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Shaking hands with rights abusers - Britain’s PM meets with Sri Lanka’s president

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has been photographed shaking hands with Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe during the 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 27), despite growing alarm over human rights violations on the island.

Upon his appointment as prime minister, Wickremesinghe congratulated Sunak and wrote that he looked “forwards to enhancing this partnership” between Britain and Sri Lanka. The letter highlighted the UK’s new ‘Platinum Partnership’ scheme, which is seen as a replacement for the EU’s Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP+). The EU is set to review the GSP+ arrangement and has urged Sri Lanka that tangible progress on its human rights commitments is necessary.

Sunak handshake is seen a warm greeting to the Sri Lankan President and draws contrast to how his predecessor David Cameron met with former Defence Secretary turned President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa. In 2013, the then British Prime Minister David Cameron refused to shake hands with Gotabaya Rajapaksa during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). He had described meeting with the Rajapaksa brothers as one of “the worst-tempered foreign meeting(s)” during his tenure.

"The defence minister who had supposedly issued orders for the terrible events at the end of the war, reared out to shake my hand," said Cameron. "I kept my hands by my side, and sat down.”

Read more on that here: Former British PM refused to shake Gotabaya’s hand in Colombo ‘showdown’

During the conservative party leadership contest, Sunak spoke to British Tamils on the struggle for justice and accountability for the crimes committed in 2009 as well as noting the undue influence of the Sri Lankan military on the island.

Earlier this month, the UK-led UNHRC resolution 51/l1, which will “extend and reinforce the capacity of the Office of the High Commissioner to collect, consolidate, analyse and preserve” evidence that may be used in future war crimes trials. Sri Lanka’s foreign ministry has repeatedly rejected the resolution and claimed that they can resolve the island’s ills through a domestic mechanism.

It remains to be seen whether Sunak will deliver on his commitment to Tamils.

Read more here: TG VIEW - British Tamils expect action from Rishi Sunak

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