MPs attack government 'timidity' over Sri Lanka

LONDON Thu Oct 17, 2013 12:04am BST

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron waits to greet the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, outside 10 Downing Street in central London October 8, 2013. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron waits to greet the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, outside 10 Downing Street in central London October 8, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Stefan Wermuth

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LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's decision to set aside worries about Sri Lanka's human rights record and back its selection as host of a Commonwealth leaders' meeting showed a lack of principle, a panel of MPs said on Thursday.

In a critical report, the British parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee said the government had opposed Sri Lankan attempts to host the meeting in 2011 on human rights grounds, only to support its 2013 bid without seeing evidence of change.

"That approach now appears timid," it said. "The UK could and should have taken a more principled stand ... in the light of the continuing serious human rights abuses in Sri Lanka."

The Sri Lankan government has faced condemnation of its rights record, in particular for its final campaign against separatist Tamil Tigers, an offensive the United Nations said killed tens of thousands of civilians in 2009.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said he will not attend the summit. Britain's David Cameron will go and has promised to raise the issue of human rights.

The British government "should have taken a more robust stand" with its former colony before the November summit in the capital Colombo, the panel said.

Debating whether Cameron should or should not have boycotted the meeting is now counter-productive, it added. Leaders of Commonwealth states - a group of 53 countries, nearly all former British colonies - meet every two years.

The MPs, whose cross-party committee has influence but no binding powers, said there was scant evidence of progress on rights in Sri Lanka since the end of the war.

The panel said the British government was aware of torture in Sri Lanka and attacks on lawyers, reporters and campaigners.

It also raised concerns over the Sri Lankan government's failure to support an independent investigation into allegations of war crimes in the war's final stages.

U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay said last month the country was drifting towards authoritarian rule.

The Sri Lankan government says its rights record has improved since the war, rejects the criticism as unsubstantiated and biased, and accuses Western states of waging a vendetta.

(Editing by Andrew Roche)

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