The heads of Commonwealth governments should boycott the Commonwealth summit in Sri Lanka in November due to its unwillingness to address human rights concerns, Human Rights Watch said Friday.
Those governments deciding to attend should send a low-level delegation as a public message of dissatisfaction, it said in a letter to the 54 heads of Commonwealth countries.
During a visit to Sri Lanka in August, the UN high commissioner for human rights Navi Pillay expressed grave concern about lack of accountability, unresolved enforced disappearances and decreasing fundamental freedoms, among other issues.
“The Sri Lankan government should be shunned – not rewarded – for failing to hold anyone accountable for war crimes during the country’s recent conflict,” said Brad Adams at Human Rights Watch.
“Attending a summit in Sri Lanka so soon after the UN rights chief decried a worsening situation sends the wrong message to the government and to victims seeking justice.”
Since the end of the armed conflict in May 2009, the human rights record under the administration of President Mahinda Rajapaksa has remained poor.
The government has become increasingly authoritarian, attacking the independence of the judiciary and severely limiting the space for public criticism by the media and human rights groups.
Despite credible allegations by both the UN Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts and the government’s own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) of wartime abuses by both sides, the government has undertaken no serious investigations or prosecutions.
The Panel of Experts estimated that as many as 40,000 civilians died in the final months of the war.
“Holding the summit in Sri Lanka casts serious doubts on the Commonwealth’s stated commitment to supporting human rights and democratic reform,” Adams said.
“Instead of participating in a propaganda coup for the Sri Lankan government, Commonwealth heads of government should stay home and publicly press Sri Lanka on its repressive policies and lack of accountability.”