We don’t often credit politicians, let alone Prime Ministers, because nine times out of ten they’re at best 50% wrong, but in David Cameron’s visit to Sri Lanka and his call for an inquiry into war crimes and attempts to raise awareness for human rights issues there was a surprise move that we can’t help but respect. With a pretty tough talking stance, giving Cameron a strong presence on the international stage, his comments have definitely trodden on a fair few Sri Lankan official toes, including those of President Rajapaksa, but they’ve probably also thawed a few icy perception at home.
The visit started out as a simple political trip to Sri Lanka for the Prime Minister, as he headed out for the Commonwealth summit which was held in the capital Colombo earlier this week (15th-17th November 2013). He had come under a certain amount of flack for making the trip in the first place because of the human rights abuses that have been reported in the country in the closing stages of the civil war, but he seemed to carry on regardless.
Presidential handshakes were exchanged along with pleasantries and a fair few state dinners, but the surface level niceties started to crumble as David Cameron was bombarded with protesters, visited trouble spots in the country and talked to the Tamil minority. After taking it all in, Cameron clearly took a good breath and just let it all out, which is a rarity in politics.
During a press conference he called on President Rajapaksa to work with the Tamil minority to move towards an inclusive state, but more specifically he’s given him until March 2014 to complete a credible investigation into war crimes from the end of the civil war. If he misses the deadline, Cameron has promised to use his influence in the UN to call for an international inquiry. It’s a bold move, but it looks like it’s paid off, it’s got everyone’s attention and drawn a little more media attention to the situation in the north of the country, which is populated predominantly by the Tamil minority.
However, despite his significant statements he didn’t come across as being too one sides as he started out talking about the brutality of the Tamil Tigers, emphasising the reality that atrocities are often committed on both sides of the battle lines. It’s a short statement that could never do justice to the complexity of the situation, but he didn’t miss the opportunity to highlight the fact that the country has only as recently as 1999 finished more than three decades of devastating internal conflict.
He’s also a little pragramitic as he acknowledges that reconciliation, regrowth and recovery will take years, but clearly he sees the investigation into war crimes and a raised awareness for the Tamil minority as being integral to the process, which we find ourselves agreeing with, despite every previously held instinct not to. While the president, Sri Lankan officials and the local press response has not been favourable to David Cameron’s visit or his words, it’ll be interesting to to what they actually do.
It’s not the first time he’s spoken up for the human rights of the minority, as he previously called for greater consideration for democracy in Burma – visit http://tuppencemagazine.co.uk/david-cameron-backs-democracy-in-burma/.