Don’t turn Commonwealth into ‘punitive’ grouping: Rajapaksa
Leaders of some nations boycotted the summit amid the violation of human rights in the war against the LTTE
Colombo: The CHOGM summit opened today with a combative Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, under attack over alleged rights violations in the war against the LTTE, asking countries not to turn the Commonwealth into a “punitive and judgemental” grouping or indulge in “prescriptive” ways.
Rajapaksa used the opportunity of welcoming delegates to the three-day summit to reiterate the message that Sri Lanka has nothing to answer for on human rights, an issue that has cast a cloud over the meet.
Undaunted by a boycott by some leaders and the raging debate on rights violations, Rajapaksa did not directly refer to concerns raised by certain member countries but made a veiled reference to them in his speech.
“If the Commonwealth is to remain relevant, the member countries of the association must respond to the needs of the people and not turn it into a punitive and judgemental body,” he said, cautioning against bilateral agendas being introduced against the traditions of the grouping.
External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, British Prime Minister David Cameron and other leaders of the 53-member body were present at the opening ceremony. “Make the Commonwealth a truly unique organisation for engaging in collaborative unity rather than indulging in prescriptive and divisive ways,” he said, seeking the strengthening of the grouping.
“We have the greatest regard for human rights and we have restored the right to life. In the past four years there has been no single terrorist incident anywhere in Sri Lanka,” he said to thunderous applause from the gathering in the Chinese-built “Nelum Pokuna (Lotus Pond) Rajapaksa Theatre”.
Rajapaksa thanked Commonwealth members for reposing confidence in Sri Lanka, saying this would assist him in serving his country that was back on the path of peace and stability after three decades of terrorism.
He quoted Lord Buddha’s words to say, “let us only be concerned about what one has done and not what one has not done in the past.”
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh decided to skip the conference in the face of strong opposition from political parties in Tamil Nadu, which wanted India to boycott the summit.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Mauritius counterpart Navin Chandra Ramgoolam boycotted the meet, citing the poor human rights record of the hosts.
After the opening of the summit by Prince Charles, deputising for his 87-year-old mother Queen Elizabeth II, the head of the Commonwealth, Cameron flew to Jaffna, the headquarters of the Tamil-dominated Northern Province, where people who lost their kin in the war took to the streets to protest against the Rajapaksa government.
Cameron, slated to meet Rajapaksa after his return from Jaffna, is expected to discuss the alleged rights violations against Tamil civilians in the last phase of the war against the LTTE. In all, 23 heads of government and high dignitaries and foreign ministers of the grouping are attending the summit.