COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapakse said the Commonwealth must not be a “judgmental body” as he chaired a summit which has been dogged by a dispute over alleged war crimes.
“If the Commonwealth is to remain relevant to its member countries, the association must respond to the needs of its people and not turn into a punitive or judgmental body,” he said in a speech ahead of the formal opening of the summit by Britain’s Prince Charles.
Several leaders are boycotting the summit after Rajapakse refused to allow an independent international investigation into allegations that up to 40,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the final days of Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict in 2009.
British Prime Minister David Cameron is flying to Jaffna, which bore the main brunt of the fighting, later on Friday to meet victims of a war which raged for 37 years.
The move has infuriated the Sri Lankan government which has also been hit by the decision of the leaders of India, Canada and Mauritius to absent themselves from the three-day meet.
But Rajapakse warned against other leaders trying to impose their own agenda on the gathering in Colombo.
“We must also collectively guard against bilateral agendas being introduced to the organisation,” he said.
In his speech, Rajapakse said Sri Lanka had entered a new era of peace and prosperity since banishing “the menace of terrorism” that had blighted the country for decades.
“We in Sri Lanka are stepping into a new era of peace, stability and new economic opportunities,” he told delegates.
The Sri Lankan leader said that everyone should welcome the end of the conflict.
“We asserted the greatest human right — the right to life,” he said.
“In the last four years there has not been one single terrorism-related incident in Sri Lanka.”