Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said “no one is standing up stronger against the regime in Colombo, Sri Lanka, than this prime minister and this government.”
“Our position is unless we see significant and substantial signs of human rights improvements in Sri Lanka, the meeting simply shouldn’t be happening there.”
It’s highly problematic for an institution which purports to support human rights to hold a meeting in a country with deteriorating human rights, he said. On Thursday, Amnesty International called on the Sri Lankan government to release or charge Azad Sally, the leader of the opposition Muslim Tamil National Alliance, with an “international recognizable criminal offence” after he was taken into custody that morning by intelligence services for unknown reasons. The group also released a scathing report this week urging Commonwealth leaders to stay away from the Sri Lankan meeting.
“What I saw when I was in Sri Lanka underlined the extent to which core commonwealth values like independence of the judiciary, like democracy and human rights, like religious tolerance remain under serious attack in that country,” he said.
What the Prime Minister’s decision means is that Canada doesn’t have “double standards,” he said. Canada was a founding member of the Commonwealth and a country that stood steadfast, under different prime ministers, against apartheid, Segal said. “The concerns we’ve got about human rights in Sri Lanka are best met through engagement with that country and through the Commonwealth, using the extra leverage we will enjoy in the count down to that CHOGM meeting,” Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr said on ABC last week. Harper’s decision to boycott the meeting plays favourably with Canada’s large Tamil diaspora — a community of about 300,000 people overwhelmingly located in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) where the Tories hope to pick up more seats during the next federal election in 2015.
David Carment, a professor of international affairs and a fellow at the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, said Harper’s decision to boycott the event is an effort to get the Tamil community — which has historically voted Liberal — on side.
“The country (Sri Lanka) is being ruled with a military mentality. How do you give the government a stamp of approval from the international community? Sri Lanka has been criticized enough, he added.
“That is what the Government of Canada says. Baird’s spokesman Rick Roth said government had spoken out loudly and clearly on the issue of human rights in Sri Lanka, including the lack of accountability on allegations of war crimes and a lack of reconciliation with the Tamil community.