Under a growing shadow of human rights issues, the 22nd Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) meet began in Colombo on Friday, with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa telling the international community to be neither prescriptive nor divisive in its approach.
Rajapaksa’s comment comes in the wake of increasing pressure on Colombo on human rights violations against ethnic Tamil minority. Leading the vocal pack, British Prime Minister David Cameron spoke about “sending a tough message” to Lanka over the alleged war crimes.
The summit was marked by an equally stern message from Rajapaksa. The Lankan President said the 53-member group should not be made into a “punitive or judgmental body”.
“Make the Commonwealth a truly unique organisation for engaging in collaborative unity rather than indulging in prescriptive and divisive ways,” he said in his opening remarks.
Using the forum -- which included 36 heads of government and states -- Rajapaksa spoke of his government’s success in ending terrorism in the country. To buttress his point that there was no hue and cry on human rights during those 30 years of strife, he said, "In ending terrorism in 2009, we asserted the greatest human right, the right to life."
“We in Sri Lanka are stepping into a new era — peace, stability and renewed economic opportunities that have long been denied to my people due to the menace of terrorism that existed for nearly three decades.”
David Cameron earlier said he would challenge Rajapaksa over claims of abuse of human rights. "There is a problem of human rights as we speak today: the people who have disappeared, the lack of free rights for journalists and a free press. Giving up and staying at home would be bad for the Commonwealth as well as for Sri Lanka."
External affairs minister Salman Khurshid represented India at the summit after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called off his plans in the wake of stiff opposition from political parties in Tamil Nadu and dissent from some senior Congress leaders.