Commonwealth to discuss Sri Lanka's rights record

Colombo, Nov 15 : Sri Lanka's questionable human rights record will be deliberated on by the Commonwealth heads over the weekend and a joint statement will be released at the end of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), an official said here Friday.

Commonwealth spokesperson Richard Uku told reporters after the first day's sessions that Sri Lanka's poor human rights record will be deliberated on by the representatives of the 53 member countries, Xinhua reported.

"These (human rights) issues have come up. The values of the Commonwealth are held by the leaders here. These are important issues and the CHOGM has brought Sri Lanka under scrutiny and what I can say is that because these issues are important they will get discussed," Uku said at a press briefing.

"Those issues involve development, governance and rule of law. The outcome of their deliberations will be produced and shared," he added.

Uku also insisted that the Commonwealth has a unique way of dealing with a country that might not be strictly following the Commonwealth principles, which is to gather and hold discussions on what can be done.

"The Commonwealth has a unique way of working if there are issues where a member country is perceived to have shortcomings, the Commonwealth meets to discuss it and what we have sought to do in this case. The deliberations of the next two days will surely cover the points that have been raised by the media."

Sri Lanka's CHOGM spokesperson and presidential spokesperson Anuradha Herath defended the absence of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the press briefing and insisted that allegations of human rights abuses would be dealt with if they are presented through the local legal system.

"Sri Lanka's government remains committed to the principles of the Commonwealth. Let these allegations be brought into the legal system," she said.

The Commonwealth Secretariat has insisted it would continue to work with the Sri Lankan government to improve mechanisms, including strengthening the Human Rights Commission to deal with allegations of torture by the military.

Earlier Friday, Sri Lanka formally assumed the chair of the Commonwealth as heads of governments of 53 member-countries of the former British empire began their summit here.

The opening ceremony of the summit, the most important meeting of the grouping, got under way at the Nelum Pokuna Theatre.

Sri Lanka will chair the Commonwealth till the end of 2014 when it will be handed over to Mauritius.

World leaders and heads of delegations from 53 Commonwealth countries gathered at the lotus-shaped auditorium for a colourful opening ceremony.

The event was presided over by Britain's Prince Charles who represents his mother Queen Elizabeth II as head of the Commonwealth at the CHOGM for the first time.

The Prince of Wales and his wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, arrived in Colombo Thursday evening.

Soon after the hour-long inaugural ceremony, heads of government and delegation heads posed for formal photographs with Prince Charles at the venue.

The heads of government then headed off to attend executive sessions throughout the day. A dinner reception will be hosted for them by the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall.

The deliberation of the Commonwealth heads come after Canadian, and Mauritius prime ministers pulled out of the CHOGM, citing Sri Lanka's questionable human rights record.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India, facing domestic pressure not to attend the summit, announced Nov 10 that he would not attend.

Sri Lanka ended a brutal three-decade war with the Tamil Tigers in 2009.

--IANS (Posted on 15-11-2013)

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