2 Nov 2013

‘Grim reapers’ protest at Sri Lanka Commonwealth meeting

Two separate protests are held in Parliament Square against Sri Lanka’s hosting of the meeting of Commonwealth leaders. Protesters dressed as grim reapers highlight the deaths of 40,000 Sri Lankans.

Two separate protests are held at Parliament Square against Sri Lanka's hosting of the meeting of Commonwealth leaders. Protesters dressed as grim reapers highlight the deaths of 40,000 Sri Lankans.

Around 200 Amnesty International protesters staged a protest at Parliament Square, with lookalikes of David Cameron, William Hague and Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa joining the 40 grim reapers.

The campaigners said that the 15 November meeting of Commonwealth leaders, hosted by Sri Lanka, should be an opportunity to address the country’s human rights abuses – something that is not on the agenda.

Some of Sri Lanka’s leaders face allegations of war crimes. Protestors say Mr Cameron should raise that as Sri Lanka is due to assume chairmanship of the 53-member Commonwealth during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).

Protesters gathered on a mock beach at Parliament Square, where the figures of Mr Cameron, Mr Hague and Mr Rajapaksa, sipped cocktails.

Watch the exclusive C4 News report: New evidence on the fate of Tamil propagandist

Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK, said: “CHOGM should not just be an opportunity for President Rajapaksa and his government to sign business deals whilst clinking glasses with David Cameron and other world leaders.

“CHOGM ought to be a moment when the world examines Sri Lanka’s appalling human rights record, remembers the 40,000 dead and calls for accountability.”

An estimed 40,000 civilians were killed in the final months of Sri Lanka’s armed conflict in 2009, according to UN estimates.

Earlier this year, Channel 4 News reported that David Miliband and Sir Malcolm Rifkind called on the Commonwealth Secretariat to stop Sri Lanka from hosting its heads of government meeting because of the country’s poor human rights record.

But Simon Gimson, aide to Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma, recently told Channel 4 News that the decision to host the summit in Sri Lanka was made jointly by the Commonwealth heads of government.

“Our role in the Commonwealth is how do we make things better, so that questions… don’t arise in the future,” he said, and added: “What we have achieved in the last nine months, is more than any other international organisation in the last 39 months.”

Also on Saturday, a separate protest was held at Downing Street, as the British Tamil Forum presented a petition to David Cameron demanding a boycott of CHOGM in Sri Lanka.

The organisation also called for Prince Charles to stay away from the summit.

In October, members of the Foreign Affairs Committee said that Britain’s decision to set aside worries about Sri Lanka’s human rights record and back its selection as host of a Commonwealth leaders’ meeting showed a lack of principle.

Canada is the only Commonwealth country to boycott the meeting.