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Rights watchdog urges Commonwealth ministers to press Sri Lanka on human rights

2013 Sep 30

An international right s watchdog has urged the Commonwealth foreign ministers who are meeting in New York today to apply pressure on Sri Lanka to address country's human rights abuses.

New York based Human Rights Watch (HRW)asked the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), a group of foreign ministers from eight Commonwealth countries to make the human rights situation in Sri Lanka a priority at its meeting on Friday, September 27 on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly currenly on going in New York.

The HRW notes that the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay's has reported to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) about ongoing human rights concerns in Sri Lanka and the government's failure "to independently or credibly investigate the allegations" of war crimes during the country's armed conflict.

However, the HRW says that CMAG and the Commonwealth Secretariat have largely refused to discuss Sri Lanka's human rights situation.

"The Commonwealth should not bury its head in the sand and ignore Sri Lanka's serious human rights problems." Asia director at HRW, Brad Adams said.

The HRW said the CMAG members should ask the Commonwealth Secretary-General to put Sri Lanka on its agenda for the September 27 meeting and invite Pillay to debrief its members on her August trip to the country, as human rights organizations requested earlier in September.

"Commonwealth ministers should at least be willing to hear an independent account of the situation in Sri Lanka," Adams said.

Various international groups including the HRW critical of Sri Lanka's human rights record had attempted to include Sri Lanka in the CMAG's agenda for discussion asking the CMAG to shift Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) meeting from Colombo, unless Sri Lanka makes prompt, measurable and meaningful progress on human rights.

However, the CMAG, which was given an enhanced mandate at the CHOGM in Perth, Australia in 2011 and has the authority to suspend a member country from the association, has not included Sri Lanka in its discussions.

"The Commonwealth does itself a disservice by ignoring wartime atrocities and growing authoritarian rule in Sri Lanka, which challenge the Commonwealth's purpose and identity," Adams said.

"The CMAG meeting is an important opportunity to finally address rights issues in Sri Lanka and agree to a course of action. In this way the Commonwealth can make a genuine contribution to promoting the welfare of its citizens."

However, the Commonwealth Secretariat yesterday said that it is working with the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka to determine a roadmap for the Commission's role in national reconciliation efforts.

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