The Sri Lankan government has declined a British invitation to attend a global summit meant to end sexual violence in conflict following a spat with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) over a controversial precondition that participation was strictly subject to all participants endorsing a declaration of commitment to end sexual violence in conflict.
The four-day conference attended by over 1,000 delegates from well over 100 countries is scheduled to begin in London on June 10. The event is jointly hosted by British Foreign Secretary William Hague and the Special envoy of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Angelina Jolie.
With Yasmin Sooka (a key member of the UN Panel of Experts which recommended in March 2011 an international war crimes probe targeting Sri Lanka) scheduled to participate as a speaker/panelist, there could be some disparaging statements directed at Sri Lanka.
Two other personalities who have been critical of Sri Lanka, Canadian Foreign Minister, John Baird and Ambassador at Large, Office of Global Criminal Justice, Stephen Rapp too, might refer to the conflict in Sri Lanka, officials believe.
Authoritative sources told The Sunday Island that having studied the UK sponsored declaration, the government felt Sri Lanka’s participation was of pivotal importance, particularly in view of the impending probe undertaken by the office of the outgoing UN Human Rights Commissioner, South African born Navi Pillay. However, the government had to reluctantly give up the idea as endorsement of the disputed declaration could have caused serious trouble.
The declaration has classified what British Minister of State Hugo called serious sexual violence in armed conflict as war crimes. Referring to recent statement attributed to the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, a senior External Affairs Ministry official pointed out that Sri Lanka’s acceptance of the declaration too, could be used against the country in Geneva. The official pointed out that the reference to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the declaration to, was worrisome, due ongoing efforts to isolate Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka had told the FCO that it couldn’t take a chance by endorsing the proposed anti-rape declaration due to a section of the international community unreservedly pushing the country on the human rights front on the basis of unsubstantiated war crime allegations.
A section of the international community and some INGOs as well as pro-LTTE UK based Global Tamil Forum (GTF) accuse Sri Lankan military of systemic rape of LTTE women cadres as well as civilians, a charge strongly denied by the government.
Ms Bangura in late April this year placed Sri Lanka among 21 countries, where rape and other sexual violence were committed in current and recent conflicts.
The British precondition was meant to discourage Sri Lanka from participating at the conference for obvious reasons, another official alleged. According to him, Sri Lanka had never been asked to subscribe to an international agreement of any sort to pave the way for its participation in a conference.
Sri Lanka’s Deputy Permanent Representative in New York, Major General Shavendra Silva was to represent External Affairs Minister, Prof. G.L. Peiris at this meeting. The first General Officer Commanding (GoC) of the celebrated 58 Division, Major General Silva was one of the senior officers targeted by proposed war crimes probe.
Sources said that the FCO had clarified the British position in the wake of Sri Lanka seeking a clarification as regards the precondition. The External Affairs Ministry had been told that Sri Lanka could be invited only if the government endorsed the declaration prior the event.
Responding to a query by The Sunday Island, GoSL sources pointed out that the UK, now a member of the UNHRC too, was under fire over atrocities, including sexual abuse committed by British troops during deployment in Iraq from 2003-2008.
The ICC recently declared its intention to launch a preliminary probe following a complaint lodged in January by the Berlin-based human rights NGO the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights and a Birmingham law firm, Public Interest Lawyers (PIL) – which represented the family of Baha Mousa, the Iraqi hotel receptionist tortured to death by British troops in 2003.