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The PM is Right Going to Sri Lanka Would Legitimize the Regime

The PM is Right Going to Sri Lanka Would Legitimize the Regime

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Published by Maria Anderson

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Published by: Maria Anderson on Oct 10, 2013
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10/10/2013

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An elderly Sri Lankan woman collects pieces of wood in the sea promenade of Colombo port, in Colombo, SriLanka, Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013.(Eranga Jayawardena/Associated Press)
HUGH SEGAL-
OCT. 08 2013
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has announced that he will not be attending theCommonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Sri Lanka, consistent withconcerns he expressed on Sri Lanka in the fall of 2011. As he pointed out, this wasnot an easy decision. Canada was one of the foundingnations of the Commonwealth. All governments know and understand that there is acertain diplomatic simplicity in “going along to get along.” No confrontation, no hard
 
feelings. But on this issue, the Commonwealth has sadly taken the path of leastresistance. This is no credit to the Secretary General, the Commonwealth Secretariator the member countries.The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting is far more than a few days for heads of state to gather. It is at this meeting where the host country becomes theChair-in-Office of the Commonwealth of Nations, the effective leader country for twoyears. Until 2015, Sri Lanka will chair the foreign ministers meetings and have a seaton the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, the body charged with investigatinghuman rights, democracy, judicial, or journalistic independence violations.In the run-up to CHOGM, the Bar Associations of Canada, Australia, England &Wales, Sri Lanka, South Africa, the Commonwealth Judges & Magistrates Association and numerous others; Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, theCommittee to Protect Journalists, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights NaviPillay, to name but a few, have all cited deep concern with the human rights, judicialindependence and freedom of the press situation in Sri Lanka. The former chief  justice of South Africa, Pius Langa, stated in his legal opinion – which wascommissioned, and then suppressed, by the Secretary General – that theimpeachment of the chief justice of Sri Lanka was illegal, unconstitutional and
 
“sowing the seeds of anarchy.” All of this after the celebration of The Queen signingthe Charter of the Commonwealth in March of this year – a document that lists andoutlines all of the principles and values for which the Commonwealth stands. As Canada’s Special Envoy to the Commonwealth and the Canadian representativeon the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group which authored TheCommonwealthof Nations: Time for Urgent Reform, I went to Sri Lanka as a fact finder for our foreign minister in April of this year. I saw wonderful new highways and buildings inColombo that would rival those in Toronto. I also saw the bullet holes above the sofain the office of the editor of a Tamil language newspaper in Jaffna. Days after wevisited the paper, its offices were trashed and employees beaten. I met withindividuals in displacement camps who had been there for years with no hope of returning home because their land had been appropriated to build housing for military families. I saw soldiers walk in as we walked out to “chat” with those whospoke to us. We were followed wherever we went and had to “lose” our escorts inorder to speak to people who were afraid for their lives. Christian, Muslim and Tamilleaders all spoke of persecution and intimidation. There was scant if any evidence of any reconciliation or efforts of any accountability.I understand that bilateral relationships between countries are important for a host of 

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