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Thursday, November 14, 2013 

A journey to the killing fields.

You could forgive both David Cameron and the Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa for wondering exactly what's changed in the last year.  After all, back in June of 2012 Rajapaksa came over for a flying visit to our septic isle, attending a diamond jubilee lunch organised by the Commonwealth secretary general, and hardly anyone batted an eyelid.  Not only was Dave prepared to pose for an informal photograph with Rajapaksa, Liz herself also shook his hand, leading to this lovely shot which reminds of the famous Low cartoon after the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact.  "The biggest welfare scrounger in Britain, I presume?" "The butcher of the Tamils, I believe?"

It certainly is rather odd that it's considered worse for politicians to travel to jamborees abroad hosted by human rights abusers than it is for the human rights abusers to be invited here to hang with the the nobs, but such it seems is the way these things work. It's also the case Sri Lanka is far from the only Commonwealth nation with a dire record on human rights, as the number that still outlaw homosexuality attests. This said, few of the other governments have committed atrocities on the scale of Rajapaksa's, as has now been documented beyond doubt. The killing fields are only part of it; the torture and sexual abuse of those accused of being Tamil Tiger supporters continues, while this year the country's chief justice was impeached and then sacked by Rajapaksa.  As for press freedom, Sri Lanka has been ranked behind Egypt, with 25 journalists murdered in the past 20 years. It's a country where the defence secretary (Rajapaksa's brother) can make these kind of threats to an editor and remain in his position.

No surprise then that before he was so cruelly forced to resign, defence secretary Liam Fox was all for extending our relationship with the country, meeting with Rajapaksa and travelling to the country with pal Adam Werritty in tow.  Nonetheless, even if Cameron had wanted to try and avoid attending, or openly pulled out in protest as Canada, India and Mauritius have, it wouldn't make much difference when it was hardly likely a royal representative would have made the same decision. As it is, Liz has decided to give it a miss, although who knows whether that's due to the controversy or not. In her stead the birthday boy himself has made the journey, and we can trust that Chaz won't be so crude as to bring up the tens of thousands of dead in the final stages of the civil war, lest we have another "appalling old waxworks" moment in the future.

Cameron is clearly talking the most specious nonsense though when he says we wouldn't be discussing Sri Lanka if he'd deigned not to go. A boycott would have resulted in far more coverage and reporting as to why it hadn't been thought appropriate, as well as being highly damaging to the image Sri Lanka has carefully crafted, something made clear by the ridiculous response from the media minister. It also provides a wonderful contrast with our policy on Syria: no epithet is too strong to describe Assad, we've recognised an opposition group no one in the country recognises as "the legitimate representative of the Syrian people", we've been training some of the "moderates" who are fighting the regime and we came extremely close to going to war with the country mainly because we thought the Americans were going to.  As for Sri Lanka, we didn't care then and we clearly care even less now.

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