President Mahinda Rajapaksa arrived in Perth, Australia October 24 in order to participate in Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) 2011 set to be held October 28. The Commonwealth of Nations, which used to be known as the British Commonwealth, is comprised of 53 member nations representing 1.8 billion people – roughly 30% of the world’s population. CHOGM occurs every two years.
Rajapaksa’s government reacted negatively to an 11-member Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group (EPG) proposal of the establishment of several new safeguards to address human rights issues in Commonwealth countries including an Office for Commissioner for Democracy, the Rule of Law and Human Rights. South Africa and India had reportedly demonstrated distaste for the EPG plan as well.
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE), who have significant international clout in several Commonwealth nations, including the UK and Australia, have been actively demonstrating their ongoing dissatisfaction with Rajapakasa’s negligence in addressing gross human rights violations that occurred during the conclusion of the war that occurred between his Sinhalese government and members of the Tamil minority.
Due to its track record in human rights, Sri Lanka’s membership in the Commonwealth of Nations has been a hotly contested issue. The LTTE had reportedly attempted to get Sri Lanka suspended from the Commonwealth in 2009. Movements in other member nations, including Australia, have also attempted to have Sri Lanka’s commonwealth status retracted)
Bruce Haig, a former Australian diplomat to Sri Lanka, remarked on the suspension of other Commonwealth nations: Zimbabwe had their membership suspended for “basic transgression of the human rights of many of its citizens,” and Fiji’s membership is currently suspended “for lesser crimes and for far less than Sri Lanka is guilty.”
Additionally while in Australia, Arunachalam Jegatheeswaran, an Australian citizen born in Sri Lanka submitted an official accusation against Rajapaksa for his actions during the war with the LTTE to the Melbourne Magistrates court.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard remarked that, “These allegations [have] come to light since the Sri Lankan High Commissioner has come to Australia. These allegations are now being looked at by the Australian Federal Police.”
In order for official proceedings to take place, the Australian Federal Police will have to be presented with sufficient evidence connecting Rajapaksa to crimes against humanity, which would then be forwarded to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions and then finally approved by the Attorney General.
Given the length of the process, many doubt that Australia will pursue prosecution of Rajapaksa.
Sources: BBC, Feb. 8; The Island, Oct. 23; Tamil Net, Oct. 25, Reuters, October 26, 2011.
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