Pressure mounts to prevent the Commonwealth Summit from being held in Sri Lanka

The 2013 Commonwealth Summit is meant to take place in Colombo, Sri Lanka, from the 15th to the 17th of November. Calls to move the political summit from Sri Lanka are growing.

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  1. On the 11th of March, the Queen delivered her annual speech for Commonwealth Day and focused her message on equality and human rights.
  2. Desmond Tutu and Mary Robinson recalled in an article for the Times of India that  "While the civil war ended four years ago, and roads have been rebuilt, human rights protections are getting weaker".  They called on David Cameron to follow the Canadian leads and not attend the Commonwealth Summit.

    The full statement can be found here:
  3. The prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, has already warned that he would boycot the Summit in Sri Lanka if the situation was not improved in the next months.

    The House of Common Foreign Affairs Select Committee in its report on the role and future of the Commonwealth stated  "that continuing evidence of serious human rights abuses in Sri Lanka shows that the Commonwealth’s decision to hold the 2013 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Colombo was “wrong”. The Committee urges the Prime Minister to state publicly his unwillingness to attend the Colombo meeting unless he receives “convincing and independently-verified evidence of substantial and sustainable improvements in human and political rights in Sri Lanka."

    The comments and the full report can be found here:
  4. Similarly, David Miliband, the former British Foreign Secretary has added his voice to the claim for the 2013 Commonwealth Summit to be moved from Sri Lanka, arguing that " For it to go ahead in Sri Lanka would be a mockery of Commonwealth values and UN authority, and a further invitation for its government to ignore international pleas for decency and accountability"
  5. The same position has been taken by Sir Malcolm Rifkind, another former Foreign Secretary and Peter Kellner, the President of the Royal Commonwealth Society who affirmed that  "at issue is the commitment of governments and leaders of the civil society to the principles of the human rights"
  6. In a radio interview about the role of the Commonwealth, Sir Ronald Sanders, Antiguian diplomat and writer, expressed his view on the issue. He reminds us the controversy surrounding Sri Lanka with regard to its numerous breaches of human rights, but also the difficult position of the British Government because of its supposed leadership role. He did however say that the Commonwealth Summit should not be held in Sri Lanka.

    An interesting discussion between four diplomats and foreign affairs specialist about the role of the Commonwealth and the attitude towards Sri Lanka can be found here:
    select: STW -The Commonwealth: Sir Don McKinnon, Kwasi Kwarteng, Frances Harrison & Sir Ronald Sanders
  7. The legal field also stands against this meeting. Lawyers are especially concerned by the impeachment of the Sri Lanka Chief Justice which breaches the rule of law.

    On that point, a report by Geoffrey Robertson QC, a human rights lawyer, academic, author and broadcaster, advocates for the Commonwealth Summit not to be held in Sri Lanka, concluding "
    “Given the blatant breach of the rule of law, for which the government purports to stand it would make a mockery of the Commonwealth as an organisation if it permits the Rajapaske government to showcase its destruction of judicial independence bypresiding over CHOGM.”
  8. For a broader view on the Commonwealth, Ricken Patel, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Avaaz made a speech at the annual Commonweath Lecture. After 29 minutes, he talks about the failure of "lowest common denominator internationalism" and the need for international institutions to demand considerable responsibilities of their members. He says nations should be mindful of this "when deciding if the commonwealth should be led for the next two years by a regime against which there are serious human rights accusations".

    The video can be found here:
  9. Finally many newspapers agree with this view.

    The newspaper Bloomberg is asking for members of the Commonwealth to " revisit the decision to hold their biennial summit in Sri Lanka in November, a major coup for the Rajapaksas".
    "By threatening to move or boycott the summit and Sri Lanka’s assumption of the Commonwealth chairmanship", says The Washington Post, governments of the Commenwealth can influence the Government of Sri Lanka and its President Mr. Rajapaksa to improve its policies regarding the respect of fundamental rights.
  10. The Guardian questions the decision of the Commonwealth to choose Sri Lanka to host the next Summit and suggests that it "needs to have one (a row) on the unwisdom, weekly becoming more obvious, of choosing Sri Lanka as host for the next heads of government meeting in November this year.". The newspaper calls  "the countries, especially Britain and India, who could have spurred it into the action its title promises" to "start now, before it is too late".
  11. Many international NGOs have joined together to criticise the controversial decision and to ask Commonwealth governments to, at least, impose benchmarks as a pre-condition for the Sri Lanka to host the Summit.
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