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Govt urged to call out Sri Lankan crimes

2013 Nov 05

Amnesty International and Sri Lankans living in New Zealand are urging the government to block Sri Lanka from chairing the Commonwealth until it properly investigates alleged war crimes.

The human rights group and Tamil representatives met MPs at parliament on Tuesday to express concerns about ongoing abuses, ahead of of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo later this month.

They handed over a 30,000-signature global petition calling for Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa's ascent to the chair for a two-year term to be stopped.

The Sri Lankan government has been accused of atrocities against civilians, many of them minority Tamil people, during the final months of its 26-year-long civil war, which ended in 2009.

Amnesty International and other humanitarian groups have expressed concerns about the killing of tens of thousands of people by government forces, along with a continuing crackdown on dissent, including "disappearances" of journalists, political opponents and others.

Amnesty International New Zealand is calling on Prime Minister John Key and Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully to send a strong signal to the Sri Lankan government that they must hold an independent investigation into the alleged war crimes and ongoing abuses.

Executive director Grant Bayldon says CHOGM members should ensure Sri Lanka cannot take the chair role this year.

"While the war is over, the terror still goes on in Sri Lanka: the killings, torture ... and disappearances," he said.

"The New Zealand government has a choice to make, and the choice is whether it will speak out boldly."

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is boycotting CHOGM, citing its failure to improve its human rights record, and has also signalled his country could pull its significant financial support of the Commonwealth if Sri Lanka takes the chair. 

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