AUSTRALIA’S Greens will launch the first major challenge to Sri Lanka’s Commonwealth membership today when the party calls for its suspension pending a full investigation into allegations of war crimes committed in the final months of the country’s civil war.
The campaign to suspend Sri Lanka from the Commonwealth kicks off tomorrow with a roundtable meeting of human rights activists and jurists involved in collecting evidence for an international war crimes probe to discuss ways of building popular support for the move.
Last week, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he would lobby for a boycott of the proposed Sri Lanka-hosted Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 2013 unless it could prove significant progress on human rights. Australia hosts the next CHOGM in Perth late next month.
Greens senator Lee Rhiannon said given the international momentum behind the push for a war crimes probe, she was hopeful of building bipartisan political support for Sri Lanka’s suspension from the councils of the Commonwealth.
“We will be looking at whether delegates of the Sri Lankan government may be refused a visa to visit Australia for CHOGM if it can be proved they do not meet the ‘character test’ and ‘public criteria test’.”
Similar lobbying for Sri Lanka’s suspension was occurring in Canada, she said.
A Greens Senate motion in July calling for an investigation of war crimes allegations against the Sri Lankan government and Tamil Tigers received unanimous support.
International Commission of Jurists Australia member John Dowd — a QC and former NSW attorney-general — said the point of the campaign was to “stop the exoneration of Sri Lanka and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam from the crimes that have occurred”.
“If Sri Lanka is used as a host, it ignores the fact that war crimes have been committed. The Commonwealth has to realise it can’t keep being polite when one of its members is guilty of (such) crimes.”
The Sri Lankan government is inching closer to a possible international inquiry after UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon referred a damning independent report on alleged human rights abuses and war crimes to the Human Rights Council.
The report concluded the government was responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians in a final offensive against Tamil separatists in 2009 after government troops shelled a declared “no-fire zone”. Colombo has consistently denied the allegations. It also found the Tigers used civilians as human shields, shot those trying to flee LTTE-held territory and forcibly recruited child soldiers.
Pakistan was suspended from the Commonwealth in 1999 following the military overthrow of the civilian government and again in 2007. Fiji was suspended in 2000 and again in 2006 after coups