Author Topic: Call for David Cameron to boycott Commonwealth summit in Sri Lanka  (Read 974 times)

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Offline mayya

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Call for David Cameron to boycott Commonwealth summit in Sri Lanka

Shadow foreign minister Douglas Alexander says UK should follow example of Canada in expressing human rights concernsl

Sri Lankan police officers look at a billboard featuring a windmill announcing the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Colombo. Photograph: Lakruwan Wanniarachchi/AFP/Getty Images

David Cameron should boycott the Commonwealth summit in Sri Lankanext month to express British concern about the country's lack of progress on improving human rights, the shadow foreign secretary has said.

Douglas Alexander urged the prime minister to stay away from the meeting of Commonwealth heads of government (Chogm) after of recent warnings about Sri Lanka's deteriorating political situation.

He said Labour would support the government if Cameron chose to send a junior minister in his place, as Canada is planning to do and India is reportedly considering.

Since emerging from two decades of civil war, Sri Lanka has been under pressure over its governance. The House of Commons foreign affairs committee has warned of "scant evidence of progress in political and human rights in Sri Lanka", and the UN high commissioner for human rights warns that the country is moving in "an increasingly authoritarian direction".

In the Guardian, Alexander wrote that the coalition had missed a chance to put pressure on Sri Lanka before the summit, after the country's government decided to impeach its chief justice earlier this year.

"The prime minister chose to hand away all his cards more than six months ahead of the summit by confirming that he and the foreign secretary, William Hague, would attend. His mystifying decision represented both a misjudgement and a missed opportunity," he said. "But it is not too late for the prime minister to take a different and better approach. First, David Cameron should now reverse his earlier decision to attend the summit. In doing so he would make clear to the Sri Lankan authorities the extent of Britain's concern."

However, Hugo Swire, a Foreign Office minister, defended the government's position, saying the Commonwealth was "too important to be set aside because of the location" of the meeting.

In answer to a parliamentary question, he said: "We have been very clear that the Commonwealth heads of government meeting host should demonstrably embody our shared Commonwealth values. We believe that the attendance of many world leaders and the global media will help to shine a light on what is going on in the country, either highlighting progress made or drawing attention to a lack of it.

"We continue to urge Sri Lanka to make progress on human rights concerns and on the implementation of Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) recommendations, which Sri Lanka set up in 2010, and to allow unrestricted freedom of movement for Commonwealth heads, media and non-governmental organisations attending Chogm in November. We will support and welcome tangible signs of progress. Equally, we will not hesitate to highlight negative developments or lack of progress against commitments."

Cameron signalled he is still intending to go to the meeting as he met Kamalesh Sharma, secretary-general of the Commonwealth, at Downing Street on Monday. A Downing Street spokesman said: "The prime minister and secretary-general agreed on the need for progress on reconciliation and human rights in Sri Lanka as host nation and the prime minister made clear that it is essential British media are granted access to the conference."