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'Suspend Lanka from Commonwealth for war crimes'

October 18, 2011 15:42 IST

Amid reports that Australian police are examining if a war crimes probe can be initiated against Sri Lanka's envoy to Canberra, the Commonwealth is receiving calls seeking suspension of Colombo from the 54-member body, whose top leaders are set to meet in Perth later this month.

"If the Commonwealth is to mean anything at all on issues like human rights, it has to look to the actions of its members. This is one of its members (Sri Lanka) which is the putative next host in 2013," John Dowd, president of the Australian chapter of the International Commission of Jurists, was quoted as saying by ABC.

Dowd, former New South Wales attorney-general, said that it was a matter of human rights.

In a statement, the Australian federal police confirmed that it had received a submission compiled by the International Commission of Jurists, a legal rights lobby group composed of eminent legal figures.

The legal rights body has levelled allegations against Sri lankan envoy to Australia Thisara Samarasinghe, a former admiral, saying that he was in charge of navy ships that fired on unarmed civilians as they fled the fighting in the final stages of the civil war in Sri Lanka.

Dowd said Sri Lanka should be suspended from the meeting. "Well they should, I think, suspend it from the Councils of the Commonwealth until Sri Lanka does something about a war crimes tribunal and the other recommendations of the expert panel committee," he said, ahead of the October 28-30 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.

"And if it (Sri Lanka) does continue to do nothing it (Commonwealth) has to look at suspending Sri Lanka ... because they've done it to other countries for offences less than war crimes."

Last month, the Swiss attorney-general announced plans to investigate allegations that Sri Lanka's second most senior diplomat to Switzerland and Germany, Jagath Dias, was involved in war crimes.

Dias was accused of ordering his troops to fire on civilians and hospital targets during the final offensive against the Tamil Tigers. The general was recalled to Colombo.

The ABC report said there was no evidence that the Sri Lankan envoy to Australia was directly involved in shelling civilians, nor is anyone yet claiming that he gave direct orders to that effect.

But the submission to the Australian federal police reportedly did mention that Samarasinghe, as a military commander, held what was referred to as "command responsibility" for the actions of his subordinates.

In January, he resigned his commission to take up his diplomatic posting in Canberra. "I specifically reject, totally reject such allegations. Such allegations are baseless," Samarasinghe was quoted as saying.

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