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Wednesday 17 July 2019

Sri Lanka defends rights record

Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa gestures as he answers a question during a press conference (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)
Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa gestures as he answers a question during a press conference (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

The president of Sri Lanka has hit out at critics who question his nation's human rights record, saying its institutions are dealing with complaints of abuses committed during or after its bloody 27-year civil war.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa was speaking on the sidelines of a summit for the 53 nations in the Commonwealth of Britain and its former territories, which has been criticised for holding this year's summit in the capital of Colombo and accused of making a mockery of the group's core values of democracy and human rights.

"We are open. We have nothing to hide," Mr Rajapaksa said, despite refusing demands by world governments and the United Nations for an independent investigation into alleged atrocities committed by both rebels and soldiers.

"If anyone who wants to complain about human rights violations in Sri Lanka, whether it's torture, whether it is rape, we have a system," Mr Rajapaksa said. "If there is any violations, we will take actions against anybody, anybody. I am ready to do that."

The leaders of Canada, India and Mauritius have stayed away. Other leaders, including Prime Minister David Cameron, have been forced by rights groups to justify their attendance by promising to call Sri Lanka to task.

The Commonwealth's secretary-general, Kamalesh Sharma, defended having the summit in Colombo by saying it allows Sri Lanka to meet leaders who have dealt with issues of human rights, rule of law and judicial independence in their countries. He said "it shows the Commonwealth in action".

Since the war ended in 2009 with Sri Lanka's Sinhalese-dominated government forces smashing a sustained Tamil rebellion fighting for an independent homeland, the government has denied that any rights abuses were committed by its forces.

The government accuses journalists of fabricating allegations of atrocities, and rejects criticism of nepotism, even though five ministries are controlled by Mr Rajapaksa and his three brothers. The parliament is also dominated by Mr Rajapaksa's coalition.

Mr Rajapaksa again lauded the wartime victory, saying "people were getting killed for 30 years. At least after 2009 we have stopped it".

Yet post-war reconciliation remains a far-off goal. Troops remain heavily deployed throughout the northern Tamil heartland on the teardrop-shaped island off south-west India.

Provincial elections held in September were seen as a step toward granting Tamils more autonomy, but also drew criticism for falling far below what is needed for post-war reconciliation.

The host of the Commonwealth's summit becomes the group's chair for two years until the next summit.

PA Media

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