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Indian PM pulls out of leaders' meeting in Sri Lanka

Rights group says Sri Lanka should be taken to task on abuses and persecution

<p>Manmohan Singh. File picture: <a href="http://www.shutterstock.com/gallery-11032p1.html?cr=00&pl=edit-00">imagemaker</a>/<a href="http://www.shutterstock.com/?cr=00&pl=edit-00">Shutterstock.com</a></p>

Manmohan Singh. File picture: imagemaker/Shutterstock.com

  • Mike MacLachlan, London
  • International
  • November 11, 2013
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As Indian premier Manmohan Singh pulled out of this week’s Commonwealth summit in Colombo, the rights group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) urged delegates to take Sri Lanka to task over human rights.

A briefly worded statement from the Indian government on November 9 said Singh would not be at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).

This followed a declaration from Canada’s prime minister, Stephen Harper, a month ago that he would not attend.

India gave no reason, saying only that Salman Kurshid, the external affairs minister, would represent New Delhi and that it was “not necessary” for the prime minister to attend every summit

The Hindu newspaper reported a senior official of the ruling Congress party as saying this applied “especially if it went against the sentiments of a section of the Indian population – the people of Tamil Nadu in this case.”

There is much sympathy in Tamil Nadu for fellow Tamils in Sri Lanka who, the BBC reported yesterday, still suffer abuses, including rape and torture following the 26-year civil war in pursuit of a separate Tamil state in the north and east.

Harper was more specific. Announcing that Canada would send a junior minister to CHOGM, he said: “It is clear that the Sri Lankan government has failed to uphold the Commonwealth’s core values, which are cherished by Canadians.”

There have been calls for a boycott from other countries, including one from a parliamentary committee in the United Kingdom. The British prime minister, David Cameron, said he would attend though he said there were “serious questions” about accusations of war crimes.

William Hague, the foreign secretary, said a boycott would not help. Britain could raise issues only “if we are there.”

CSW’s chief executive, Mervyn Thomas, said those who attend must urge President Mahinda Rajapaksa to adhere to the principles of the Commonwealth Charter signed by Queen Elizabeth in March this year.

The Queen is the nominal head of the 53-nation Commonwealth, made up mostly of former British colonies. Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, will represent her at the summit.

The charter commits Commonwealth nations worldwide to “upholding democracy, human rights, peace and security, tolerance, respect and understanding, freedom of expression [and] separation of powers.”

Harper’s statement pointed to the impeachment and dismissal of the Chief Justice, Shirani Bandaranayake, in January and continuing reports of intimidation and detention of politicians and journalists as causes for concern.

CSW’s statement spoke of “a huge rise in violence against Muslim and Christian targets” in the past 18 months.

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