Sri Lanka rejects Human Rights Commissioner’s critique

Sri Lanka has rejected United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay’s critique that the country has neglected its investigation of war crimes allegations and is leaning towards authoritarian rule, the Financial Times reports.

Sri Lanka’s civil war with the Tamil Tigers ended in 2009, with a civilian death count of approximately 40,000. International bodies and Western powers have been pushing for thorough investigations into allegations of war crimes committed by the government.

Concluding a high-profile week-long visit to Sri Lanka, Ms. Pillay said on Saturday, “I am deeply concerned that Sri Lanka, despite the opportunity provided by the end of the war to construct a new vibrant all-embracing state, is showing signs of heading in an increasingly authoritarian direction.”

On Sunday, Sri Lanka’s information ministry claimed that Ms. Pillay’s critique “clearly transgresses her mandate and the basic norms which should be observed by a discerning international civil servant.”

Financial Times notes that Sri Lanka’s resistance to international input is uncomfortably timed. In March, the UN Human Rights Council passed a US-sponsored resolution criticizing Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa for limiting independence in the parliament, judiciary and media.

Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper has already made clear his decision to boycott the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) summit, due to take place in Sri Lanka in November, on account of the country’s poor human rights record.

Speaking to Financial Times on condition of anonymity, one Western diplomat claimed that “America has lost patience with the Sri Lankans, but there is now real worry about credibility…If the US and its allies can’t even get a small country like Sri Lanka to behave itself, what hope does it have in more difficult cases, let alone somewhere like Syria?”

The Sri Lankan government reportedly took limited steps to address international critiques immediately before Pillay’s arrival, including the establishment of a commission to examine civilian disappearances during the civil war.


Comment: India speaks for small countries and establishes its credential in the CHOGM

In the recently conducted Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting held in
Perth from October 28-30, it was established that in the 21st century, the head of
the Commonwealth is shifting from London to New Delhi with the rise of India as
a Great Power.

Looking at the events leading up to the CHOGM and the outcome proves that
India has elbowed other countries in the CHOGM, which includes its former colonial
master Britain and aspiring Great Power in the Asia Pacific, Australia.

The western countries in the CHOGM, namely Britain, Australia and New
Zealand, wanted to pin the countries which were ruled by colonial masters before
by bringing about an institution which monitor the human rights in those
countries. This move was scuttled by India saying quite bluntly that CHOGM
should focus more on developmental challenges rather than bringing up the
issue of human rights for which there’s a better multi-lateral institution called the
United Nations.

India also went on to highlight the hypocrisy of the western nations and the
double-standards that they follow in pursuing lofty utopian concepts called human
rights. While the western world is keen to have the status-quo monarchies in
power in the Middle-East to serve their oil-benefits, they’re ready to wield a big
stick against countries like Fiji, Maldives and Sri Lanka which are in the fringes of
their geo-strategic objectives.

If the CHOGM is anything to go by, it’s clear that India has graduated itself from a regional power in South Asia to a Great Power in Asia Pacific that
can speak for the smaller nations in Africa, Latin America and Africa. India’s
pursuance of tactful diplomacy is done with an objective; it understands that
it needs the support of these countries for its candidature in the United Nations
Security Council.

Second, India would also not be conducting its diplomacy based on utopian
concepts like Human Rights while its near competitor is having a free-run for the resources in the Global South’s developing countries. It’s just a matter of time
before India will join the race with China to carve out “Spheres of Influence” in these regions, defining its neo-colonial pursuits. The last image that India will try to project is a torch-bearer of old power players from the West.

On the other hand, it’s good that India has finally understood its diplomatic strength. As the country which houses the most English speakers in the world, it has lived up to the expectation of filling the void left by Great Britain in the realm of Great Powers through the Commonwealth Nations. This point has been stated in the book “Reconnecting Britain and India,” published in 2010.

It’s here that a bit of appreciation for India’s founding fathers is needed.

Despite coming out of the colonial rule from the British and having staunch
opposition from the Indian population against joining the Commonwealth nations,
it was felt that a day will come when India as a Great Power could use its past for
the future. CHOGM has been the starting point of that ambition.

On that note, it will interesting to see on how India conducts its affairs in the
much-expected South Asian Affairs of Regional Co-operation (SAARC) summit scheduled in Maldives from 10th to 11th of this month.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


CHOGM criticised for weak stance on human rights

The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) 2011, which ended Sunday, was hailed by Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard as a “major contribution” towards building “a more purposeful, relevant and valuable Commonwealth.”

However, critics argue that steps taken failed to herald bold progress.

Speaking after the closing ceremony in Perth, Gillard told media, “I believe we have made a major contribution to ensuring the Commonwealth is an institution that is well positioned for the future. We have set the direction for a more purposeful, relevant and valuable Commonwealth.”

An official conference communique shows resolutions to develop climate change policies and support related innovative technologies.

In 2010, Gillard was heavily criticised by her own electorate for a proposed carbon tax. President Mohamed Nasheed expressed his support for her “brave steps”, and recommended that other countries follow her example.

Leaders also agreed to promote universal health care, equality in gender and education, and to address security issues including piracy, human trafficking, arms trade and cyber crime.

British Prime Minister David Cameron also announced a proposal to reform the rules of succession to the monarchy, allowing the first child of the royal family to assume the throne regardless of gender.

However, CHOGM has been criticised for avoiding significant human rights reforms.

A proposal submitted by the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) panel, which was appointed at the last CHOGM to propose modernisation measures, criticised the association for losing relevancy with modern global trends.

The proposal criticised the Commonwealth’s inability to censure member countries that violate human rights or democratic norms. This oversight has been widely criticised as CHOGM members did not reconsider the earlier decision to hold CHOGM 2013 in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka is currently facing war crimes allegations for acts committed by its military during the 2009 civil war with the Tamil Tigers. Sri Lanka’s own internal investigation has been rejected by numerous international human rights groups including Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) on the grounds that it does not meet international standards.

Previously, a Commonwealth member would be expelled or suspended for such violations after the event.

Sri Lankan representatives were reported as being “incensed” when the matter was raised by Canadian and Australian officials.

In 106 “urgent” recommendations, the EPG advocated for the adoption of a Charter of the Commonwealth; the creation of a new commissioner on the rule of law, democracy and human rights to track persistent human rights abuses and allegations of political repression by Commonwealth member states; recommendations for the repeal of laws against homosexuality, currently existing in 41 Commonwealth states, and a ban on forced marriage.

EPG proposals were neither endorsed nor published by the Commonwealth member states. Pressure to publish the proposals from the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada was resisted by India, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, South Africa and Namibia.

CHOGM’s failure to act on the EPG proposal was considered a “disgrace” by former British Foreign Secretary Sir Malcom Rifkind.

“The Commonwealth faces a very significant problem,” he said. “It’s not a problem of hostility or antagonism, it’s more of a problem of indifference. Its purpose is being questioned, its relevance is being questioned and part of that is because its commitment to enforce the values for which it stands is becoming ambiguous in the eyes of many member states.”

EPG Chair and former Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi allegedly told delegates at the start of the summit that the meeting would be considered a “failure” if the reforms were not adopted.

Two-thirds of the 106 recommendations have been sent to “study groups” for review.

The Commonwealth includes 54 nations, the largest block being formed by Africa with 19 regional states.

Before concluding this year’s meeting, CHOGM welcomed Malaysia’s offer to host the 2019 session.

Officials at the Presidents Office and the Human Rights Commission were unavailable at time of press.


Sri Lanka will host CHOGM 2013 in spite of war crime allegations

Commonwealth Heads of Government have decided not to reassess Sri Lanka’s suitability to host the 2013 meeting (CHOGM), in spite of current international allegations of human rights violations during its civil war.

“This decision runs contrary to the association’s fundamental values of human rights and democracy, and has pushed the Commonwealth to the lowest point in its history,” read a press release.

In 2009, the Commonwealth deferred Sri Lanka’s request to host CHOGM for two years starting in 2011.

As meeting host, Sri Lanka will automatically become chair of the association.

A press release from the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative said the decision indicated “that [the Commonwealth] is no longer capable of landmark human rights stances, as demonstrated by its historic activism against Apartheid.”


President backs Australia’s carbon tax

President Mohamed Nasheed has declared his support of Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s carbon tax proposal, and recommended other countries follow her lead.

Speaking at the close of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Perth on Sunday, Nasheed said the summit had accepted key recommendations on combating climate change, reports online media outlet Nine MSN.

Gillard’s proposal has been called “highly controversial” and protested across Australia since 2010, losing her significant public support. Many have expressed their concerns over higher costs for families and businesses.

Nasheed, meanwhile, praised Australia’s “brave steps” towards the tax, and hoped other countries would follow the example.

CHOGM’s final communique called for concerted global action on climate change.