|Harper slams Sri Lanka Rajapaksa regime's rights record
Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper has threatened to withdraw funding for the Commonwealth in an escalating row over rights abuses by Sri Lanka ahead of a summit next month.
Harper confirmed he was boycotting the November 15-17 summit in Colombo, citing “the absence of accountability for the serious violations of human rights'' during and after Sri Lanka's long civil war against Tamil terrorists.
“I do this with somewhat of a heavy heart. This is a great disappointment,'' he said in Bali, while stressing that Canadians were “absolutely overwhelming'' in their view that he should stay away, AFP reports.
Sri Lanka's government headed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa had shown a “considerable worsening'' over the past couple of years in terms of democratic governance, post-war reconciliation and respect for human rights, Harper said.
He added that “obviously we will examine our engagement and our financing of the Commonwealth, which is quite considerable, to make sure that we are wisely using taxpayers' dollars and reflecting Canadian values.’’
After Britain, Canada is the second-largest contributor to the Commonwealth budget, providing about US$20 million last year.
In August, UN human rights chief Navi Pillay raised concerns for the safety of journalists and activists she met during a week-long fact-finding mission to Sri Lanka.
She left the island arguing that democracy had been undermined and rule of law eroded in Sri Lanka four years after the end of its bloody war against terrorism.
The UN has reported “credible allegations'' that up to 40,000 civilians were killed in the final months of fighting against the Tamil Tigers which ended in May 2009. Sri Lanka has rejected the charges.
Australia's new Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he does intend to go the summit despite the calls for a boycott from Human Rights Watch among others.
Others including British Prime Minister David Cameron are also expected to attend the gathering of the Commonwealth. Prince Charles is expected in Colombo.