Rights concerns raised over Sri Lanka’s hosting of Commonwealth meeting

From 15-17 November 2013, Sri Lanka will host the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, following which Sri Lanka will chair the Commonwealth for two years. Many rights groups have raised concerns about Sri Lanka’s suitability to host CHOGM, and to hold the position as chair, given the serious human rights issues that remain unresolved in the country.

In September 2013, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights visited Sri Lanka. She reported that the considerable military presence in former war zones creates a problem of surveillance of civilians and a heightened risk of sexual abuse of women in those areas, particularly the large numbers of women living in female-headed households. She said that if the Sri Lankan government did not investigate the allegations of war crimes at the end of the war, then the international community will need to establish its own mechanisms. The High Commissioner also raised the problems of unsolved disappearances, ethnic and religious violence, and harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists, including people who spoke with the High Commissioner on her visit.

Tony Abbott has committed to attending CHOGM. In fact Australia recently co-hosted drinks in New York City with the Sri Lankan and UK governments. At the event, Julie Bishop spoke warmly of her recent trip to Sri Lanka.