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Cameron calls on Commonwealth leaders to unite on Sri Lanka’s rights abuses

Writing in the Times of India on Thursday, British Prime Minister David Cameron called on the leaders of Commonwealth to unite in pressing for a thorough investigation into Sri Lanka’s war crimes, and for “an end to the intimidation of journalists and human rights defenders, action to stamp out torture, demilitarisation of the north and reconciliation between communities.

"Of course," Mr. Cameron said, "we need to see a thorough investigation into alleged war crimes, and if it does not happen rapidly, an international independent investigation will be needed."


Extracts of Mr. Cameron’s opinion (full text here) follow:

“As we meet in Colombo, some are questioning whether we are still prepared to stand up for our values. The location of the summit in Sri Lanka has drawn significant criticism: the human rights record of its government has even caused some leaders to stay away.

“So, the stakes for the Commonwealth this week are high. And my argument today is clear — we face a choice. At the summit, we can either bury our head in the sand, ignore the difficult issues and essentially give in to those who think that the Commonwealth is no longer relevant. Or we can use this as an opportunity to come together and restate why our values matter. I will be making the latter argument.

We do the Commonwealth and its history no favours unless we take a stand when we see our values under threat. This is our first meeting since we enshrined our belief in political freedom in the Commonwealth Charter — and we must show it now has real meaning. … Together we must say clearly to the government of Sri Lanka — our hosts — that there must be accountability for the past and respect for human rights today.

“There are those who have asked whether it is right to go to Sri Lanka for this summit given the current situation. By going to Colombo I believe we have an opportunity to raise our concerns clearly and directly — and to focus the eyes of the world on Sri Lanka.

Four years on from the end of the civil war and defeat of the 'Tamil Tigers', a brutal terrorist organisation, there has been nowhere near enough improvement.

We need to see more progress: genuine freedom of expression and a free media, an end to the intimidation of journalists and human rights defenders, action to stamp out torture, demilitarisation of the north and reconciliation between communities.

And of course we need to see a thorough investigation into alleged war crimes, and if it does not happen rapidly, an international independent investigation will be needed.

“This won't always make for easy conversations, but diplomacy isn't about ducking difficult decisions. We will only protect the values that are precious to us if we take action when they are at stake.

So this is a big summit and an important moment. The world is looking to the Commonwealth to rise to the occasion.”