Commonwealth urged to look Sri Lanka's rights

AP News
Posted: Sep 27, 2013 3:37 AM

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Two international human rights groups urged a Commonwealth advisory group to prioritize human rights in Sri Lanka, where the group is holding a heads of state meeting in November, saying the island nation has failed to properly probe alleged war-time abuses.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch said the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, which is scheduled to meet in New York on Friday, "should make the Sri Lankan rights situation a priority." Amnesty International said the Commonwealth "has been shamefully silent so far about Sri Lanka's human rights crisis."

Western nations and rights groups have been pressing Sri Lanka to account for thousands of civilians who are suspected to have died in the final months of the quarter-century war that ended in 2009 when government forces crushed resistance by Tamil rebels who were fighting for an ethnic homeland.

The remarks from the two rights groups came days after U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay issued a report in Geneva, saying she has seen no new or comprehensive Sri Lankan effort to properly and independently investigate the allegations of war crimes and other abuses during the civil conflict.

The U.N. Human Rights Council has repeatedly demanded such an investigation, and Pillay said she would recommend that the council establish its own probe if Sri Lanka does not show more "credible" progress by March.

Sri Lanka has resisted calls for an international investigation of abuses such as civilian deaths during its long civil war.

The Commonwealth is a grouping of 54 nations that were once part of the British empire. The ministers' meeting comes two months ahead of the Commonwealth leaders' summit in Colombo, after which Sri Lanka is set to serve as the organization's chair for two years.

Amnesty said Sri Lanka should be barred from hosting the summit because of its "disturbing human rights record."

Friday's meeting in New York "is an opportunity for the Commonwealth to show some real leadership on human rights," said Polly Truscott, Amnesty's Deputy Asia-Pacific Director in a statement. "The organization has been shamefully silent so far about Sri Lanka's human rights crisis - including the persistent lack of justice for past crimes and ongoing attacks on human rights defenders and other activists."

Human Rights Watch said the holding the summit in Sri Lanka "casts serious doubts on the Commonwealth's commitment to supporting human rights, democratic reform, and fundamental human right."

There was no immediate government response to the statements of the two rights groups, but in the past top Sri Lankan officials have rejected such criticism saying those two groups are biased.

Meanwhile, Australia and Britain — also members of the Commonwealth — are encouraging engagement rather than isolation of Sri Lanka in the face of criticism over its human rights. Both nations are encouraging countries to participate in the November summit.