Outrage as Sri Lanka cancels rights experts' visas
Human rights seminar coincides with Commonwealth summit
Civil society organizations met in Colombo and voted to boycott next week's Commonwealth People's Forum
Sri Lanka, which faces international censure over alleged war crimes, has revoked the visas of human rights experts for a meeting that coincides with the Commonwealth summit.
The delegation from the London-based International Bar Association had their visas withdrawn ahead of their planned attendance at a seminar next week in Colombo, when the 53-member Commonwealth bloc also holds its biennial summit.
The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) was also due to attend the seminar titled: “Making Commonwealth Values a Reality: the Rule of Law and the Independence of the Legal Profession.”
IBAHRI said Sri Lankan authorities revoked the visas on Wednesday, saying they were unable to “facilitate any visits” during an “embargoed period from October 20 to November 20”.
The visas had been issued in August.
“By denying entry to the IBAHRI delegation, the government of Sri Lanka is demonstrating to the world its determination to block freedom of speech and independent discussion in the country,” IBAHRI co-chair Sternford Moyo said in a statement.
He said Sri Lanka was trying to keep the Commonwealth leaders “cocooned and isolated”.
Upul Jayasuriya, chief of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), said the government’s decision to bar the delegates amounted to a “clear assault” on freedom of speech and association.“The argument from the government is that we did not get permission from the Foreign Ministry to hold the seminar,” he said. “We don’t need their permission; there is no legal requirement for that.”
Jayasuriya added that BASL had hosted similar legal gatherings in tandem with previous summits held in Sri Lanka, and said the authorities had placed no obstacles in their way.
Sri Lanka’s hosting of the November 15-17 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), four years after the end of the decades-long Tamil separatist war, is already mired in controversy.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is boycotting CHOGM to protest against Sri Lanka’s failure to probe its troops over allegations they killed up to 40,000 civilians while defeating the Tamils in 2009.
Meanwhile, Sri Lankan civil society organizations say they will boycott the Commonwealth People’s Forum meeting, which is due to be held ahead of the CHOGM.
“Sri Lanka has no respect for Commonwealth values, principles and its own citizens who are victims of a culture of impunity in respect to serious human rights violations, freedom of expression and voting rights,” said Sudarshana Gunawardana, Convener of the Platform for Freedom, a coalition of civil society organizations.
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