Katherine Condon (UWCAC, United Kingdom '13-’15)
“The absence of accountability for the serious violation of human rights and humanitarian standards during and after the war is unacceptable.”
The Commonwealth Summit took place between the 15th and 17th of November 2013, in Colombo, Sri Lanka. The summit marked a momentous event for Sri Lanka, a country that emerged war-torn from the conflict originating from long existing tensions between two of Sri Lanka’s ethnic groups, the Sinhalese and the Tamil minority based in the north of the country.
The violence in Sri Lanka spanned over 25 years. Sinhalese nationalism in the 1950s led to the suppression of Tamil culture and religion and the ethnic cleaning of Tamil peoples, leaving over 200 people dead. This gave rise to the formation of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 1976, a separatist group that carried out devastating suicide attacks and bombings against the Sri Lankan government.
The Tamil Tigers were eventually suppressed by the Sri Lankan government in May 2009, but at a heavy cost. The UN has estimated that tens of thousands of civilians were killed during the war, the majority by government shelling.
These allegations brought into question Sri Lanka’s president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s suitability for the chairmanship of the summit. The leaders of Canada, Mauritius and India decided to boycott the summit in the midst of the accusations that President Rajapaksa has not thoroughly investigated the war crimes committed by the government’s security services during the war. Stephen Harper, the prime minister of Canada, was quoted as saying, “Canada is deeply concerned about the situation in Sri Lanka. The absence of accountability for the serious violation of human rights and humanitarian standards during and after the war is unacceptable.”
The British prime minister David Cameron attended the summit. He visited Jaffna, a northern town heavily affected by the fighting to raise awareness of the issue, and threatened to bring Sri Lanka’s human rights record to the United Nations unless a full-scale investigation is launched.
Nevertheless, Sri Lanka’s leader denied the claims made by the UN. He revealed his irritation by international intervention in domestic issues, reminding the members of the summit that Sri Lanka remains a sovereign state. He further urged the members not to allow the Commonwealth to become a “punitive or judgemental body”. Nevertheless, he has said that the Sri Lankan government “will investigate into 30 years of war”.
-United Words Team-
- Countries should not dictate to Sri Lanka: Rajapaksa (rediff.com)
- Sri Lanka given deadline by David Cameron over war crime allegations (theguardian.com)
- The Inquisition On Sri Lanka (thesundayleader.lk)
- Commonwealth charity staff complain of Sri Lankan ‘intimidation’ (theguardian.com)