Focus on challenges, not human rights issues: Rajapaksa

Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa insisted that common problems of the 53-country bloc should outshine the island’s human rights record.

Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa delivered a strong message to Commonwealth members in Colombo in Friday, insisting that common problems of the 53-country bloc should outshine the island’s human rights record.

Rajapaksa inaugurated the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) with Britain’s Prince Charles representing Queen Elizabeth II as the head of the Commonwealth, Xinhua reported.

Recalling the challenges faced by Sri Lanka in the last few years, Rajapaksa insisted that an end to terrorism was an important milestone, which led to increased equitable development with poverty levels decreasing to just 7.5 percent.

However, he insisted that more was needed to be done and economic challenges should take precedence at the CHOGM because “common poverty is more important than common wealth”. Rajapaksa also advocated the separation of economic and political issues.

“CHOGM 2013 will provide the opportunity for us to assess the Commonwealth achievement (with) regard to development goals. If the Commonwealth is to remain relevant to its member countries, the association must respond sensitively to the needs of its people and not let it turn into punitive or judgmental body,” Rajapaksa said.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada and Prime Minister Navin Chandra Ramgoolam of Mauritius decided not attend the summit meeting because of Sri Lanka’s human rights record. 

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India, facing domestic pressure not to attend the summit, announced Nov 10 that he would not attend.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has said he planed to discuss outstanding human rights issues with Rajapaksa during his visit here and would visit the former war zone in the country’s north to see the situation first hand.

“We must also collectively guard against bilateral agendas being introduced into the organisation disrupting Commonwealth traditions and consensus. The strength of the organisation lies in keeping the member countries helping each other in a spirit of partnership making the Commonwealth truly unique,” Rajapaksa said.

“Our deliberations must lead to the greatest practical benefits of the people of a renewed Commonwealth. One that is engaging, collaborative and unified, rather than prescriptive and divisive,” he added.

The call comes as pressure intensifies on Sri Lanka to have credible investigations into charges of human rights abuses and promote reconciliation with its Tamil minority. Sri Lanka ended a three-decade civil war with the Tamil Tigers in 2009.


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