Sri Lankan leader defends rights record at Commonwealth amid calls for war crimes probe

The president of Sri Lanka hit out Thursday at reporters and critics who question his nation's human rights record, saying its institutions were dealing with complaints of abuses committed during or after its bloody 27-year civil war.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa was speaking on the sidelines of a summit for the 53 nations in the Commonwealth of Britain and its former territories, which has been criticized for holding this year's summit in the seaside capital of Colombo and accused of making a mockery of the group's core values of democracy and human rights.

"We are open. We have nothing to hide," Rajapaska said, despite refusing demands by world governments and the United Nations for an independent investigation into alleged atrocities committed by both rebels and soldiers.

"If anyone who wants to complain about human rights violations in Sri Lanka, whether its torture, whether it is rape, we have a system," Rajapaksa said. "If there is any violations, we will take actions against anybody, anybody. I am ready to do that."

The leaders of Canada, India and Mauritius have stayed away. Other leaders, including Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron, have been forced by rights groups to justify their attendance by promising to call Sri Lanka to task.

The Commonwealth's Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma defended having the summit in Colombo by saying it allows Sri Lanka to meet with leaders who have dealt with issues of human rights, rule of law and judicial independence in their countries. He said "it shows the Commonwealth in action."

Since the war ended in 2009 with Sri Lanka's Sinhalese-dominated government forces smashing a sustained Tamil rebellion fighting for an independent homeland, the government has denied that any rights abuses were committed by its forces.

The government accuses journalists of fabricating allegations of atrocities, and rejects criticism of nepotism, even though five ministries are controlled by Rajapaksa and his three brothers. The parliament is also dominated by Rajapaksa's coalition.

On Thursday, Rajapaksa again lauded the wartime victory, saying "people were getting killed for 30 years. At least after 2009 we have stopped it."

Yet postwar reconciliation remains a far-off goal. Troops remain heavily deployed throughout the northern Tamil heartland on the teardrop-shaped island off southwest India.

Provincial elections held in September were seen as a step toward granting Tamils more autonomy, but also drew criticism for falling far below what is needed for postwar reconciliation.

The host of the Commonwealth's summit becomes the group's chair for two years until the next summit.


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