COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – A Sri Lankan official said Tuesday that no Commonwealth country has the right to judge others, in an apparent reference to the boycott of an upcoming summit in Sri Lanka by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Indian counterpart.
Sri Lankan External Affairs Minister Gamini Peiris said that “within the Commonwealth, there is no room for judgmental positions for some countries to sit in judgment over other countries.” He said that passing judgment is contrary to the “essential” nature of the Commonwealth.
His remarks came in response to question about the decision by the prime ministers of Canada and India to boycott the Commonwealth leaders’ meeting which is to be held in Colombo from Nov. 15 to 17.
On Sunday, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh joined Harper in boycotting the summit over concerns about Sri Lanka’s human rights record. The Commonwealth is a loose association of 53 nations made up largely of former British colonies.
Harper had announced his decision in October.
Peiris said all Commonwealth countries have been invited and that “it’s up to the recipient to accept it or decline.”
The boycott by the Indian and Canadian leaders is expected to sharpen the focus on demands by Western nations and rights activists that Sri Lanka account for thousands of civilians who are suspected of having died in the final months of a quarter-century civil war that ended in 2009 when government forces crushed separatist Tamil rebels.
India, which has a major interest in the issue because southern India is home to 60 million Tamils, has been urging Sri Lanka’s government to resume negotiations with an ethnic Tamil party on increased local autonomy for Tamils. Canada also has a large number of Tamils who have sought asylum there because of ethnic conflict in their home country.
After the civil war, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa promised to allow a greater degree of autonomy in Tamil-majority regions in the north. However, he has been criticized by foreign countries and rights groups for failing to deliver on his promises.
Harper confirmed in October that he would boycott the Commonwealth summit in Sri Lanka. He cited everything from the impeachment of a chief justice to allegations of extra judicial killings and disappearances and the jailing of political opponents and journalists.
Harper said he made the move with “somewhat of a heavy heart.”
With files from The Canadian Press