28 Apr 2013

Sri Lanka dismisses objection to Commonwealth role

2:40 pm on 28 April 2013

Sri Lanka has dismissed criticism from Canada of the decision to hold the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Colombo as biased and unfair.

Canada's foreign minister says he is appalled Sri Lanka has been chosen to host the meeting in November given its human rights failures.

John Baird said the country had failed in the fundamental Commonwealth values of "freedom, democracy, human rights, the rule of law and good governance".

"We find it absolutely appalling that Sri Lanka would be taking on a leadership role in the Commonwealth right after the Commonwealth charter was signed," he said.

Sri Lanka dismissed the objections, saying Commonwealth members had agreed the summit could go ahead.

Cabinet spokesman and information minister Keheliya Rambukwella said the country had dealt with the human rights issue and the criticism was unfair.

"It is very sad when we have done away with the most ruthless terrorist organisation in the world," he told the BBC.

"In fact the Tamil people are much happier today, the Moslems are much happier today, the Sinhalese are much happier today in this country, living in harmony.

"We are going to have elections within the next two or three months."

Sri Lanka's army defeated Tamil rebels in 2009 after a brutal 26-year war in which at least 100,000 people died.

Both sides were accused of human rights abuses throughout the conflict, the BBC reports.

In its final stages, thousands of civilians were trapped in a thin strip of land in the north of Sri Lanka as fighting raged around them. Estimates of civilian deaths in the final months range widely from 9,000 to 75,000.

An investigation commissioned by the Sri Lankan government cleared the military of allegations that it had deliberately attacked civilians, saying there had been violations by soldiers only at an individual level.

Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma said Sri Lanka had been discussed at a meeting in London on Friday but added: "No member of government has indicated remotely that it wishes to change the venue."

Australia's foreign minister, Bob Carr, said a boycott of the meeting would be counterproductive and further isolate Sri Lanka.