Boycotting the Commonwealth summit in Sri Lanka would be a missed opportunity to tackle its government over suspected human rights abuses, Foreign Secretary William Hague said yesterday as he defended David Cameron’s decision to attend the meeting.
Mr Hague insisted it was right for the Prime Minister to take part in this week’s summit despite the absence of the Indian and Canadian prime ministers.
He argued the British Government could have more impact by confronting Sri Lankan leaders over their treatment of Tamils while their nation was in the spotlight.
Tamil groups, human rights activists and the Labour leadership have urged Mr Cameron to boycott the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, which begins on Friday. They stepped up their demands after a documentary, No Fire Zone, revealed evidence of Tamil civilians in a supposedly safe area apparently being murdered by Sri Lankan forces in 2009 during the last days of the island’s civil war. It added to the pressure on the Sri Lankan government to order an independent inquiry into alleged war crimes during the 27-year Tamil insurgency.
Mr Hague said he understood why India’s Manmohan Singh and Stephen Harper, the Canadian prime minister, would not attend the summit.
Navi Pillay, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, has warned Sri Lanka is heading in an “increasingly authoritarian direction”. Its government has been accused of complicity in kidnappings, torture and attacks on the judiciary and press.
Mr Cameron described No Fire Zone as “chilling”. He said: “This documentary raises very serious questions the Sri Lankan government must answer about what it did to protect innocent civilians.”