(New York) – The Commonwealth should shift the venue of its November 2013 Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) from Sri Lanka unless its government makes prompt, measurable, and meaningful progress on human rights, Human Rights Watch said today in a public letter to Commonwealth Heads of Government. Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma is scheduled to visit Sri Lanka on February 10, 2013 to discuss the upcoming meeting.
The Sri Lankan government under President Mahinda Rajapaksa has taken no meaningful steps to address serious abuses by government forces in the final months of the armed conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2009, during which the United Nations has estimated that up to 40,000 civilians died. Since 2009 the government has been responsible for a worsening human rights situation that includes clampdowns on basic freedoms, attacks and threats against civil society, and actions against the judiciary and other institutions, imperiling Sri Lanka's democracy.
“The Sri Lankan government's blatant disregard for the Commonwealth's principles of human rights and democratic reform makes it a poor host for this important event,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Unless the government urgently addresses abuses and ends impunity, the international recognition it will gain by hosting the Commonwealth summit while repressing its key values will be an embarrassment to the Commonwealth and its member countries.”
In 2011, Human Rights Watch and other domestic and international human rights groups urged the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group to impose the following benchmarks as a precondition for allowing Sri Lanka to be the host of the 2013 summit. These benchmarks remain relevant today and include:
· Ensuring meaningful domestic implementation of the international human rights treaties to which the government of Sri Lanka is party and bringing all legislation into line with international human rights standards;
· Providing guarantees that all Sri Lankan people will be treated with dignity and respect as equal citizens and live in an environment in which they can enjoy all fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution of Sri Lanka;
>Restoring constitutional provisions that guarantee separation of powers and reinstating the independence of the three branches of government;
>Restoring the independence of key government institutions, such as the National Human Rights Commission;
>Instituting effective mechanisms to protect journalists, civil society groups and human rights defenders who work for the promotion and protection of human rights;
>Supporting and cooperating with independent and credible domestic and international investigations into all allegations concerning violations of international humanitarian and human rights law in the country, especially related to the conduct of the conflict which ended in 2009; and
>Making a commitment to collaborate with the Office of the UN Secretary-General to initiate the implementation of the recommendations set out in the report of the secretary-general's Panel of Experts.
Human Rights Watch is also deeply concerned that in addition to hosting the 2013 Commonwealth summit, Sri Lanka will hold the chairmanship of the Commonwealth from 2013 to 2015.
“A summit in Sri Lanka will cast serious doubt on the Commonwealth's commitment to supporting human rights, democratic reform, and fundamental human rights enshrined in the Commonwealth Harare Declaration of 1991,” Adams said. “Handing Sri Lanka leadership of the Commonwealth at a time when democratic institutions are under direct and sustained attack by the Sri Lankan government will be an affront to the victims of rights violations in the country and around the Commonwealth.”