Britain's Cameron to raise human rights with Sri Lanka at Commonwealth summit

By Peter Griffiths

LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday rejected calls to boycott a Commonwealth summit in Sri Lanka next month because of concerns over the country's human rights record, but said he would raise difficult issues at the talks.

Rights groups have urged world leaders to stay away from the meeting in Colombo to protest against what they have described as a "human rights crisis" in the former British colony, suggesting attendance could help legitimise the situation.

In particular, campaigners want the Sri Lankan government to allow an independent investigation into allegations that government forces committed war crimes towards the end of a civil war that ended in 2009 after almost three decades.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on Monday he would not attend the summit, citing reports of "incarceration of political leaders and journalists, harassment of minorities, reported disappearances, and allegations of extra judicial killings".

But Cameron told the British parliament on Wednesday he had decided to attend as he thought the best policy was engagement rather than staying away.

"It is right for the British prime minister to go to the Commonwealth conference because we are big believers in the Commonwealth," Cameron told lawmakers, referring to the organisation whose members are mostly former British colonies.

"But I think it is right in going to the Commonwealth conference we should not hold back in being very clear about those aspects of the human rights record in Sri Lanka that we are not happy with."

If he didn't go, he couldn't raise such issues in person, he said.

Chitranganee Wagiswara, Sri Lanka's high commissioner to Canada, told Reuters that the rights situation had improved over the last four years and that Colombo did not accept Harper's comments.

The Sri Lankan government has faced global condemnation over its rights record, with criticism focused on its final campaign against separatist Tamil Tigers, an offensive the United Nations said killed tens of thousands of civilians in 2009.

U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay said in a report last month that she also had concerns "about the degree to which the rule of law and democratic institutions in Sri Lanka are being undermined and eroded".

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa may be overseeing a slide towards an authoritarian system in the island nation off India's south coast, the same U.N. report said.

Pressed about Cameron's stance on Sri Lanka, his official spokesman said nothing would be "off the table" at the Commonwealth meeting.

Rights group Amnesty International has accused the Commonwealth of being "shamefully silent so far about Sri Lanka's human rights crisis". (Additional reporting by William James; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Susan Fenton)

Matches

MORE TOP STORIES TODAY

Time for Chennai to enter familiar cocoon

Time for Chennai to enter familiar cocoon

Chennai have an emphatic 8-3 lead in the head-to-head with Punjab, with one game tied More »

Evenly matched Rajasthan and Hyderabad face-off

Evenly matched Rajasthan and Hyderabad face-off

A quality that defines Rajasthan and Hyderabad is consistency. Rajasthan was one among two teams to enjoy complete dominance at home last season. Hyderabad… More »

Beleaguered Yuvraj tees off to Sharjah's delight

Beleaguered Yuvraj tees off to Sharjah's delight

Yuvraj Singh was hardly convincing to begin with against Delhi, but a big dose of crowd support and a helping of poor bowling meant he had the opportunity… More »

Fiery star Stokes bids to curb his temper

Fiery star Stokes bids to curb his temper

England all-rounder Ben Stokes admits he must keep his anger under control if he is to end his international exile. More »

Troubled Trott to take another break

Troubled Trott to take another break

Jonathan pulled out of England's tour to Australia Brisbane with a 'stress-related illness'. More »

Bangalore's arsenal blazes to victory

Bangalore's arsenal blazes to victory

Yuvraj Singh was back to his best in his first match for Royal Challengers Bangalore. More »

BCCI to meet before next court hearing

BCCI to meet before next court hearing

The BCCI will hold an emergent working committee meeting on April 20 to discuss the future course of action with regard to the Supreme Court hearing concerning… More »

Gavaskar wants a clean IPL

Gavaskar wants a clean IPL

"Integrity is non-negotiable..." says the BCCI's interim chief ahead of Season 7 of the tainted league. More »

Kallis, Narine star in KKR win

Kallis, Narine star in KKR win

An all-round display saw Knight Riders thump Mumbai Indians by 41 runs in the IPL-7 opener. More »

Srinivasan named in fixing report: SC

Srinivasan named in fixing report: SC

The court emphasised that the tainted administrator can no longer work for the BCCI. More »

Yuvraj happy to play for RCB: Kohli

Yuvraj happy to play for RCB: Kohli

New-look RCB will play their first game of IPL-7 on Thursday. More »

'Yak' Kallis still on top of his game

'Yak' Kallis still on top of his game

The 38-year-old South African veteran turned it on for Kolkata Knight RIders in the opening match of IPL-7. More »

IPL: News Line

IPL: News Line

A round-up of all the news from this season of the IPL. More »

Shane Watson issues moral warning

Shane Watson issues moral warning

'Everyone knows what is right and what is wrong and if you do the wrong thing it will be found out' More »

Why I'm not looking forward to the IPL

Why I'm not looking forward to the IPL

Welcome to another season of a league that many watch but few trust. More »

Johnson may quit T20s for Tests

Johnson may quit T20s for Tests

Australia's Mitchell Johnson may quit limited-overs cricket to prolong his test career with an eye on the 2015 Ashes series in England, the fast bowler… More »

Nepal players call off boycott

Nepal players call off boycott

Thaw in relations after formation of an advisory committee that would work in tandem with the Cricket Association of Nepal. More »

There's a lot going on: Fleming

There's a lot going on: Fleming

He experienced anxious moments in the lead-up to the tournament as the courts decided on whether to suspend the franchise, he said, but stressed that the… More »

Latif couldn’t work with tainted players

Latif couldn’t work with tainted players

Former Pakistan cricket captain Rashid Latif said Tuesday he turned down the job of national chief selector because he could not work with ex-players tainted… More »

We are not over-confident: Bailey

We are not over-confident: Bailey

Indian Premier League — George Bailey-led Kings XI Punjab will face Chennai Super Kings on Friday. More »

Big runs expected, with bat and ball

Big runs expected, with bat and ball

Royal Challengers Bangalore: Their main concern, once again, is the fast bowling More »

Taxing issue — BCCI hits roadblock

Taxing issue — BCCI hits roadblock

MoU between BCCI & its units to avoid double taxation delayed after a few decline to share details. More »

Black Caps pick rookie duo for West Indies

Black Caps pick rookie duo for West Indies

New Zealand selectors included two new caps in a 15-man Test squad named Tuesday to tour the West Indies, with injury-hit spinner Dan Vettori's future… More »

The stage is set for IPL-7 to start

The stage is set for IPL-7 to start

The Preview — Defending champions Mumbai Indians take on Kolkata Knight Riders More »