Sri Lankan president's speech cancelled amid torture claims
Protests halt Rajapakse's address in City of London as Tamils deported from UK claim abuses
A MEETING in the City of London due to be addressed by the President of Sri Lanka Mahinda Rajapakse has been cancelled following the threat of large demonstrations by Tamil groups, Channel 4 reports. Metropolitan police had raised concerns about policing the event organised by the Commonwealth Business Council.
The cancelled speech follows continuing accusations against Rajapakse's government that Tamils deported from Britain are being tortured on their return to Sri Lanka.
Sen Kandiah, founder of the British Tamil Forum, said: "Common sense has prevailed. There is now enough evidence that allegations of war crimes in Sri Lanka lead directly to the president himself. That is why British government officials are reluctant to meet him. He is not welcome here."
Rajapakse will still attend a lunch for Queen Elizabeth hosted by the Commonwealth secretary general at Marlborough House in Pall Mall, London, today.
Richard Uku, spokesman for the Commonwealth Secretary General, told Channel 4 News: "The secretary general invited all heads of government to this lunch and Mr Rajapakse is one of them. This doesn't take anything away from our commitment to the Commonwealth's core values, of which human rights is key."
Details of alleged torture of Tamil deportees were reported in The Guardian yesterday. One Tamil deportee spoke of being held for 17 days after being sent back to Sri Lanka. Known only as 'Hari' the former Tamil Tiger intelligence officer claims he was beaten with rods, had plastic bags filled with petrol put over his head and was hung by his feet with a nylon rope.
The man says he managed to escape back to the United Kingdom through Russia after bribing his captors, but now faces making a second claim for asylum. "I came here with a hope," he said. "I believed that the UK authorities would consider my case reasonably but, regardless of all my history and the evidence, they sent me back and I had to suffer again."
The Tamil Tigers, who fought for an independent Tamil state in Sri Lanka, were defeated as an effective fighting force in a decisive campaign in 2009.
Last week Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged the government to cease deportations to Sri Lanka immediately as it had uncovered evidence of at least three Tamils deported from Britain being tortured.
HRW said that in one case, the Immigration and Asylum Chamber accepted that a woman who managed to make her way back to the UK in late 2010 after having previously been deported by Border Agency staff, was tortured and raped following her forcible return to Sri Lanka.
The human rights group has documented a total of 13 cases of people who, after being returned to Sri Lanka when their asylum claims in various European countries failed, were subsequently tortured by government security forces. The methods employed included scalding with cigarettes and heated iron rods and suffocation with plastic bags.
Commenting on Twitter, Channel 4's Jon Snow raised the issue of the Commonwealth Head of Government's Meeting, due to be held in Sri Lanka in 2014. "Amid continuing war crimes accusations against Sri Lankan President, why is Commonwealth going ahead with leaders Conference there in 2014," he asked.
The Home Office's latest guidance on the country, dated April this year, says it had considered reports by Freedom from Torture and Human Rights Watch on torture but "following current case law, maintains that at present it is safe in general to return failed asylum seekers, including Tamils, to Sri Lanka".
However, last week a High Court judge offered a last-minute reprieve to 40 Tamils due to be deported from Stansted airport on Thursday. They were granted their reprieve by the Mr Justice Eady, who said: "The recent Human Rights Watch report, dated 29 May 2012 suggests that there may be new evidence relevant to the risk of ill treatment."
David Mepham, the UK director of HRW said: "This is a very dramatic development. It is incredibly welcome that a High Court judge has recognised the serious risk facing failed Tamil asylum-seekers. This should be a wakeup call for the British government. Its existing policy towards Sri Lanka is fundamentally flawed and needs to be seriously re-thought."