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SRI LANKA: Open Letter to Commonwealth Foreign Ministers

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Subject: The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) 2013

We are gravely concerned about the ongoing discussions on holding the 2013 CHOGM in Sri Lanka.

At the 2009 CHOGM, Sri Lanka’s candidature for hosting the meeting was deferred from 2011 to 2013  because  of  concerns  about  human  rights  abuses  by  the  Sri  Lankan  government.  While war-time abuses have ended, the situation in Sri Lanka continues to be characterised by serious human  rights  violations,  including  assault  on  democratic  institutions,  such  as  the  media  and trade unions. The Panel of Experts appointed by the UN Secretary-General to advise him on the status  of  allegations  of  war  crimes  during  the  last  weeks  of  the  conflict  in  Sri  Lanka  has concluded  that  serious  abuses  were  committed  by  the  government  and  by  the  LTTE,  and warrant an international investigation.

Consideration  of  Sri  Lanka  as  host  of  the  next  CHOGM  appears  grossly  inappropriate  in  the above  context.  Awarding  the  next  CHOGM  to  Sri  Lanka  would  not  only  undermine  the fundamental values on which the Commonwealth is based, but also has the potential to render the Commonwealth’s commitment to human rights and the promise of reforms meaningless.

At  this  crucial  juncture,  when  the  Commonwealth  is  seeking  to  strengthen  its  legitimacy  and relevance,  there  is  an  urgent  need  for  the  institution  to  take  principled  decisions  that demonstrate its commitment to the fundamental values of democracy and human rights.

The  fact  that  the  host  country  of  the  CHOGM  goes  on  to  hold  the  chairmanship  of  the Commonwealth (from 2013 to 2015) is also a serious concern. Handing over leadership of the Commonwealth to a country with a questionable record in terms of human rights and democracy should not be the outcome of an event that will celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the Harare Declaration.

We note that the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) is looking into ways in which it¬† can¬† fully¬† implement¬† its¬† mandate¬† to¬† act¬† on¬† ‚Äúserious¬† or¬† persistent¬† violations‚Ä̬† of¬† the Commonwealth‚Äôs fundamental values.

We urge that the CMAG should call on the government of Sri Lanka to meet a specific set of benchmarks  within  an  agreed  upon  timeline  in  order  to  prove  itself  worthy  of  hosting  the Commonwealth’s emblematic meeting in 2013.

These benchmarks could include:

  1. Ensuring meaningful domestic implementation of the international human rights treaties to which  the  Government  of  Sri  Lanka is  party  and  bringing  all  legislation  in  line  with international human rights standards;
  2. 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;
  3. Restoring  Constitutional  provisions  that  guarantee  separation  of  powers  and  re-instating the independence of the three wings of government;
  4. Restoring the independence of  key government institutions, such as the National  Human Rights Commission;
  5. Instituting  effective  mechanisms  to  protect  journalists,  civil  society  groups  and  human rights defenders who work for the promotion and protection of human rights;
  6. 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
  7. Committing  to  collaborate  with  the  Office  of  the  UN  Secretary  General  to  initiate  the implementation  of  the  recommendations  set  out  in  the  report  of  the  UN  Secretary General’s Panel of Experts.

CMAG should conduct its monitoring of these benchmarks in a transparent way, in cooperation with the government and with full participation by civil society.


Yap Swee Seng, Executive Director
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)

Wong Kai Shing, Executive Director
Asian Legal Resource Centre

Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, Executive Director
Centre for Policy Alternatives

Maja Daruwala, Director
Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative

Brad Adams, Asia Director
Human Rights Watch

Sunila Abeysekera,
INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre, Sri Lanka

Souhayr Belhassen, President
International Federation for Human Rights

Ruki Fernando
Law and Society Trust

Chris Chapman
Minority Rights Group International

Edward Mortimer CMG, Chair
Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace & Justice