Sri Lanka: Cameron in 'robust' talks over human rights


The BBC's Nick Robinson was with the prime minister as his convoy was mobbed

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David Cameron has clashed with the president of Sri Lanka as he pushed for action to protect the rights of its minority Tamil community.

Downing Street said the PM "pressed his points very directly and robustly" in an hour-long meeting with Mahinda Rajapaksa at a Commonwealth summit.

Mr Cameron's convoy was earlier mobbed by demonstrators on a visit to the north of the country.

Mr Rajapaksa says he has brought peace and stability to Sri Lanka.

The Tamils' treatment at the end of the country's civil war in 2009 has dominated the run-up to the the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm), taking place in the capital Colombo.

Mr Cameron has insisted there should be a proper investigation into alleged Sri Lankan war crimes in the final months of the conflict, saying a process of "truth-telling" was essential for reconciliation.

In a historic move, Mr Cameron travelled to the Tamil-dominated north of the country - the first international leader to do so since Sri Lankan independence in 1948 - before holding face-to-face talks with the country's president.

At one point, the PM's convoy was surrounded by more than 200 protesters holding pictures of loved ones who they claim were killed by the Sri Lankan armed forces or have disappeared.

Mr Cameron said the visit - in which he also toured a temporary refugee camp and newspaper office whose printing presses have been burnt - had "drawn attention to the plight" of the Tamil minority in the country.

As Mr Cameron's entourage was leaving the public library, a group of screaming women - desperate to make their representations directly to the first world leader to come here - pressed photographs and petitions into our hands

He said the first-hand accounts he had heard of journalists who have been attacked and of a young woman who had grown up in a refugee camp would "stay with him" for a long time.

Mr Cameron said staging the summit in Sri Lanka had already resulted in positive changes, but the authorities needed to do much more to show they respected human and political rights.

"The fact is about this country that there is a chance of success because the war is over, the terrorism has finished, the fighting is done," he said.

"Now what's needed is generosity and magnanimity from the Sri Lankan government to bring the country together.

"And I think coming here, listening to these people, hearing these arguments, helps to draw attention to their plight. I think the spotlight has been shone on Sri Lanka and people can see the good and the bad."


The BBC's political editor Nick Robinson, who is travelling with Mr Cameron, said several protestors had been thrown to the floor by police as they tried to approach the prime minister's vehicle with photographs of relatives "disappeared" in the civil war and petitions.

He stressed that the demonstration had not been violent, but the prime minister had been made "fully aware of their grievances and their grief".

David Cameron meets displaced Tamils living in a refugee camp David Cameron has said the accounts of loss and hardship he heard on his visit to the north of the country will stay with him for a long time
Tamil protesters Tamil women approach the media bus travelling with David Cameron in Jaffna

The UK prime minister has defied calls for him to boycott the Commonwealth summit in protest against alleged human rights abuses.

Ponniah Manikavasagam, BBC Tamil, Jaffna

There was heavy security around the Palaly air base near Jaffna when the aircraft carrying the British delegation landed.

David Cameron first went to the famous Jaffna library to meet the main Tamil political party leaders.

Hundreds of relatives of those who went missing in the government's war against the Tamil Tiger rebels held a protest rally to attract his attention.

Some of them had tied black ribbons over their mouths and some were holding photos of their missing relatives.

They were all shouting slogans demanding international investigation into alleged war crimes.

When the British delegation was leaving the building, protesters surged forward to get their attention pushing photographs of their missing loved ones and petitions towards the convoy.

Police pushed them back; some of the protesting women fell to the ground. Pro-government supporters also held a protest rally outside the library.

Mr Cameron has also visited the leading Tamil Daily Uthayan's office, which was torched and several of its reporters killed during the war.

Many Tamils in Jaffna have broadly welcomed the visit of Mr Cameron saying it has helped to highlight their issues to the outside world.

President Rajapaksa rejects accusations of rape, executions and indiscriminate shelling, saying the end of the war had brought peace, stability and the chance of greater prosperity to the country.

But campaigners have said an international investigation is needed into the bloody conclusion to the civil war, in which UN estimates some 40,000 people were killed.

"The Sri Lankans have got their own domestic process, but frankly it's fatally flawed and it's not going to deliver any real justice to the people who were killed," David Mepham, UK director of campaign group Human Rights Watch, said.

"The other thing, which is equally important, is that there needs to be real pressure on the ongoing human rights issues. This isn't just a problem of the past."

The prime ministers of Canada, India and Mauritius are staying away from the summit in protest over the allegations.

Gordon Campbell, the Canadian High Commissioner to the UK, told the BBC that Sri Lanka had "turned its back on the very principles that the Commonwealth espouses".

David Cameron and Tamil leaders The PM met chief minister of Northern province, C. V. Vigneswaran (right) and Sri Lankan Tamil National Alliance leader R. Sampanthan

The Labour Party said Mr Cameron's presence was a "reward" for the Sri Lanka president.

"There was a naivety about the British government's approach to this summit," shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander said.

"The scale of the suffering has not been challenged in the way it should have been in past months."

The prime minister has dismissed Labour's call for a boycott as "rank hypocrisy", pointing out it was his predecessor Gordon Brown who originally agreed the summit venue in 2009.

The Prince of Wales, who celebrated his 65th birthday on Thursday, is representing the Queen at the biennial event which he opened earlier.

Prince Charles told the summit: "Each one of us is here because of the hope and trust we place in the Commonwealth to bring that 'touch of healing' to our troubles and deliver the very best future for our people."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 1058.

    Just a thought but why don't we let some of the worlds' superpowers (other than America) get involved.

    After all, we keep being told how much better China, India, Russia, Brazil, Germany are. Well... let's see it. let's see them step up on to the world stage and actually put their ******** on the block for once instead of posturing behind diplomats and leaving little Britain to sort the mess out

  • rate this

    Comment number 1057.

    @1053 I am equally terrified by Sri Lankan flag too! They have hounded my childhood

  • rate this

    Comment number 1056.

    Unfortunately people who have nothing to say about anything use the oil card. Its boring and certainly has no bearing on many conflicts which the British or America have been involved in where the country has no oil. If you cant put proper opinions across don't bother, lets read some thoughtful debate rather then the usual claptrap!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1055.

    Bell Pottinger, who handle PR for the Sri Lankan regime (and are also very close to our own regime), must be very pleased.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1054.

    I'll never be surprised to see racist comments to be made by Tamils because they had been kept in the dark for over twenty years by LTTE but I am intriguingly surprised to see Singaleese are equally making racist comments though they had the freedom to rest of the world while Tamil were in dark!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1053.

    Can someone tell me how BBC used Banned terrorist Flag in the UK used as background on BBC News?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1052.

    When terrorist attacks were made against the USA and Britain, we went to Afghanistan on the premise that we were fighting terrorism. Yet innocent people in Afghanistan were also killed in the process (some by way of horrible acts rather than accidents). Why haven't the BBC and Ch4 applied more pressure on the PM to correct the mistakes that Britain itself has made before pointing the finger at SL?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1051.

    Dear Nick,

    I was watching your news all evening hoping to see some Chogm events...however what I saw was only alleged Human rights abuse and Cameron visit to north...IS THERE ANY POSITIVE event IN SRI LANKA? Why are you covering only Tamils? Alagaiya interviewed only Tamils and not a single sinhalese! Why you (BBC) alway see only negative side of this event

  • rate this

    Comment number 1050.

    The conflict in SL has been going on for many years, with the LTTE killing 000s in the last thirty years, yet Ch4, the BBC or the PM were never concerned. Violence should never be condoned but we should observe that atrocities have been carried out by both sides and not just the Sri Lankan Government. Ch4 and BBC paint a skewed picture hardly mentioning the deaths of innocent Sinhalese Sri Lankans

  • rate this

    Comment number 1049.

    I don't normally think much of Cameron but I think he was right on this one. I agree that he hasn't been as hard with other countries with poor human rights records but credit where it's due.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1048.

    Joe The reason he went Joe is twofold. 1) A desperate attempt to improve his dead in the water image 2) To keep the heat off him on a lot of unanswered questions here at home. What do you expect from an ex advertising man other than more cheap advertising!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1047.

    If only Sri Lanka would sell us some oil - then they could do as they please just like Saudi Arabia.

  • Comment number 1046.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1045.

    @1040 Tango6 & @991 Newbee. This is not about LTTE. Nobody talking about an organization,which no longer exists. Don't try to justify Human rights abuses by saying we have done it because someone else had done it. If SL government is clean that why can’t they have proper investigations
    If you say someone is extremist or terrorist and doing the something then you also an extremist or terrorist…

  • rate this

    Comment number 1044.

    It's strange how he bashes little Sri Lanka yet says nothing to the chinese. He's even selling them shares in UK PLC.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1043.

    Following from @1040-I am too a product of Srilanka where tamils and singalees inter-marry and cannot say where were are tamils or singaleese but Srilankans. But we cannot hide the fact that a war crime has been committed in the last phase of the fighting (By both parties) and CURRENT government should be held responsible for it, LTTE is- no longer there

  • rate this

    Comment number 1042.

    My Tory PM Harper, whom I voted for, didn't go, though went to meet Putin, Xi Jinxing, and went to the Francophone summit with lord knows, and yet now is a saint or a Mackenzie King: remaining calm and doing diddlysquat.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1041.

    Wind your neck in mate. Don't you understand irony??
    Its a junket that will achieve NOTHING.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1040.

    @991 Newbee. I am not a supporter of LTTE at all. I will never forgive LTTE for all those killing and the crimes that they have committed. That includes killings of babies, innocent peoples, fellow fighters and those peoples who have chosen to speak the truth (about LTTE).

  • rate this

    Comment number 1039.

    1034. firemensaction
    you were told that "their problems began when Tamils were relocated forcibly from India"; don't just believe what some tour guide tell you... can you go and read about the sri lankan history before commenting about everything normal and media OTT... or go to the real sri lanka without tour guide...


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