"Stop Sri Lanka's bloody civil war
Sri Lanka's government has turned a blind eye to the mass killing of Tamils. The Commonwealth should threaten expulsion
We heard on a nightly basis about the events in Gaza earlier this year. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for what's been happening in Tamil areas of Sri Lanka. It's understandable that these terrible events rarely make the evening news: the Sri Lankan government bans the media and aid agencies. Yet 2,000 innocent people have lost their lives and hundreds of thousands more have lost their homes as the government has sought to end the terrorism of the Tamil Tiger rebels.
Sri Lanka has been in the grip of civil war for over 25 years as the Tamils – who make up nearly a fifth of the island's 18 million population – have tried to gain independence. Nobody denies that the Tigers have been brutal in their methods, often leaving civilians dead in terrorist attacks. But this can't excuse what's happening to many innocent Tamil civilians today. And Commonwealth ministers, who met in London today, must say so in the strongest possible terms.
The Sri Lankan government has declared a victory in its long running battle with the Tigers, having captured what was once rebel-held territory. But at the same time, they have left many without food, water or sanitation. And they have kicked out the United Nations agencies, which might have helped to alleviate people's suffering.
This is not just a faraway problem in a faraway place. There are 150,000 Tamils living in Britain today, many of them desperately worried for the relatives they have left behind. And while the civil war has cost 75,000 lives over its bloody path, the violence is far worse today. Since the New Year, not only have 2,000 people lost their lives, but a further 5,000 have been injured. That's more than the highest estimates for casualties in Gaza.
There are also reports that particularly lethal cluster-bombs, banned white phosphorous and multi-barrelled rocket launchers have been fired on the civilian population. Hospitals have been bombed, as have places that the government has encouraged people to see as "safe zones".
In many cases, the killings have been what independent observers would define as genocide, with whole communities killed in a form of ethnic cleansing. With the eyes of the world turned elsewhere, the Sri Lankan government has felt able to get away with this slaughter, despite condemnation from the Dalai Lama and the UN secretary general.
They mustn't any longer. Ministers must condemn the Sri Lankan government and make clear that the country faces expulsion from the Commowealth – which expects its members to observe human rights – unless it allows the UN and aid agencies full access to the region.
I also hope our foreign secretary, David Miliband, will do his bit to ensure that a peaceful conclusion is reached to this bloodiest of wars. If we don't act now, many more innocent people will lose their lives in the months ahead."