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Boycott Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, Colombo, Sri Lanka

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Right Hon. Stephen Harper,
Re: 2013 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, Colombo, Sri Lanka

I am writing to you with reference to the upcoming Common Wealth Heads of Government Meeting scheduled to be held in Colombo, Sri Lanka, this November. We Canadians feel that the host country, Sri Lanka has demonstrated it’s total disregard to human rights and values which we, Canadians cherish. As an alarmed Canadian citizen, I believe it is our duty to show our concern against all the violations Sri Lanka has committed recently and still continuing to commit to this day.

The current Sri Lankan government is marching towards building a military state with fascist ideologies and has all the similarities of Taliban regime during its glory days. The citizens of Sri Lanka who democratically opposes their views have been systematically eliminated or publicly executed. There is a long list of victims which includes elected members of parliament, foreign and local journalist, members of the judiciary and civilians. These terrorizations and executions have been done by state sponsored paramilitary groups in the northern and eastern provinces of the country while the rest of the country is undemocratically controlled by the military, police and state sponsored religious extremist groups. Paramilitary groups are dominated in the northern and eastern parts of the country with the military who control every inch of the land and every movement of the civilian-lives preventing them from living a normal life. Between January and May 2009 it is believed that between 40,000 - 120,000 civilians had been killed- these figures are based on UN records and number of refugees unaccounted for.

War crimes & human rights violation
Recently, a report has been submitted by the UN expert panel, which is based on records of its own workers, and eyewitnesses who were trapped in the government designated no fire zone (NFZ) and hospitals. The evidence obtained by the panel revealed a "a very different version of the final stages of the war than that maintained to this day by the Government of Sri Lanka". The panel found credible evidence for allegations, which if proven, indicate that a wide range of serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law were committed by the Government of Sri Lanka in ending the civil war. The report accuses the Sri Lankan Government of the following violations.
1. Indiscriminate use of heavy weapons targeting hospitals, UN compound, refugee camps, self declared safe zones and Red Cross ships coming to rescue the wounded leading to large numbers of civilian deaths.
2. Constant intimidation of the media personnel and other critics of the war, including execution and abduction with a view of burying the truth.
3. Systematically depriving civilians in the conflict zone of humanitarian aid, in the form of food and medical supplies, adding to their suffering.
4. Deliberately underestimating the number of affected civilians in order to down play civilian casualties.
5. Executing POWs (prisoners of war) whilst raping the vulnerable women.

The UN panel has called for an independent international inquiry into the alleged violations of international law. The Sri Lankan government has denied that its forces committed any war crimes and has strongly opposed any international investigation. Foreign journalist who attempted to expose the war crimes were either deported or denied the entry to Sri Lanka. The former Army Commander who exposed extra judicial execution of prisoners of war was stripped of his civic rights and jailed. British media Channel 4 exposed some of the atrocities committed by the Sri Lankan armed forces were denied the re-entry to the country.

Law and order
On August 1st Sri Lankan Army shot at a group of peaceful protesters in Weliweriya in Sri Lanka, killing 3 and injuring more than 40 people. The villagers were protesting peacefully demanding clean drinking water, a basic human need. Instead of addressing their legitimate grievances in a civilized manner the government resorted to state sponsored-terrorism. United States State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said “We are concerned by recent violent incidents including shootings in Weliweriya, Sri Lanka. We are particularly concerned by reports that people seeking refuge in a Catholic churches were attacked in house, there is never any excuse for violence attack particularly in a house of worship". This is in fact not the first time the current Sri Lankan government target the minority communities in the country.

Considering the country’s track record on human rights Amnesty International requested the Commonwealth not to hold its next summit in Colombo unless the country improves its record of “systematic violations” of human rights.

Attack on minorities
After defeating the Tamil rebellions, the Singhalese majority has begun to target the Muslim community with what experts believe “a well orchestrated ethnic cleansing process”. Initially they were targeting Halal food (similar to Kosha), followed by targeting prominent places of worship and they are preventing Muslims from practicing their religion. Several places of worships (more than 20), business establishments and properties belonging to minority were attacked by the government backed Buddhist monks. Each time the police and army provided protection to the aggressors. The latest incident happened in the heart of the capital, Colombo on the 10th August 2013. The United States Embassy in Colombo said today that it is concerned by the attack on Grandpass Mosque and said “This incident is particularly troubling in light of a number of recent attacks against the minority community in Sri Lanka. Targeting any place of worship should never be permitted and we urge calm from all sides. We call for prosecution of perpetrators in this attack and an end to religious-based violence”.

Recently President Rajapakse’s brother who also happens to be the Defence Secretary widely as the second most powerful man in Sri Lanka was the chief guest, ceremonially opening an institution linked to the Ethno Religious Fascist movement known as the “Bodhu Bala Sena” meaning Buddhist Power Force.

Attack on free media
In Sri Lanka media freedom is at all time low. Almost all media outlets choose to self censer. One of the few journalist (Lasantha Wickramatunge) who openly criticized the government was gunned down in the capital, Colombo during broad daylight.

Another instance where an outspoken Tamil newspaper (Uthayan) in northern Sri Lanka whose premises have been repeatedly targeted, most seriously in 2006 when gunmen entered the Jaffna building and opened fire, killing two members of staff. A total of six employees have been killed in the past decade.

Amnesty International has estimated that at least 14 journalist have been killed in Sri Lanka since 2006. Many more have fled and fear a climate of impunity. Despite the end of the civil war in 2009, attacks on media workers have not halted. Earlier this year, investigative journalist Faraz Shauketaly, who holds both British and Sri Lankan citizenship, was shot by three men who broke into his house in a Colombo suburb.

Attack on judiciary
Sri Lankan governing party members of parliament impeached the country’s Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake. This move was described as the step towards "constitutional dictatorship". Separately, the US has said that "interference with the judicial process" in Sri Lanka should stop. It said "serious human rights violations" including disappearances, torture, summary killings and threats to free expression persisted in Sri Lanka, despite the end to the bloody separatist war with Tamil Tiger rebels in 2009. The comments came at the Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva - a peer assessment that each country goes through roughly every four years.

Attack on tourist
In Sri Lanka even foreigners are not safe. In 2011, 32 year old British citizen (Khuram Shaikh) was in Sri Lanka along with his girlfriend on vacation. Shaikh was stabbed and shot dead when he attempted stop a local politician sexually abusing his girlfriend. According to the local police his girlfriend was beaten unconscious and gang-raped. Four years passed since then and the main suspect in the case is out at large as he is a member of the ruling party and close associate of the president's son. Even the British High Commission in Colombo has condemned the attack and expressed their concerns at the slow progress on the investigation.

In this background, by representing Canada in the upcoming Common Wealth Heads of Government Meeting we not only endorse the atrocities committed by the Sri Lankan government but also legitimize their terror tactics, which suppress human rights and democracy in the country. As a concerned Canadian, I urge the Honorable Prime Minister and Canadian government to discourage the Sri Lankan government’s march towards building an ultra fascist military state ignoring democracy, media freedom, human rights and coexistence of minority communities by not representing Canada in the upcoming Common Wealth Heads of Government Meeting.
We Canadians take pride in our nation’s history, values and the sacrifices made by fellow Canadians during the war and on peace keeping missions. From Boer War to Bosnia, and every where in-between we were there and always stood by what we believed in. Attending the conference in Sri Lanka is not only an endorsement to the ultra fascist regime but also an insult to the core values our great nation and those soldiers who died for. Please reconsider visiting Sri Lanka for the upcoming Common Wealth Heads of Government Meeting.
Proud Canadian

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