7 May 2013

Queen to miss Commonwealth meeting in Sri Lanka

The Queen will not attend this year’s Commonwealth summit as the palace reviews her long-haul travel. But there are calls for Britain to boycott the meeting due to Sri Lanka’s human rights record.

The Queen has been present at every Commonwealth summit in the last 40 years – a sign of the importance she places on her role at the head of the Commonwealth.

But this year, Prince Charles will take her place at the meeting in Sri Lanka in November after Buckingham Palace said that the number of long-haul flights taken by the 87-year-old monarch was being reviewed.

However Britain is facing pressure to boycott the two-yearly Commonwealth heads of government meeting (CHOGM) altogether, because it is being hosted by the government of Sri Lanka, which is accused of war crimes.

Human rights groups last week criticised David Cameron’s decision to attend the summit. Canada’s government has said it will boycott the meeting, with the country’s foreign minister saying that allowing Sri Lanka to host it would be “accommodating evil”.

It is nothing to do with the political situation in Sri Lanka. Buckingham Palace

The United Nations says at least 40,000 Tamil civilians were killed by Sri Lankan government forces in the final stages of the civil war which ended four years ago amid evidence of war crimes. The government there has consistently denied its involvement.

In March, two former foreign secretaries – one Labour, one Conservative – told Channel 4 News they thought it would be “grotesque” for the Queen to be required to attend the meeting in a country which is accused of persistent human rights crimes. Human rights campaigners have also expressed concern about the disappearance, torture and murder of government critics.

Buckingham Palace said the Queen’s decision not to attend was not a political one. “It is nothing to do with the political situation in Sri Lanka,” said a spokesman.”The key point here is that the Queen will be represented, although she is not there in person, by the Prince of Wales.”

The Queen was forced to cancel her appearance at the Commonwealth Day service in Westminster Abbey in March after a bout of gastroenteritis.

Read more: Queen’s Sri Lanka visit for Commonwealth meeting ‘grotesque

Political pressure

The Global Tamil Forum told Channel 4 News it was “relieved” that the Queen would not be attending. “However Prince Charles and the prime minister seem to be on course to wipe out all the pressure that has been built through the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) process in the last two years,” said Suren Surendiran.

Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander called on the prime minister to review his attendance if certain conditions are not met.

“David Cameron must be clear about the progress Sri Lanka needs to make before he confirms his attendance at November’s Commonwealth summit in Colombo.

“He has a responsibility to use the prospect of the summit to encourage Sri Lanka to meet its international obligations and address concerns about ongoing human rights violations.”

Downing Street said last week that Mr Cameron would be delivering a “very tough message” to the Sri Lankan government at the meeting.