Last year, the Commonwealth failed to hold the Sri Lanka Government to account for its role in alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity, even in the face of what could be considered brazen flouting of the principles of human rights right up to and indeed during the meeting.
Last year, despite the Sri Lankan government shutting down, and briefly detaining, foreign members of parliament (myself and Lee Rhiannon) from talking with human rights activists and the media, deporting journalists investigating freedom of the press, denying UN special rapporteurs entry to the country, harassing, threatening and limiting the travel of UK channel 4 journalists to the point they left the country concerned for their safety, NZ chose to only raise human rights issues behind closed doors while publically endorsing the Rajapaksa regime. The Commonwealth also chose to appoint Sri Lanka to be the head of the commonwealth, which was supposed to involve chairing the committee on human rights.
There is evidence that the LTTE committed war crimes during the conflict with the Sri Lankan government. There is no justification for this and the people responsible need to be held accountable through an open and transparent judicial process. There is also evidence that the Sri Lanka government committed very serious war crimes and crimes against humanity. These too need to be independently investigated. IN the five years after the end of the war the government has consistently refused to do this and have continued to breach human rights and stifle dissent.
Right now the United Nations Human Rights Council is considering how to respond to Sri Lanka and again the Sri Lankan government seems to be taking a provocative line, apparently confident in their ability to intimidate and breach human rights without censure.
This week they arrested two prominent human rights activists, which they only released after three days and with considerable international pressure. According to an Amnesty International media release “In a diplomatic note circulated to UN member states’ permanent missions in Geneva on 18 March, the Sri Lankan government sought to portray the two as engaging with people who were trying to revive the LTTE armed group in Sri Lanka. Reports also cite Sri Lankan officials as saying that the two men were arrested for supplying “false information” about the human rights situation in northern Sri Lanka to damage the country’s reputation at the UN. “
They also note they have received particularly disturbing reports that Sri Lankan intelligence forces may have created a special unit to monitor those suspected of conveying information to the UN.
I believe this just shows how dangerous the Rajapaksa regime is, and gives even more credence to the concerns of human rights activists that I met with about what will happen to them if the HRC chooses not to vote on an independent investigation.
It is very difficult for people in Sri Lanka to speak up, it is the duty of New Zealand and the rest of the UN to speak for them and promote solutions that will bring about lasting peace in Sri Lanka , namely an independent international investigation. Sadly our government so far seems to be prioritising economic ‘friendships’ over the protection of peace and human rights.