Sadly, pressure for a boycott of next month’s Commonwealth Heads of Government summit in Sri Lanka is gathering significant momentum. India’s Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, is now considering joining the campaign to stay away. The campaign has been spearheaded by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper over Colombo’s alleged human rights abuses.
British Prime Minister David Cameron is also under pressure not to go, following a demand by the House of Commons’ all-party Foreign Affairs Committee. Tony Abbott should ignore the clamour whipped up by the well-organised Tamil diaspora and maintain the firm opposition to a boycott he expressed after meeting Mr Harper at the APEC summit. Legitimate concerns do exist about human rights in Sri Lanka. That is hardly surprising after a civil war of exceptional brutality that lasted 30 years and saw 100,000 civilians killed. But the process of reconciliation, now demonstrably under way, would be seriously impaired by a boycott of what will be the biggest international event held in Sri Lanka since the 1976 Non-Aligned Summit. The Tamils inevitably would be blamed by the Sinhala majority for any failure, with potentially dire consequences.
What Sri Lanka needs is more of the Tamil participation seen in the successful provincial elections just held in what was the war’s main fighting zone – with a remarkable 68 per cent voter turnout and the main Tamil party, the Tamil National Alliance, winning 30 of the 36 seats. Increasingly, the Tamil diaspora – especially in Canada, which has the largest Tamil community outside Sri Lanka – seems at odds with the Tamils at home, whose priorities are reconciliation and reconstruction, not retribution. Australia’s interests would be best served by assisting that process, not in contributing to communal tensions, which would be the likely consequence of a CHOGM boycott. Stability and an assured place for Tamils in a prosperous and peaceful Sri Lanka would also cut the ground from under people-smugglers bringing asylum-seekers across the Indian Ocean. And it would make it easier for our government to hasten the repatriation of Sri Lankans already here.
Mr Harper has sacrificed his place in a major forum with the potential to exert real influence on Colombo. Dr Singh and Mr Cameron should not follow him. Sri Lanka needs assistance on reconciliation, not isolation. (The Australian)