Sri Lanka accused of barring human rights delegation

Reuters News
Posted: Nov 07, 2013 3:42 PM

COLOMBO (Reuters) - An international human rights group accused Sri Lanka on Thursday of denying visas to its delegation ahead of a Commonwealth summit in the island nation, which is under growing foreign pressure over its rights record.

But Sri Lankan government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella said he was unaware of any such visa denial or request by The International Bar Association's Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI).

Sri Lanka hosts the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting next week and human rights groups have urged a boycott by leaders to put pressure on the government, which faces allegations of extra-judicial killings, harassment of minorities and the detention of politicians and journalists.

IBAHRI Said Sri Lanka had denied entry to its delegation, including the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers.

The denial of visas showed Sri Lanka's determination to block freedom of speech and independent discussion, IBAHRI's co-chair, Sternford Moyo, said. The delegation and the local bar council had been due to discuss the rule of law and independence of the legal profession ahead of the summit.

"If the Commonwealth is to have any relevance in today's world, it must act swiftly and decisively to ensure that Sri Lanka engages meaningfully with human rights," Moyo said.

Western nations, including the United States, Canada and Britain, along with neighboring India, have criticized Sri Lanka's human rights record and have demanded that President Mahinda Rajapaksa's government investigate war crimes in the final phase of a three-decade war that ended in 2009.

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Since the end of the war, Sri Lanka has rejected claims of human rights allegations, including murdering thousands of ethnic minority Tamil civilians in the rebel area.

Sri Lanka has also rejected a demand by the West for an international probe of war crimes. Instead Rajapaksa appointed a local panel to look into the allegations.

(Reporting by Shihar Aneez and Ranga Sirilal; Editing by Matthew Tostevin)