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Global_17

network Colloquia CHOGM commonwealth CHOGM was always going to be overshadowed by human rights “Does anyone specifically have a question that’s not on Sri Lanka or human rights?” pleaded a spokesman for the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), Colombo’s Commonwealth summit, at a press conference in November. In 2009 the Sri Lankan government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa brought an end to the long and brutal civil war with the secessionist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) by indiscriminately shelling and bombing several hundred thousand civilians, some of whom the LTTE were using as human shields. Captured LTTE fighters and supporters were executed, raped and forcibly disappeared. Yet four years on, despite promise after promise, the Sri Lankan government has refused to accept responsibility for clear violations of international law by its forces that led to tens of thousands of civilian deaths. And it has failed to investigate seriously the numerous credible allegations of war crimes by its own troops. Moreover, Sri Lanka’s problems continue Nations high commissioner for human today. Instead of engaging in post-conflict rights, Navi Pillay, found during her August reforms, the Rajapaksa administration trip to the country. has become increasingly authoritarian, Torture and excessive use of force by the weakening the judiciary and denying space police remain serious problems, while media to human rights activists and independent outlets and human rights organisations journalists. Respect for human rights in Sri that speak out on such issues face threats, Lanka continues to decline, as the United harassment and, at times, violence. Many 84 l www.global -br ief ing.org f i rst quar ter 2014 global journalists and rights activists have felt compelled to leave the country. The international response to the final months of the conflict was so feeble that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon established a special panel to look into the UN’s own response. He endorsed the panel’s findings, which called the UN’s response a “systemic failure” to protect human rights. The Commonwealth should have been ready to stand up for its values and to see the oncoming media whirlwind. After all, the Commonwealth’s members have empowered it to investigate serious or persistent violations of the 1991 Harare Declaration and to recommend measures for action. It has the authority to suspend a member country of the Commonwealth for serious infringements. It’s not too late for the Commonwealth to make itself relevant on Sri Lanka, particularly as Sri Lanka is now chair of the Commonwealth for the next two years. It should remember that its responsibilities extend to the people of the Commonwealth, not just its governments. It can speak out for the victims of abuses and help them obtain the justice they deserve. If it doesn’t, it risks its credibility as an international forum. Tamil supporters demand an end to attacks in Sri Lanka Commonwealth People’s Forum opening ceremony Brad Adams is the Asia director at Human Rights Watch nations to achieve their true potential and a sustainable end to poverty,” she said. Turning to the post-2015 development agenda, Mahmood introduced the idea of the ‘triple F crisis’ – finance, food and fuel. “Vulnerability is changing,” she said. “We have increasing numbers of localised disasters and crises – conflicts and geophysical events.” Many of the international agencies that provide aid during times of crisis fail to work together effectively, said Mahmood, with each agency having their own narrow focus. “Some deal with health, others with income, others with violence, others with children and others with the elderly. We are facing profoundly systemic problems, and we are dealing with them in these narrow and limited ways,” she lamented. “As well as better-shared data and analysis, we need to find better ways of breaking down disciplinary silos.” Civil society could bridge some of these gaps, she said. Young people, particularly, are the ‘digital cowboys’ who may help organisations find new solutions to working more effectively with governments. Commonwealth organisations could offer valuable input for the forthcoming Hyogo Framework for Action in Disaster Risk Reduction review and 2016’s World Humanitarian Summit, she added. “Civil society actors need to engage actively with all these different consultations, providing not only inputs to the final priorities, decisions and policies, but also clearly carving out civil society’s important roles. If we can do that effectively, we would have laid the foundations for transformative action.” 


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