Commonwealth should push Sri Lankan rights, says observer

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Commonwealth leaders should tell the Sri Lankan government to improve its human rights record when they meet in London this week, says a prominent human rights observer.

Carroll Bogert, associate director of the US-based group Human Rights Watch, says innocent Sri Lankan villagers face war from two sides as they flee fighting between the militant Tamil Tigers and the government.

Ms Bogert told Radio Australia’s Connect Asia program that not only are they fired on by the militants as they try to escape, but the government then puts them in so-called “welfare villages”, which are also subject to shelling.

Human Rights Watch estimates that 200,000 villagers are trapped behind Tamil Tiger lines in the Sri Lankan fighting.

The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), which addresses serious or persistent violations of the Commonwealth’s fundamental political values, is due to meet in London on March 4.

It will also review developments in Fiji, which was suspended from the councils of the Commonwealth two years ago following the military overthrow of its democratically elected government.

The ministerial group includes the foreign ministers of nine Commonwealth member countries � currently Ghana,
Malaysia, which chairs the meeting, Namibia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka, St Lucia, Uganda and Britain.

Carroll Bogert said the Sri Lanka government has to be called to account for its actions and ”a really appalling human rights record”.

She also said that Human Rights Watch did not want to see any relaxation of Australian and United States’ sanctions against Burma.

Ms Bogert said Australia needed to be careful in providing counter-terrorism training for Burmese police, and the police should not be trained to be more effective in controlling domestic political opponents.