What is Sri Lanka hiding?

By LORRIE GOLDSTEIN

Sri Lanka is a sovereign nation. It had the right to bar Liberal MP Bob Rae and Conservative MP Deepak Obhrai, parliamentary secretary for foreign affairs, from entering the country.  Canada, after all, recently barred British MP George Galloway for the same reason Sri Lanka says it did Rae — security concerns. Which just goes to show countries can act within their rights and still be wrong.  Canada argued Galloway gave “material support” to Hamas.  Sri Lanka banned Rae because of his alleged sympathy for the terrorist Tamil Tigers.  In the real world, Galloway may be a self-aggrandizing buffoon with a one-sided view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but he has never been charged with aiding terrorists, was allowed into Canada in 2006 and wasn’t barred by the U.S.  Rae has been publicly critical of Sri Lanka’s often brutal treatment of its Tamil minority, as have many human rights groups. He has a longstanding interest in the country and has met in the past with Tiger members in a bid to kickstart the peace process. But it’s absurd to suggest he’s a security risk or endorses terrorism.  What’s worrisome, as Rae noted, is that if Sri Lanka is this paranoid about letting in Canadian observers following the end of its 26-year civil war with the now-defeated Tigers, what is it planning for 200,000 Tamil civilians rendered homeless by the war after thousands were killed in the fighting?  Sri Lanka has been bizarrely suspicious of Canada, presumably because we’ve accepted hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians as refugees.  But Prime Minister Stephen Harper also declared the Tigers a terrorist organization. He has rightly protested the barring of Rae and Obhrai and the recent attempted trashing of Canada’s embassy in Sri Lanka by government supporters while police stood by.  With Sri Lanka this paranoid about even an ally in the war on terror, how can it be trusted to respect the rights of Tamil civilians following its military victory?  That’s why international observers are needed. To see that it does.

LORRIE.GOLDSTEIN@SUNMEDIA.CA

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