CHOGM to begin amid allegations of rights violations by Sri Lanka

Absence of PM Manmohan Singh and counterparts from Canada and Mauritius cast shadow over 3-day CHOGM summit amid allegations of human rights violations against Tamils in Sri Lanka`s war against LTTE.

PTI| Updated: Nov 14, 2013, 21:00 PM IST

Colombo: The absence of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his counterparts from Canada and Mauritius has cast a shadow over the three-day CHOGM summit that begins here tomorrow amid allegations of human rights violations against the Tamils in Sri Lanka`s war against the LTTE.
Unfazed by repeated references to the "war crimes" and the demand for an independent investigation into them, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has picked on the opportunity to host the summit of the 53-nation grouping to showcase the peace in the last four years after the elimination of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The President even sought to downplay the absence of Singh at a CHOGM-eve press conference saying he was satisfied with the presence of External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, who is representing India at the summit after the Prime Minister backed out in the wake of strong sentiments in Tamil Nadu.

Rajapaksa noted that the Indian Prime Minister had not attended the previous 2011 summit in Perth, Australia, an explanation that was also given by Indian officials when Singh decided not to attend the summit after the Congress Core Group`s decision against his going to Colombo.

Political parties in Tamil Nadu had stepped up pressure against Singh`s participation and the Tamil Nadu assembly even passed two resolutions demanding a total boycott by India.

But Khurshid, who is representing India at the summit, has justified his presence saying there was need for India to remain engaged with Sri Lanka in the interest of Tamils of the island and also in the enlightened national interest of India.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Mauritian counterpart Navin Chandra Ramgoolam also chose to keep away from the summit citing the "poor" human rights record of Sri Lanka while British Prime Minister David Cameron has said he will attend the summit to express his country`s reservations on the issue.

Attending the summit does not mean Britain endorses all that had happened in Sri Lanka, he had said justifying his decision to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).

India, with 60 per cent of the 2.3 billion population of the grouping, has a key say in the Commonwealth, and along with big democracies like Britain, Australia and Canada, it can influence the way it moves forward.

The first question from an international journalist to Rajapaksa was "what do you plan to tell him (Cameron) when he meets you as he has said he is going to ask some questions to you".

Rajapaksa shot back "I will be meeting him. I have given him an appointment. When I meet him I will also ask him questions."

The President was combative throughout his 30-minute press conference that was dominated by the war against terror and the human rights violations allegations against Tamils.

He said Sri Lanka suffered the most in the last 30 years because of terrorism and now he has eliminated it and brought peace to the nation.

"We are open for a dialogue with the diaspora Tamils (sympathising with the LTTE movement and campaigning against his government) and we want to discuss with them all issues. We are also ready to take action against (those guilty of war crimes)," Rajapaksa said.

But those talking of violations of human rights by the forces did not bother about the gross violations by the LTTE when it killed civilians and a President, the President said, reminding the critics that they should respect the country`s legal system.

The theme of this year`s summit is "Growth with equity--inclusive growth" which was chosen by the hosts Sri Lanka.

Indian officials say it will be a 100-para document which will touch on various issues held dear by the Commonwealth like democracy, human rights, independence of judiciary and media besides the topic of economic development.

The political crisis in Maldives is also expected to figure prominently during the summit. The Commonwealth yesterday expelled the Maldives from its disciplinary panel which has begun investigating the political chaos in the country after repeated court interventions to prevent elections.

At the joint press conference, CHOGM Secretary General Kamlesh Sharma said the outcome of the Summit will touch upon the issues relating to Commonwealth principles like human rights, democracy and judiciary.

He said the grouping was engaged with Sri Lanka on the issue of human rights violations and would invite complaints about torture by state forces so that progress can be achieved on reconciliation.