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Sri Lanka defends rights record at Commonwealth

“We are open. We have nothing to hide,” Rajapaska said.

Written by Associated Press | Colombo | Published: November 15, 2013 2:09:35 am

THE president of Sri Lanka lashed out Thursday at reporters and critics who questioned his nation’s human rights record,saying the government deals with any complaints of abuses committed during or after its bloody 27-year civil war.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa was speaking on the sidelines of a summit for the 53 nations in the Commonwealth of Britain and its former territories. The group has been accused of making a mockery of its core values of democracy and human rights by holding this year’s summit in the seaside capital of Colombo. The summit host generally chairs the Commonwealth for two years until the next summit.

“We are open. We have nothing to hide,” Rajapaska said,despite so far refusing demands by world governments and the United Nations for an independent investigation into alleged atrocities committed by both rebels and soldiers during the war.

“If anyone who wants to complain about human rights violations in Sri Lanka,whether it’s torture,whether it is rape,we have a system,” Rajapaksa said. “If there are any violations,we will take action against anybody,anybody. I am ready to do that.’’

The leaders of Canada,India and Mauritius have stayed away. Other leaders,including British Prime Minister David Cameron,have been forced by rights groups to justify their attendance by promising to call Sri Lanka to task.

Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma defended having the summit in Colombo by saying it allows Sri Lanka to meet with leaders who have dealt with issues of human rights,rule of law and judicial independence in their countries. He said “it shows the Commonwealth in action”.

Since the war ended in 2009 with Lanka’s Sinhalese-dominated armed forces smashing a sustained ethnic Tamil rebellion for an independent homeland,the government has denied its side committed any rights abuses.

It accuses journalists of fabricating allegations of atrocities,and rejects criticism of nepotism,even though five ministries are controlled by Rajapaksa and his three brothers. The parliament is also dominated by Rajapaksa’s coalition.

On Thursday,Rajapaksa again lauded the war victory,saying “people were getting killed for 30 years. At least after 2009 we have stopped it”.

Yet post-war reconciliation remains a far-off goal. Troops are still heavily deployed throughout the northern Tamil heartland in the teardrop-shaped island off southwest India,and local journalists still regularly report harassment.

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