Take lead in boycotting CHOGM in Colombo
As a sponsor of the World Moderate Movement, the Malaysian government should lead by boycotting CHOGM and hold the Sri Lankan government responsible for war crimes.
COMMENTBy Kua Kia Soong
The Malaysian government’s transformation programme does not seem to extend to foreign policy and human rights.
Thus while the Canadian government has decided to boycott next month’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Sri Lanka over human rights concerns, the Malaysian government chooses to charge a human rights defender Lena Hendry of Komas for screening a British television film on Sri Lanka’s atrocities against its Tamil citizens.
Hendry has been charged under the Film Censorship Act for organising a screening of ‘No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka’, an award-winning documentary about alleged war crimes by the Sri Lankan government during the final months of the civil war in 2009. Hendry faces up to three years in prison and a fine.
Although its civil war ended in 2009, the Sri Lankan government has still not accounted for its war crimes especially during the closing stages of the war nor desisted from its human rights abuses.
Troubling new evidence keeps on appearing with disturbing new proof that Sri Lankan government forces under Mahinda Rajapaksa committed violent crimes with impunity and continued to torture, rape and violently abuse Tamils, even after the war. (The Economist, Feb 26, 2013)
A British television broadcaster, Channel 4, previously showed images of Sri Lankan soldiers executing several naked, presumably Tamil, prisoners. These were recorded at the end of the war, in 2009.
Tamil political leaders suggested that 10,000 Tamils had been killed in the closing stages of the war, and that over 1,000 survivors remain missing. They spoke of mass graves hidden in the north of Sri Lanka and of the murder of many civilians.
A new report by Human Rights Watch, an activist group, released on Feb 26, 2013, publishes testimony from victims, doctors and others, who describe how Sri Lanka’s security forces—its army, police, intelligence agents—use arbitrary detention, violence, torture and rape against Tamil suspects.
It documents cases of Tamil men and women who were detained, violently interrogated, threatened with execution, raped, burned with cigarettes, tortured and forced to sign confessions of supporting the former rebel army.
More recently, UN human rights commissioner Navi Pillay has expressed grave concern about the lack of accountability, unresolved enforced disappearances, and decreasing fundamental freedoms.
After a visit to Sri Lanka, she noted the country’s worrying “authoritarian turn” and the government’s failure to independently or credibly investigate the allegations of war crimes during the country’s armed conflict.
She pointed out that surveillance and harassment of human rights defenders, journalists, and many ordinary citizens appeared to be getting worse. Security forces intimidated some of those she met or intended to meet, and interrogated human rights defenders.
Peter Arndt of the Brisbane Catholic Archdiocesan Justice and Peace Commission, who has just returned from a visit to Sri Lanka as part of a group of 30 Catholic justice and peace workers from across Asia and the Pacific suggested that the systematic way in which Tamil men are being arrested, detained indefinitely and disposed of “looks suspiciously like ethnic cleansing.”
The British House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee in its report ‘Role and Future of the Commonwealth’ has sharply criticised the decision to hold the CHOGM in Sri Lanka, and has called upon Prime Minister David Cameron to boycott the meeting.
Human Rights Watch reiterated its concerns that holding the summit in Sri Lanka casts serious doubts on the Commonwealth’s commitment to supporting human rights, democratic reform, and fundamental human rights enshrined in the Commonwealth Harare Declaration of 1991.
The Commonwealth and its participants risk major embarrassment by holding the meeting in Colombo.
The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) is empowered to investigate serious or persistent violations of the Harare Declaration and to recommend measures for action.
The group also has the authority to suspend a member country of the Commonwealth for serious infringements. Besides the Sri Lanka’s human rights record, the impeachment of Sri Lankan Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranaike has been found to be unconstitutional, a “direct violation” of the rule of law and contravened Commonwealth Values and Principles.
As a sponsor of the World Moderate Movement, the Malaysian government should lead by boycotting CHOGM and hold the Sri Lankan government responsible for war crimes during the country’s recent conflict.
To show that it is serious about political and social transformation, the Malaysian authorities should immediately drop charges against Lena Hendry or risk looking silly in the eyes of the commonwealth and the world.
Kua Kia Soong is advisor to human rights movement Suaram.