Why Cameron and Hague should cancel their round trip to Colombo

November 8, 2013 9:05 am

Next week the northern beaches of Sri Lanka will welcome planeloads of tourists on exclusive holidays replete with swaying palm trees and white sand. At the same time, over 50 world leaders will gather in the capital, Colombo, for the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). This will signal the start of Sri Lanka’s chair of the Commonwealth.

The Commonwealth Shared Values Charter was signed in March by the Queen. This enshrines the core values and principles of the Commonwealth, including democracy; human rights; tolerance, respect and understanding; freedom of expression and good governance. Sri Lanka will have a lot to live up to.

It’s not all cocktails in coconut shells in Sri Lanka. President Mahindra Rajapaksa is personally accused of war crimes. In his effort to finally crush the Tamil Tigers, the 26 year civil war ended with 40,000 dead civilians. 12,000 disappearances, more than any other country bar Iraq. This includes opponents of the government, journalists and activists. In its role as Commonwealth Chair Sri Lanka would be responsible for addressing the human rights of other member states. I could see the irony if it wasn’t so chilling and tragically sad.

President Rajapaksa

Next week President Rajapaksa will shake hands with 50 world leaders; the ultimate legitimizing photo opportunity for the atrocities he has perpetrated.  Perhaps it is no coincidence that the Queen has bowed out of CHOGM; Prince Charles will be attending in her stead.  The meeting has also been boycotted by Canada because there has been no improvement in human rights. Oh, and the fact that the President unlawfully sacked his chief justice Shirani Bandaranayake on charges of misconduct – contravening the Commonwealth charter enshrining judiciary independence.  Her real crime? Not agreeing with the government. The Commonwealth Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional. Yet only Canada stands strong, deciding a boycott makes a bold stand against Sri Lanka’s human rights violations. Bravo.

Should David Cameron attend? According to Douglas Alexander, no.

The Shadow Foreign Secretary has called for Cameron to show real leadership and reverse his decision to go.  This would show the Sri Lankan government that Britain will not support the violation of human rights.  You can sign an online petition here.

If Cameron and Hague aren’t convinced by Amnesty International’s reports of Sri Lanka’s appalling record on human rights or Grim Reaper demonstrations in London this weekend, I urge them to watch Callum Macrea’s powerful film ‘No Fire Zone’. It documents the final months of the Sri Lankan civil war in a shocking exposé of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The feature film is the result of three years of in depth investigative journalism with personal stories and eyewitness accounts of the atrocities. The government insists this video evidence has been faked, and it has been banned in Malaysia and Nepal after pressure from Sri Lankan authorities. All the more reason to watch.

Nick Clegg has promised that during the Commonwealth summit the UK Government will be highlighting the abuses that have taken place, and continue to happen, in Sri Lanka. How? Polite conversation over canapés is not only not good enough, it’s downright shameful.  And it could be a real missed opportunity for the UK Government to make a strong statement of leadership against war crimes and human rights abuse. What is missing from the UK government is a proper strategic action plan to protect human rights defenders and to prevent Sri Lanka chairing the Commonwealth for the next two years. Unless the UK are prepared to call for an international investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity, committed by the Sri Lankan government, Cameron and Hague should put down the coconut cocktails and cancel their round trip tickets to Colombo.

  • treborc

    I totally agree with this and nobody who has a decent bone in their body would want to be shaking the hands of this tyrant. Sadly the only one who have decided that torture is enough to stop them going is Canada well done.

    This countries human rights violations is a disgrace and for anyone to take a conference to this place, just shows that we will accept it the rape and attacks on young women and girls is well documented.

    But of course this does not really matter does it.

Latest

  • Comment The Living Wage has to be more than a photo op

    The Living Wage has to be more than a photo op

    The referendum on Scottish independence casts its shadow over every aspect of Scottish public life these days. This is understandable, the debate on whether Scotland should remain in Union with partners in England, Northern Ireland and Wales is a huge one, but the way it pervades every matter at Holyrood is doing a disservice to the people of Scotland. Yesterday I led a debate on behalf on Scottish Labour in support of the living wage, and specifically on extending it […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Who made my clothes?

    Who made my clothes?

    By Stella Creasy MP and Alison McGovern MP It’s been a long four years in opposition, and each year we’ve seen the country decline further for the lack of a Labour Government. But whether speaking up about legal loan sharks, the misuse of zero hours contracts or promoting the economic case for the living wage, we both believe that there are campaigns worth fighting, even if, from opposition, progress is many times harder, and very much slower. That’s why we […]

    Read more →
  • Featured 5 things Labour’s new rapid-rebuttal team need to get right

    5 things Labour’s new rapid-rebuttal team need to get right

    Yesterday’s story of a new Labour media management team, seemingly in the mould of Alastair Campbell’s famously effective rapid-response unit, and headed by Michael Dugher, should be welcome news to us all. A well-run operation can make a huge difference, and in an election as close as 2015 looks set to be, that difference could be Miliband or Cameron in Number 10. But for it to be truly helpful, it needs to get some things right. 1. Be rapid This may sound […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Should politicians do God?

    Should politicians do God?

    Easter is traditionally a time when Christians reflect on their faith, and there is no reason why politicians shouldn’t do so too. But this year David Cameron forsook his usual Easter message for a much stronger and more personal foray into the religious arena. He urged Britain to be more confident of its status as a Christian country; he spoke of the strength of his own faith; he said that we should be “frankly more evangelical about the faith that […]

    Read more →
  • News Iraq Inquiry report possibly delayed until after election

    Iraq Inquiry report possibly delayed until after election

    We reported recently that the Chilcot Report is now not due to be published until 2015, causing worries among Labour strategists that it could harm the Party’s chances at the general election. However, according to the Mail today, its release date could now be held back until after polling day next year. The article states: “Whitehall sources suggest that with an election due in May 2015, it will be deemed too politically difficult to publish it until after voters have […]

    Read more →