The Canadian government says it wants to see tangible results on the human rights issue in Sri Lanka and termed the action taken so far by the government as “cosmetic” and not enough.
Canadian Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and for International Human Rights Deepak Obhrai, who was representing Canada at the Commonwealth summit, visited the North last week and came back with a poor image of the past and present situation.
Speaking to Colombo Gazette at the residence of the Canadian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, Obhrai said that there was a clear deterioration in democracy, rule of law, freedom of the press and the freedom of religion in the North.
“I went to the local newspaper there (Uthayan – Jaffna) and saw horrific pictures of journalists being killed and the press being attacked. What is very disturbing to us, aside from the attacks on the journalists, is that nothing has been done to catch the culprits; nothing has been done to provide security to the people. This is the lack to what we are saying is tangible results to achieving the Commonwealth principles,” he said.
However, Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma feels otherwise. He feels there is progress on the ground and the Commonwealth Secretariat is helping Sri Lanka further that progress.
Obhrai did not agree. He insisted that what Sharma said is wrong and that the Commonwealth, as a group, has failed to fulfill its mandate.
“We are on record that the Commonwealth is not taking the hard steps it is expected to take. I completely disagree with Sharma’s assessment. The Commonwealth countries must stick to the principles of the Commonwealth. If they stick to the principles of the Commonwealth, they will be able to tell Sri Lanka ‘look we need you to move in the forward path’; a real, tangible, forward path, not a cosmetic path. That will be a strong message,” he said.
The Sri Lankan government has, on a number of occasions, accused Canada of interfering in Sri Lanka’s domestic issues and even feels it has been driven by LTTE supporters or anti-government Diaspora in Canada.
Obhrai, however, said that assumption is “nonsense” and that the government must be realistic instead of making excuses.
“Sri Lanka must show us that it is taking tangible steps, not cosmetic steps. But real, tangible steps, only then can we say ‘yes, there is forward movement and we are happy’. During my trip to the North, it was the people of Sri Lanka who were telling us their problems, not the Diaspora – the people of Sri Lanka. I have told the Diaspora that they can help assist Sri Lanka through the development processes, not through political interference. The people over here will make the decision. The Tamils of the North, or should I say the Sri Lankans of the North, will make that decision on how they want to run the country. So, it’s better for the government of Sri Lanka to get off this wrong notion they have in their heads and look at what is really happening in this country,” he asserted.