Commonwealth values and Sri Lanka
By John Argue, Amnesty International Canada's Coordinator for Sri Lanka
In November 2013, the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) is set to take place in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Commonwealth countries share a commitment to basic values such as democracy, freedom, respect of human rights, and rule of law.
Today, June 26, is recognized in and also beyond the Commonwealth as the international day for survivors of torture. Yet in Sri Lanka, survivors of torture are still vulnerable to human rights violations, and to traumatic feelings of sheer injustice because authorities who committed torture have not even being charged with committing a crime or a human rights violation.
Thevan (not his real name) is one person who has flashbacks of the impossible days he spent being tortured in a police cell in Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo. Thevan and a friend were both abducted 5 years ago in November, 2008, by men who drove a white van, and taken to a detention centre where they were beaten and tortured for three days. Far worse, Thevan was ill-treated continually until he was finally released in 2011.
The conflict between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which was an armed opposition group that fought for an independent Tamil state on the island, lasted for 26 years until May 2009. Yet despite the passage of four years since it ended, the Sri Lankan Government continues to deny the increasing evidence of crimes under international law committed by its armed forces during the conflict.
Dramatically, even though the Commonwealth of Nations agreed that its leaders will meet in Sri Lanka later this year, Sri Lanka still is a country where human rights violations take place, contrary to the values agreed by the 54 member nations of the Commonwealth.
Canada and Sri Lanka have a special relationship because Canada has one of the world's largest Tamil diasporas from Sri Lanka. However, Amnesty's stress on human rights is answered merely by the Sri Lanka High Commission's claim that “separatist elements within the diaspora ... still continue to relentlessly disseminate anti-Sri Lanka propaganda.” (High Commission newsletter, April 2013)
Canada`s prime minister Stephen Harper has made very clear that impartial, international researchers, including from the U.N., have verified that human rights violations still occur in Sri Lanka. Mr. Harper has also made clear that he will not attend the CHOGM this year unless the Sri Lankan Government improves respect for human rights, and also initiates serious efforts at reconciliation between the majority Sinhalese and the Tamil minority on the island.
Amnesty International is calling on the government of Sri Lanka to “Tell the Truth” on arbitrary detention and torture, and to institute clear and basic reforms to guarantee respect for human rights, before the Heads of Commonwealth Government’s Meeting (CHOGM) in November.
We are asking all Canadians committed to human rights to sign a petition urging the Sri Lanka government to improve respect for human rights in basic ways. Sri Lanka should not continue to host the leaders of Commonwealth countries while abusing the values of those same 54 member countries.
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