Cameron to demand Sri Lanka war crimes investigation

British PM says he has better chance of securing change if he attends Colombo meeting

Amnesty supporters dressed as grim reapers, British prime minister David Cameron, Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa and British foreign secretary William Hague, gather in Parliament Square, central London, last weekend to protest the British  government’s endorsement of Sri Lanka at the  impending Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Colombo. Photograph: Yui Mok/PA Wire

Amnesty supporters dressed as grim reapers, British prime minister David Cameron, Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa and British foreign secretary William Hague, gather in Parliament Square, central London, last weekend to protest the British government’s endorsement of Sri Lanka at the impending Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Colombo. Photograph: Yui Mok/PA Wire

Thu, Nov 7, 2013, 21:04

British prime minister David Cameron said today he will demand that Sri Lanka investigates allegations of war crimes and human rights abuses when he visits the country for a meeting of Commonwealth leaders next week.

Mr Cameron said he wanted to “shine the international spotlight on the lack of progress” in the Indian Ocean island since the end of a long civil war in 2009.

Defending his decision to attend the biennial Commonwealth leaders’ meeting in the capital, Colombo, Mr Cameron said he would have a better chance of securing changes if he pressed ahead with his visit to the former British colony.

“I will demand that the Sri Lankan government independently and transparently investigates alleged war crimes and allegations of continuing human rights abuses,” Mr Cameron wrote in an article for a London-based Tamil newspaper.

Human rights groups have urged leaders to boycott the November 15th-17th meeting to put pressure on the Sri Lankan president, Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper has said he will not attend, citing concerns over allegations of extrajudicial killings, harassment of minorities and the detention of politicians and journalists.

South African peace campaigner Archbishop Desmond Tutu said he supported a boycott, urging the world to “apply all the screws that it can”.

The Sri Lankan government says its rights record has improved since the war and has rejected the criticism as unsubstantiated.

Tens of thousands of civilians died in the last months of the war between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels, a UN report estimated. The Tamil minority lost their fight for a separate state in Sri Lanka.

Mr Cameron said he would become the first foreign leader to visit the north of the island since the country’s independence from Britain in 1948. The war ended in 2009 when government forces surrounded the rebels in a small area in the north.

“Four years after the conflict, no one has been held to account for grave allegations of war crimes and sexual violence, journalists are routinely intimidated and thousands of people have yet to find out what has happened to their missing relatives,” Mr Cameron wrote.

Britain’s opposition Labour said Mr Cameron had failed to exploit his visit to push for improved human rights.

“The British government’s handling of this issue has been characterised by misjudgements and missed opportunities,” Labour foreign affairs spokesman Kerry McCarthy said.

Reuters