Commonwealth leaders’ summit opens, Sri Lanka at the center

Oct 28, Colombo: The head of the Commonwealth, Queen Elizabeth II of Britain today opened the 22nd Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) at the Conference an Exhibition Complex Center in Perth, Australia.

The leaders of 54 former British colonies, including Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa gathered in the West Australian city for a three-day summit to discuss the future of the organization that has not been successful in shaping up world policies.

Prime Minister of the host country, Ms. Julia Gillard welcomed the leaders of the 54 nations and the Queen to the summit.

At the center of the organization’s agenda for the meeting this year is Sri Lanka’s human rights record. The group has become under increasing pressure to address the issue as a measure to make a significant impact on preventing human right abuses.

Sri Lanka, which is to host the CHOGM in 2013, has been accused of committing human right violations and war crimes during the final stages of its three-decade long war against Tamil Tiger terrorists.

Western nations of the Commonwealth, mostly Canada and Britain which have a large Tamil population demand an international investigation into the alleged war crimes committed by the Sri Lankan government during the final phase of the war.

Sri Lanka has consistently denied that its troops committed war crimes insisting that the troops have conducted a humanitarian operation to rescue nearly 300,000 Tamils who were kept as a human shield by the terrorists, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Sri Lanka says President Mahinda Rajapaksa has appointed the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) to probe the conduct of the war and recommend measures to achieve reconciliation among the communities and there is no need for an international mechanism.

Some leaders of the Commonwealth have raised the possibility of changing the venue unless Sri Lanka makes progress in its human rights record.

Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose country has a large Tamil voter base, has even gone to the extent to call for the Commonwealth to boycott the event in 2013 if Sri Lanka didn’t show any progress by then.

Australia, India and several other nations have ruled out the change in the venue and decided that the CHOGM 2013 will be held in Sri Lanka as planned.

(Photos by Sudath Silva)

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