Don't let Sri Lanka lead Commonwealth: rights body

London, Oct 16 (IANS) Commonwealth foreign ministers should not award Sri Lanka the two-year chairmanship of the Commonwealth after it hosts the Commonwealth summit in November, Human Rights Watch said Wednesday.

The Committee of the Whole, made up of Commonwealth foreign ministers, will meet Oct 17-18 here to finalize the agenda for the meetings in Colombo Nov 15-17.

"It's bad enough that the Commonwealth has allowed a government accused of massive rights abuses and war crimes to host its summit," said Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch.

"But to effectively put the Commonwealth in the hands of an unrepentant government that doesn't meet the Commonwealth's official values on democracy or human rights would be the height of hypocrisy," he said.

Rewarding Sri Lanka with the chairmanship casts serious doubts on the Commonwealth's commitment to supporting human rights and democratic reform enshrined in the Commonwealth Harare Declaration of 1991, Human Rights Watch said.

The Commonwealth and its participants risk major embarrassment by holding the meeting in Colombo, particularly given the Sep 25 statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.

She highlighted a range of human rights problems in Sri Lanka, including the government's failure "to independently or credibly investigate the allegations" of war crimes during the country's armed conflict.

Pillay's report to the Human Rights Council underscored the need for an independent, international investigation into abuses in the final months of Sri Lanka's 26-year-long conflict, which ended in 2009.

A panel of experts appointed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon found that as many as 40,000 civilians were killed as a result of violations of international law by both sides.

Commonwealth countries should actively support an investigation, and should press Sri Lanka to cooperate fully, Human Rights Watch said.

Canada announced this month that its head of government, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, will not attend the Commonwealth meeting in November because of Sri Lanka's rights record.

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