Canada On War Footing
By Easwaran Rutnam
Canada is on a virtual war footing against Sri Lanka ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) with Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird pushing for human rights concerns on Sri Lanka to be taken seriously by the Commonwealth.
Baird made a last minute push to have Sri Lanka included in the agenda of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), which met in New York on Friday, but the attempt failed.
A day earlier he told Commonwealth Foreign Ministers at a separate meeting in New York that his government will not be fully represented at the Sri Lanka summit.
Commonwealth foreign affairs ministers met in New York on the margins of the 68th Session of the United Nations General Assembly.
The Canadian Foreign Ministry said the meeting provided an opportunity for ministers to discuss a troubling lack of progress in Sri Lanka. Canada has repeatedly called for Commonwealth engagement in response to Sri Lanka’s alleged violations of the Commonwealth’s core values and principles.
“I spoke out loudly and clearly on the issue of human rights in Sri Lanka, including on our concerns on the lack of accountability for the serious allegations of war crimes, the lack of reconciliation with the Tamil community and with the events that have taken place since the end of the civil war,” Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird said at that meeting.
“As the Prime Minister has stated very clearly, we expect our concerns to be addressed seriously by the Government of Sri Lanka. Unfortunately, given the current circumstances in Sri Lanka and the lack of substantial progress to date, it would be difficult for the Government of Canada to fully participate,” he added.
Baird then looked to discuss the issue at the smaller, but influential CMAG meeting also in New York on Friday.
Human Rights groups had also called on CMAG to formally discuss Sri Lanka and raise concerns over the human rights situation in the country. However Fiji was the main topic discussed at the meeting while a joint statement was also issued on the Maldives. Dr Dipu Moni, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh, chaired the meeting.
The CMAG meeting was also attended by Julie Bishop, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Australia, John Baird, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Canada, A. J. Nicholson, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade of Jamaica, Mariyam Shakeela, Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs of Maldives, Dr Samura Kamara, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sierra Leone, Bernard Membe, Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Tanzania, Winston Dookeran, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Trinidad and Tobago and Nipake Edward Natapei, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and External Trade of Vanuatu.
Earlier Polly Truscott, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia-Pacific Director said that the CMAG meeting was an opportunity for the Commonwealth to show some real leadership on human rights. It said that CMAG has been shamefully silent so far about Sri Lanka’s human rights crisis – including the persistent lack of justice for past crimes and ongoing attacks on human rights defenders and other activists.
Human Rights Watch had also called for Sri Lanka to be discussed at the CMAG meeting in New York.
Meanwhile the Canadian delegation at the UN Human Rights Council which concluded its 24th session last week made harsh comments on Sri Lanka.
The Canadians said they were discouraged that Sri Lanka continues to ignore calls for it to establish a credible and independent investigation into widespread allegations of humanitarian law and human rights violations by both sides during the nearly 30-year civil conflict.
The Canadians went further by requesting the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay to comment on specific activities her office plans to undertake to monitor the human rights situation in Sri Lanka ahead of her written report to the Council in March 2014.