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Though the 26-year Civil War ended in Sri Lanka in 2009, the government has failed to make any advance in bringing peace and freedom to its people. No accountability has been provided for the war crimes committed, by either side. Civilians are targeted by the Sri Lankan government, their lives threatened, their basic civil and human rights ignored. The human rights activists who fight for their cause put their lives at risk to defend such basic human rights like freedom of speech, association, and religion. The Sri Lankan prisons overflow with political prisoners by the thousands, each detained without a free trial or the hope of ever being freed. The ethnic minority Tamils are subject to arbitrary arrest and face threats of torture. All the while, the President of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa continues to expand his power to the detriment of democratic progress. And, yet the international community does nothing; a narrative that has become all too familiar in the present day.

In light of its history of chronic human rights abuse, it would seem obvious that Sri Lanka should be prevented from hosting the Commonwealth summit in November of this year and becoming its chairman for the next two years. The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting happens every two years in a different member state, chaired by that state’s leader. The host country’s Prime Minister or President then becomes the Commonwealth Chairperson in Office for two years. Amnesty International has condemned granting Sri Lanka this privilege, suggesting it to be the equivalent of granting ‘…Sri Lanka carte blanche for human rights violations’. The irony of this situation is that whilst human rights abuses and violations continue unabated in Sri Lanka, the country would ‘…charged with helping the Secretary-General address violations of human rights in other Commonwealth countries’. It seems as though joke is on us. In spite of demands from the UN, the Sri Lankan government has not abided by any requests or demands to put a stop to the abuse going on in its country.

It can be suggested that Sri Lanka stands as just one more example of the West’s hypocritical stance on universal human rights and welfare. In 2011, the British parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee claimed that on the basis of human rights, the UK government would refuse to support Sri Lanka as the host of the Commonwealth leaders’ meeting. It is now 2013, and though the situation in Sri Lanka has not changed for the better, the country’s poor track record of human rights no longer seems to be a barrier for hosting the meetings. Though Prime Minister David Cameron promises that the issue of human rights will be brought up and thoroughly discussed, it will take more than just stringing together a half-hearted pledge to impact meaningful change. Yet, given the way the Prime Minister handled the issue of human rights violations in regards to Burma, in that a soft approach was adopted towards the government following its ‘remarkable’ democratic reforms in 2010. It is unlikely that the issue of human rights will be vigorously pursued at the meetings as the point of focus. Even if it is mentioned, what good will words to if it is not followed by action?

BY:  Wiktoria Schulz