Sri Lanka has its own legal system, says the President

The Commonwealth summit here came to a close on Sunday with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa saying he needed time to address post-war challenges, including allegations of human rights violation.

At a press conference on the final day of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), he said: “We need time...this cannot be done overnight. A process [to probe allegations] is already in place.” He was responding to a question how much time he needed to complete the probe into the allegations.

The country had its own legal system looking into the matter, Mr. Rajapaksa said. “Don’t just put us in a corner. Please be fair to us, especially the foreign media.”

At all his three press conferences during the CHOGM, questions raised by journalists were largely centred on allegations of human rights violations and war crimes in Sri Lanka – a concern that grew loud in the run-up to CHOGM, with some countries even boycotting the meeting citing the location as reason.

In an effort to share best practices, South African President Jacob Zuma, who was also present at Sunday’s press conference, said he was ready to help Sri Lanka, based on his country’s own experience of recovering from a “deeper and more complex conflict.”

Mr. Rajapaksa said he would continue to engage with South Africa, looking for potential cues from its reconciliation process.

Though much of the rhetoric around the CHOGM was on charges of human rights violations, outcome documents from CHOGM 2013 had no specific reference to alleged war crimes or human rights abuse – two main charges facing the host country.

In a rather brief reference to human rights, a CHOGM communiqué released on Sunday – a document evolved with the agreement of participating countries – urged the members to accelerate efforts towards the ratification of all major human rights instruments, although without any reference to Sri Lanka.

According to the communiqué, the heads called for the implementation of the United Nations Security Council Resolutions on Cyprus, with a particular reference to human rights and accounting for missing persons in Cyprus, while Sri Lanka, which has been facing serious charges of forced disappearances, found no mention in this regard.

The Colombo declaration, another outcome document, was also virtually silent on human rights.

Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma said the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group was (CMAG) composed afresh at CHOGM 2013. India, along with Cyprus, Guyana, New Zealand, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka (ex-officio as Chair in Office) and Tanzania, will be on the CMAG – the Commonwealth’s disciplinary panel – for the next two years, the communiqué said.