Commonwealth of Nations Grunge Flag

Commonwealth of Nations Grunge Flag (Photo credit: Free Grunge Textures –

Commonwealth is making a major mistake in holding its heads of government meeting (CHOGM) in Sri Lanka (Report, 9 October), when that country is in serious breach of the values set out in the Commonwealth charter, and has even failed to comply with the recommendations of its own “Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission“. Many of us NGOs accredited to the Commonwealth who successfully persuaded the heads of government four years ago not to hold their 2011 meeting in Sri Lanka insisted that the human rightssituation there had not improved by 2013, and in some respects (notably the impeachment of the chief justice and her replacement by a government nominee), the rule of law and governance have got worse.


This meeting will show the world that the Commonwealth, which has hitherto had a good reputation for not tolerating human rights abuses, no longer cares about them. The secretary-general, recently empowered to speak out against human rights abuses (as he did in Kenya earlier this year) has signally failed to do so in Sri Lanka. If the CHOGM follows its usual tradition and elects the president of Sri Lanka to lead the Commonwealth as its president for the next two years, it will confirm the impression of lack of concern about human rights which is given by holding the CHOGM in Colombo.
Michael Ellmanfidh
Officer for the Commonwealth, International Federation for Human Rights


• Across the world women’s organisations are appalled at the systematic sexual torture, rape, and trafficking for sex slavery of Tamil women and girls living in the north-east of Sri Lanka, both during the conflict, and continuing after its brutal end in 2009. And at the inability of the international community to prevent it, and bring the perpetrators to account. While we have all warmly applauded the Hague initiative to prevent sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict environments, and the support of his declaration by 122 UN member states, we are deeply shocked that David Cameron has refused to boycott the forthcoming CHOGG when it is clear that the government of Sri Lanka is guilty of gross human rights violations.

Tamil women are victims of rape, rape in detention, and sexual as well as economic exploitation (for example, in the garment factories and army brothels) on a massive scale, but we now have evidence of forced sterilisation of Tamil women in a city in the north-east. Any measure intended to prevent births within in a particular group is defined as an act of genocide under article II of the genocide convention. Moreover, Sri Lanka has the highest number of “forcibly disappeared” people anywhere in the world. And of extra judicial killings.

Sri Lanka has continually refused to co-operate in any independent investigation into allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and has insulted the UN human rights chief, Navi Pillay, who referred to these allegations following her visit to the island in August as “abusing her mandate and acting with bias”. Canada has done the right thing in boycotting this meeting. Cameron’s attendance would be seen as a condonation of extreme human rights abuses. His attendance would also compromise the Hague initiative that launched the declaration to eliminate sexual violence in conflict.
Margaret Owen
Director, Widows for Peace Through Democracy




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