News East West
TORONTO: In a major victory for Tamil Canadians which has been seeking tough action against Sri Lanka for ignoring pressure to investigate human rights violations of its Tamil minority, Canada has decided to boycott the upcoming Commonwealth summit in Colombo next month.
In a statement in Bali, Indonesia, where he is attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation gathering, Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper announced to boycott the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Columbo next month to protest against Sri Lankan failure on accountability for human rights violations during and after the ethnic war that ended in May 2009.
The Canadian prime minister said, “When Sri Lanka was selected to host the 2013 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, Canada was hopeful that the Sri Lankan government would seize the opportunity to improve human rights conditions and take steps towards reconciliation and accountability.’’
But this has not been the case, Harper said. “The Sri Lankan government has failed to uphold the Commonwealth’s core values, which are cherished by Canadians. As such, as the Prime Minister of Canada, I will not attend the 2013 CHOGM in Colombo, Sri Lanka. This is a decision that I do not take lightly,’’ the prime minister announced.
Canada will now have just token presence at CHOGM, with Deepak Obhrai, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and for International Human Rights, representing the country.
Harper said, “Canada is deeply concerned about the situation in Sri Lanka. The absence of accountability for the serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian standards during and after the civil war is unacceptable.’’
Referring to the impeachment of the Sri Lankan Chief Justice earlier this year, Harper said “we remain disturbed by ongoing reports of intimidation and incarceration of political leaders and journalists, harassment of minorities, reported disappearances, and allegations of extra judicial killings.”
Justifying his decision, the Canadian prime minister said if the Commonwealth is to remain relevant it must “stand in defence of the basic principles of freedom, democracy, and respect for human dignity, which are the very foundation upon which the Commonwealth was built.’’
Despite his decision to go ahead with the boycott, Harper said, “Canada will continue to monitor events in Sri Lanka and urge the government to implement fully the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, promote respect for human rights and the rule of law, and undertake an independent investigation into alleged violations of the human rights of thousands of civilians at the end of the conflict.
“Canada will continue to work with our partners and through the United Nations to draw attention to the situation in Sri Lanka. I have also asked the Minister of Foreign Affairs to review Canada’s financial contributions to Commonwealth programs and the Commonwealth Secretariat,” Stephen Harper said.
Harper’s decision will go down very well with Tamil Canadians.