Human rights issues have once again arisen in Sri Lanka, a country that has a troublesome past concerning a violent and bloody civil war. The civil war ended in 2009 with the governmental force being victorious.It has been revealed this week, however, that in the midst of the Commonwealth Summit which Sri Lanka was hosting, the country itself and its human rights are being seriously questioned.
The Commonwealth Summit of 2013 took place in Sri Lanka. The idea of the Commonwealth is that post-colonial countries of Britain join together to co-operate and consult upon domestic and foreign affairs. Regular summits are constructed to promote equity and equality. However, the summit held in Sri Lanka kicked up a storm with other Commonwealth leaders, the Prime Ministers of Canada, Mauritius and India deciding to boycott the summit out of protest. The boycott was prompted by the belief that the Sri Lankan government has shelled its own people. This atrocity has been reported to have happened throughout the 26 year long civil war. In this bloody war between the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan government, UN records state that at least ‘40,000’ were killed; figures not including civilian deaths. Thousands of people suffered violations of human rights – something which the president of Sri Lanka continues to deny.
The boycotting of these leaders put pressure on David Cameron to address the shelling of Tamil civilians in 2009 during his representation within the summit. Cameron’s visit in itself has been a controversial affair – a summit based on the ideas of equity and equality within a country that has been accused of atrocity towards humans questionable at best. Whilst not giving in to the pressure of also boycotting the summit, Cameron also decided to visit areas in Sri Lanka that were hit hardest by the long civil war.
What he planned to gain from attending the summit soon became clear, David Cameron stating “I was determined i’d use the presence of the Commonwealth and my own visit to shine a global spotlight on the situation there.” In his attempt to encourage the Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa to address the history and troubles of human rights within his country, Cameron seemed to do all but succeed. Though he communicated an ultimatum to Rajapaksa, demanding an opening up and reconciliation of human rights abuses, all else he seemed to achieve was to leave Sri Lanka feeling invaded and aggravated. Richard Uko, a commonwealth spokesperson who continually addressed Rajapaksa on the issues of human rights stated ‘I can see I am being consistently ignored’ and Sri Lanka’s human rights abuses became an overshadowed factor in what was supposed to be, from Cameron’s point of view, a predominant theme within the summit. What cannot be ignored though, is the ‘detected colonial overtones in the finger-wagging and accused Britain of acting like a big brother that punishes rather than guides.’ -an important fact that many wish to oversee.
So what was the point of David Cameron’s visit? With regards to the short term, his visit contained no point apart from ‘looking good’ on an international scale. David Cameron attended a summit which directly avoided the human rights issues within Sri Lanka, they were ignored throughout and Cameron did nothing to change this. His visit can be seen as being one for popularity on an international scale, not an act to promote change. However with regards to the long term, Cameron has highlighted the need for the county to attend to its human rights issues, using United Nations interference as a threat. The summit and David Cameron’s visit has made no changes for the Sri Lankan population suffering from the civil war and the human rights abuses, and Sri Lanka still has a long way to go. A visit from a British prime minister is not going to create much of a difference at a present time, and the Sri Lankan population will continue to suffer in silence.
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