13 March, 2011 - Published 15:46 GMT

Call to boycott Colombo defence seminar

An international human rights watchdog has called on over 50 invited countries to boycott a conference aimed at sharing Sri Lanka's war experience.

The Sri Lankan government has invited militaries of 54 countries for the "Defeating Terrorism Sri Lankan Experience” to be held from 31 May to 02 June in Colombo.

But Human Rights Watch (HRW) said it "understands" that some of the key invitees have already decided not to take part.

“What we are telling the militaries around the world is that they should not attend a meeting to celebrate a military policy that involves killing so many civilians,” HRW Executive Director Brad Adams told BBC Sinhala service, Sandeshaya.

Foreign Minister GL Peiris, Secretary to President Lalith Weerathunga, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Central Bank Governor Ajith Cabraal, terrorism expert Prof Rohan Gunaratne and many senior military officers are among the list of speakers.

"It will endeavour to propose adequate measures to manage and counter global terrorism and discuss strategies for nation building while introducing a Sri Lankan perspective in counter terrorism,” said the statement in the defence ministry run website.

But the rights watchdog says many of the tactics employed by the Sri Lankan military in its war against the Tamil Tigers were “illegal.”

“If militaries around the world are going to meet they should be talking about those illegal activities and not trying to copy the Sri Lankan government’s doctrine,” Mr Adams said.

'Big lie'

"If this was a genuine agenda and it was carried by independent and impartial people to look at the good, the bad and the ugly about the war," the executive director said that HRW welcomes the initiative.

He says that the Japanese, for example, has a constitution that does not allow them to involve in international arms conflict. “So the Japanese should stay away miles away in the meeting in Colombo.”

The HRW accused the Sri Lankan government of repeatedly “lying” of political reforms to settle the national question.

“I promise that they will never engage in political reforms they have always said that political reforms is part of the process but they have never done it. It is empty rhetoric. It is basically a big lie.”

The watchdog says the planned seminar is an attempt by the Sri Lankan government “to teach the rest of the world how to engage in counter insurgency.”

“We have no doubt that the LTTE was a terrorist organisation. We were extremely critical of the LTTE all along but that does not give a licence to the government to attack civilians the way it did,” Brad Adams added.

The HRW says the timing of the conference which falls on the second anniversary since the government defeated the LTTE sends a "terrible message" to the Tamil community.