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Commonwealth complicit in Sri Lanka's rehabilitation - Jonathan Miller

Writing in the Radio Times Point of View column, Channel 4 correspondent Jonathan Miller compares reactions to Sri Lanka’s war crimes with the way Syria’s Assad regime is perceived. See Miller’s blog for a version of the article. Extracts reproduced below.


“Spin the clock forward.  It’s 2018.  You’re four-and-a-half years older and you’ve just woken up to the headlines: more than 50 world leaders are heading to the Syrian capital, Damascus, for a global summit, hosted by President Bashar al-Assad. Syria’s at peace, it’s economy, thriving. The tourists are back and the “terrorists”, vanquished. Mr Assad is basking in golden glow of total victory. And the terrible war crimes of which he was once accused? Swept under the carpet, in the spirit of looking forward, not back.  Triumphant, magnanimous, his charming wife at his side, the dictator-turned-statesman grasps the hand of the British Prime Minister, and shakes it firmly, live on TV. A huge grin splits Assad’s face. He’s back in the fold – and he knows it.

Sound far-fetched?  Far from it.  It’s happening this month.  OK, not in Syria and not with Assad, but in Sri Lanka, a country whose president stands accused of the worst war crimes committed this century. And that’s saying something, given what’s going on in Syria.”

“This is a regime that is getting away with murder and the Commonwealth is complicit in its rehabilitation.”

“Bizarrely, President Rajapaksa rose to prominence as a human rights lawyer. He now heads an unrepentant, pariah regime. He has steadfastly rejected demands for an independent international inquiry into alleged war crimes – including from our own Prime Minister.”

“Now the regime accused of the commission of these crimes is to be rewarded with a place on the world stage. You really couldn’t make it up. And for the two years that follow this summit, Sri Lanka will lead the 53-member Commonwealth, a body whose core “shared” values are respect for human rights and democracy, as set out in the Commonwealth Charter, signed by the Queen in March this year.”

“Prince Charles and David Cameron should be shackled to their sofas in Highgrove and No.10 and forced to watch the No Fire Zone documentary before they board their flight to Colombo. As should every other Commonwealth head of government planning to attend.  And, frankly, as should every tourist heading to this tropical “paradise” which glories in being crowned British Airways’ top destination 2013.”

According to the UN and all leading international human rights groups, Sri Lanka’s human rights record has has actually got worse since the civil war ended. Today, torture is rife and there are more unresolved disappearances than in any other country bar Iraq.

Canada’s Prime Minister is boycotting CHOGM because of all this but the British government insists that the meeting will shine a spotlight on Sri Lanka.

David Cameron: if you really are going to challenge your host on his human rights record, as you’ve promised to, do watch your back.”