Even though some have suggested that David Cameron should not have travelled to Sri Lanka last week, arguably, if the Prime Minister hadn’t have attended the Commonwealth Summit, we would not have seen coverage of Sri Lanka’s poor human rights record in the UK press and media. Instead, they would have focused on fraught diplomatic tensions between the two countries- yes, this still happened- but at least more of us know about frequent human right violations in the south Asian country as a result. In my view, the PM made the right decision.
As David Cameron arrived in the north of Sri Lanka, his entourage was swamped with hundreds of men and women screeching, crying, and hysterically holding up pictures of their loved ones; sons, daughters, fathers, mothers who all allegedly died at the hands of the government. The UN Human Rights Commissioner, Navanethem Pillay, visited Sri Lanka in May 2013. After her visit she said “the war may have ended, but in the meantime democracy has been undermined and the rule of law eroded.”
The UN Human Rights Council has recorded over 12,000 named individuals who have disappeared after being detained by Sri Lankan security forces, the second highest figure in the world. If the UK followed the likes of Canada and India and boycotted the summit, then these figures simply would not have been raised.
The Prime Minister praised the country’s path towards democracy but said Sri Lanka needs to face the past in order for reconciliation to happen.
“As things stand, the Sri Lankan government don’t accept the need for a full independent inquiry. They haven’t established it. They have of course set up their own reconciliation commission and that has done some good work, but I think this particular piece of work needs to be done. This is an issue now of international concern, and we should pursue it very vigorously,” he said on the issue of an alleged civilian massacre at the war’s end.
Instead of isolating Sri Lanka and ignoring the issue David Cameron has pushed this issue up the agenda. More of us in Britain now know that Sri Lankans face regular human rights violations, how many would have known this if the UK boycotted the summit?
We must engage with countries on the path to democracy and discuss with them human rights violations, only then can nations reconcile and improve their record with our help. How will they be able to move on from troubled pasts if countries such as the UK simply ignore them and boycott events? That’s why it was completely right and acceptable that David Cameron attended the Commonwealth Summit. He raised issues with the Sri Lankan President, yes relations may freeze for a while with Sri Lanka, but he has made more people aware of this issue and hopefully this momentum will continue in politics, the press and the media after the Prime Minister has moved the issue up the agenda.
And for Ed Miliband’s criticism of David Cameron attending the summit. Labour was in power when the decision was made for Sri Lanka to host the conference, couldn’t they have done something about it at the time?
A point of thought for the Opposition leader perhaps.
Backbench Chief Secretary to the Foreign Department