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New Zealand gov't urged to act after Sri Lanka detains lawmakers

2013 Nov 12

The New Zealand government was under growing pressure Monday to take action against Sri Lanka after two lawmakers from New Zealand and Australia were briefly detained by Sri Lankan officials while on a fact-finding mission over the weekend.

New Zealand Member of Parliament Jan Logie and Australian Senator Lee Rhiannon were carrying out their investigation ahead of this week's Commonwealth group of nations summit to be held in Colombo.

Leaders from India and Canada have already signaled they will not be attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting ( CHOGM) in Sri Lanka, where the government has come under fire for its human rights record since ending the 26-year civil war with the Tamil minority in 2009.

Logie and Rhiannon released a statement Sunday, saying they had evidence of widespread human rights abuses and warning that CHOGM' s "presence in Sri Lanka risks becoming an award for a regime accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity."

The New Zealand Green Party, to which Logie belongs, on Monday called on Prime Minister John Key, who will attend CHOGM from Nov. 15 to 17, to oppose the appointment of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa to chair the Commonwealth.

"President Rajapaksa cannot be allowed to assume a main leadership role of CHOGM when he is allowing human rights abuses to continue under his watch," Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said in a statement.

"John Key should boycott the meeting but, if he is determined to go, then he needs to use the opportunity to ensure human rights issues are front and centre during the talks and that an appropriate chair is selected," Norman said.

The main opposition Labour Party said Sri Lanka was "unfit" to chair the Commonwealth for the next two years and Key must insist Sri Lanka observes basic human rights.

"To agree to Sri Lanka becoming the chair would weaken the Commonwealth's credibility and undermine its status as a body that stands up for human rights," Labor foreign affairs spokesperson David Shearer said in a statement.

Radio New Zealand reported that the New Zealand government had said it was more constructive to engage with Sri Lanka, and Key would directly express New Zealand's concerns about issues such as human rights.

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