks on journalists, and there is also rampant custodial torture in the country," she said.

Sri Lanka’s government has strongly denied the claims of human rights abuses.  

But the allegations prompted Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to boycott the heads of government meeting.  Indian officials say Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has also decided not to attend.
Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron says Sri Lanka has serious questions to answer - but he did not accede to demands to pull out of the summit.

The decision to hold the biennial meeting in Colombo was a long process, says Richard Uku of the Commonwealth Secretariat, the coordinating body of the organization.

“That decision is made by the Commonwealth leaders, the heads themselves.  And they took that decision.  They considered it three times in 2007, in 2009 they considered it favorably, and they confirmed that when they met in Perth in 2011," said Uku.

Campaigners say the Commonwealth must tackle allegations of abuses by its members head-on, or else risk sliding into irrelevancy.  Again, Yolanda Foster of Amnesty International.

 “The Commonwealth has a set of human rights principles enshrined in its charter in the Harare declaration, and Sri Lanka is trampling on some of these very important Commonwealth principles," she said.

Last month Gambia announced it was withdrawing from the Commonwealth, saying it was a ‘neo-colonialist institution’. The decision was criticized by human rights groups.

Richard Uku denies there is a crisis in the Commonwealth, and says 62 years after it was founded, the organization retains great relevance.

 “We are a voice for small states and vulnerable states at international forums where many of these small countries do not often have an opportunity to make their concerns heard," he said.

This year Britain’s Prince Charles will represent his mother the Queen in Sri Lanka.  The 87-year-old monarch is head of the Commonwealth and observers say her diplomatic skills have held the organization together during the past six decades.

You May Like

Beijing Warns US on S. China Sea Patrols

Warning follows news reports Thursday that US military is planning to sail warships close to artificial islands Beijing has been aggressively building More

Indian PM Calls for Unity Amid Tense Climate Over Beef Attacks

Recent series of beef-related incidents seen as signs of rising intolerance toward Muslims and other religious minorities More

Why These Are New York City's Most Treasured Spaces

Under threat of jail time and fines, some New York property owners are not allowed to renovate their spaces without prior approval More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Steve K from: USA
November 11, 2013 3:28 PM
Wasn't the tamils were brought in by English to work in tea plantations? This is a another problem left by colonists
In Response

by: Anthony from: USA
November 12, 2013 5:15 PM
Many Sinhalese rebelled against British rule and were not in favor of learning English thus Tamils got higher positions and they worked well with British against Sinhalese. Once Sri Lanka gained independence, tables were turned and Tamils were marginalized so you can say Briton had a hand in the mess in Sri Lanka. Of course India is responsible for helping LTTE though India paid a heavy price for that blunder.
In Response

by: Piker from: NZ
November 12, 2013 2:40 AM
There are 2 groups of Tamils in SL. A group that has lived in Northern SL for around 1000 yrs.and a 2nd group that were brought in by the British to work on the Tea Plantations. The British choice for the better jobs were 1st themselves, 2nd anyone who was white, next the mixed races and then the Tamils. Any jobs left were handed to the Sinhalese.
In Response

by: Brian Fernando. from: Colombo
November 11, 2013 5:34 PM
No Steve K, you got it wrong, Tamils were living in Sri Lanka. Tamils held higher positions than the Majority Sinhala race in the British Administration. When the British left the Island it gave the administration to the Majority race.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdrawsi
Jim Malone
October 09, 2015 12:32 AM
The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

VOA Blogs