Sri Lanka escapes Commonwealth focus despite British MPs’ demand

By Dipankar De Sarkar, IANS,

London : The political watchdog of the Commonwealth refrained from discussing the civil war in Sri Lanka despite a last-minute plea by a group of British MPs to place it on the agenda of its meeting in London Wednesday, a Sri Lankan diplomat has said.

Support TwoCircles

“There was a brief mention of pressure being put by some MPs, but there was no discussion,” the diplomat said on condition of anonymity, refusing to say who raised the matter.

“In any case, even if they took it up we would have objected because this is not the forum to discuss it,” the diplomat told IANS after the meeting of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), the body that is charged with enforcing adherence to human rights and democratic values.

The CMAG met to discuss the situation in Fiji, where a military coup ousted a democratically-elected government in 2006, but a group of 10 British MPs issued an appeal on the morning of the meeting criticising the Sri Lankan government and urging the Commonwealth to suspend the South Asian country for alleged human rights violations against Tamils.

“Last year, Sri Lanka lost its seat on the UN human rights council over its poor human rights record. It is likewise incumbent upon the Commonwealth to exercise leadership on human rights,” the MPs said in their joint statement.

They said Sri Lanka, which has never featured on the CMAG’s agenda, should be “put under permanent scrutiny and its government suspended from the Commonwealth” unless it met four conditions.

These were: establishing a ceasefire with Tamil rebels; granting UN monitors unfettered access; allowing international aid agencies access to the troubled Vanni region; and resuming peace negotiations with militants.

The Sri Lankan diplomat, however, said the statement, which was published as a letter in The Guardian newspaper, had not been delivered to the Sri Lankan Embassy in London.

“In any case, while we are happy to state our case, we would never have discussed the situation under the terms spelt out in the letter,” the diplomat added.

The appeal was signed by the ruling Labour Party’s Joan Ryan, Siobhain McDonagh, Virendra Sharma, Andrew Dismore, Stephen Pound, Phyllis Starkey, Eric Joyce and Neil Gerrard, the Conservative Party’s Lee Scott, Andrew George of the Liberal Democrats and Andrew Pelling, an independent MP.

The CMAG meeting, chaired by the Ugandan Foreign Minister, said Fiji would face full suspension from the 53-nation Commonwealth if it did not move to restore democracy by September.

The Pacific island-nation is currently barred from attending meetings of the Commonwealth – usually the first step of censure.