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Britain should secure alternative to Sri Lanka for Commonwealth chair – Ed Miliband

Writing in the Tamil Guardian today, Britain’s Leader of the Opposition, Ed Miliband, said Premier David Cameron, having rejected calls, including by the Labour Party, to boycott this week’s Commonwealth summit in Colombo, should now ensure Sri Lanka is not permitted to chair the Commonwealth for the next two years.
 
The full text of Mr. Miliband’s opinion follows:

The Prime Minister flies to a summit in Colombo today amidst growing and continuing concerns about Sri Lanka’s human rights record after two decades of civil war.

An estimated 40,000 civilians died in that brutal conflict and yet there has still been no investigation into allegations of war crimes because the Sri Lankan government has so far refused to carry one out.

Instead of making progress, the situation in Sri Lanka seems to be getting worse.

Last month, Britain's cross-party foreign affairs select committee criticised the scant evidence of progress in political and human rights.

Following her visit in August, the UN’s Human Rights Commissioner, Navi Pillay, concluded that the country is “heading in an increasingly authoritarian direction”. Even the UK government’s own human rights report recently warned of “negative developments”.
 
My party has been clear that in our view we believe that this lamentable human rights situation meant that the British Prime Minister - like the Canadian and Indian Prime Ministers - should not attend the summit.

But at the summit, the British government now must seek progress on the key human rights issues.

First, David Cameron should insist on the full implementation of the recommendations of Sri Lanka’s own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission.

Second, there must set be a clear UK action plan to support tangible improvements in human rights in Sri Lanka.

Third, the summit itself could become a flashpoint for protest so David Cameron must seek urgent assurances from the Sri Lankan authorities that they will respect the Commonwealth charter on human rights in responding to any issues that may arise during the summit itself.

Finally, there is an important issue that world leaders must confront.

Despite deep concerns over his Government's approach to human rights, as host of this year’s summit President Mahinda Rajapaksa is due to be automatically appointed as the Chairperson-in-office of the Commonwealth.

That would mean the Sri Lankan President representing the organisation on the world stage for the next two years.

There are many, myself included, who have serious reservations about President Rajapaksa’s suitability for this important role.

So at this summit this week, unless we see real and meaningful change on human rights in Sri Lanka, David Cameron should work with other Commonwealth leaders on securing an alternative candidate for chairperson-in-office.

For Labour, the Commonwealth remains a vital network. It is a unique partnership representing over a quarter of the world’s population united by history, but rich in its diversity.

Because we all believe the Commonwealth must remain relevant, the Prime Minister must make sure he defends the place of freedom, democracy and human rights at its core.