Sri Lanka is scheduled to host the next Commonwealth summit in 2013, but the country is under attack for alleged human rights violations and war crimes in the final days of its civil war with the Tamil Tigers in 2009. It is refusing to heed calls for an international investigation into those allegations, which has annoyed some other Commonwealth nations.
Pictured, ethnic women with their children walk near barbed wire at an internally displaced camp set up for Tamils who escaped the war zone, in Vavuniya, about 254 km north of Colombo.
Canada is rallying behind two reports prepared for the Commonwealth that recommend reforms to uphold core values, such as democracy, the rule of law and human rights among its 54-nation members.
The potentially divisive issue will be front and centre as leaders of the Commonwealth nations gather in Perth, Australia, for their biennial summit.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper was scheduled to depart Ottawa Tuesday afternoon for the meeting, which begins later in the week.
On Monday, his spokesman, Andrew MacDougall, told reporters Harper is committed to underscoring that the Commonwealth can play an important role in “supporting democracy, good government and human rights.”
At the Commonwealth meeting, leaders will review two reports:
- The 205-page report of an Eminent Persons Group they appointed two years ago. Leaked to the media last week, it calls for urgent reforms and a proactive approach by the Commonwealth to ensure its member nations abide by human-rights principles.
The advisory group has made 106 recommendations, including the establishment of a charter of the Commonwealth and the appointment of a commissioner for democracy, the rule of law and human rights to keep track whether member nations are persistently violating human rights, and who also would recommend “remedial action.”
- The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), a panel of nine foreign ministers, is tasked with protecting the Commonwealth’s fundamental political values against “serious or persistent violations.” Its recommendations focus on how to keep better tabs on nations that violate core values, and how the Commonwealth can adopt “proactive and positive” ways to keep the countries in line.
MacDougall made it clear that Canada endorses the reports.
“Both those reports are aimed at strengthening the Commonwealth, increasing its relevance and effectiveness,” he said, adding that Canada supports the “timely implementation” of their recommendations.
“We will focus on the work at hand for the leaders and reforming the Commonwealth. The recommendations are there for all the Commonwealth members to accept and work towards.”
Some others within the organization — which spans regions ranging from Africa to the Caribbean to South Asia — are apparently apprehensive about the proposed reforms.
“Canada fully recognizes the varying circumstances in Commonwealth countries,” said MacDougall. “It’s quite a disparate group in terms of levels of development.”
MacDougall said Commonwealth members such as Canada, Britain and Australia are “quite advanced” in areas such as the rule of law and human rights.
“There are other countries in the Commonwealth who will need our help to strengthen their systems and become countries that do respect more, fully respect, human rights and the rule of law.”
Also Monday, MacDougall stressed that Harper is not backing down from a threat earlier this month regarding Sri Lanka. That country is scheduled to host the next Commonwealth summit in 2013, but the country is under attack for alleged human-rights violations and war crimes in the final days of its civil war with the Tamil Tigers in 2009. It is refusing to heed calls for an international investigation into those allegations, which has annoyed several Commonwealth nations.
In an interview last month, Harper threatened to boycott the summit unless Sri Lanka shows “progress” on accountability for the alleged human-rights violations.
Sri Lanka’s high commissioner to Canada, Chitranganee Wagiswara, told Postmedia News that her country does not want the issue raised at the summit in Australia. She denied allegations that Sri Lanka committed human-rights violations, stressing that the government was fighting a war against terrorism when it defeated the Tamil Tigers.
But MacDougall said the prime minister hasn’t changed his position and that he expects the leaders to discuss the issue at the summit.
“The prime minister has put down his marker in terms of what he wants to see and expects to see if he is going to attend the next meeting.”
Meanwhile, also at the summit, leaders are expected to discuss a proposal by British Prime Minister David Cameron to change the rules of royal succession.
The reforms championed by Cameron would scrap rules that put a male child ahead of his older sister in the line to the throne and drop anyone who marries a Catholic from the royal line of succession.
The issue has come to the fore amid concerns that a daughter born to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge under the current rules could be bumped down the line of succession by the later birth of a brother.
In a letter to other Commonwealth leaders, Cameron stated: “We espouse gender equality in all other aspects of life, and it is an anomaly that in the rules relating to the highest public office we continue to enshrine male superiority.”
Canada supports the change, and MacDougall said Monday there is no indication that anyone at the meeting in Australia will voice objection.