Leaders of countries from the British Commonwealth, an association of countries that were once part of the former British Empire, met in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on Friday for the start of the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting amid controversy over Sri Lanka’s human rights record.
In 2009 Sri Lanka’s civil war of nearly three decades between the mainly ethnic Singhalese south and Tamil rebels in the north came to an end. According to a 2011 report from the United Nations, commissioned by a panel of experts appointed by the Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon, some 40,000 civilians may have been killed during the final months of the conflict as the military forces crushed the Tamil rebels. It added that there was credible evidence suggesting both sides of the conflict had committed actions that in some cases could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has rejected the criticism of his government’s actions during the war.
Other leaders, however, including the prime ministers of Canada, India and Mauritius have said they cannot take part in the meeting in protest over Sri Lanka’s human rights record, which includes ongoing allegations of abuse of opposition politicians and journalists, reports the BBC.
British Prime Minister David Cameron on Friday visited the north of the country, home to mainly Sri Lankan Tamils, noting in a tweet that he is the first leader of a country to visit the area since Sri Lanka’s independence in 1948. He was met by hundreds of Tamil protesters who allege that their relatives were murdered by the state during the war, reports Sky News.