Speaking ahead of the Commonwealth summit, which begins in Sri Lanka today, Mr Cameron said he would send a “tough message” to the country’s government over its human rights record.
Labour leader Ed Miliband yesterday called on Mr Cameron to ensure that Sri Lanka’s president does not serve as the Commonwealth’s chairman for the next two years.
Under normal procedures, as host of the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm), president Mahinda Rajapaksa would be automatically appointed to the position of chairman-in-office and would represent the 53- nation body until 2015.
However, concerns over his administration’s record on human rights have prompted a boycott of this week’s summit by the prime ministers of India, Canada and Mauritius. Mr Cameron has said he will use the event to “shine a spotlight” on alleged abuses.
“There need to be proper inquiries into what happened at the end of the war, there need to be proper human rights and democracy for the Tamil minority,” he said. “These things need to be properly looked at.”
Mr Cameron has asked for a face-to-face meeting with Mr Rajapaksa to spell out his concerns, though it is not yet clear whether this will be granted.
The United Nations estimates that at least 40,000 members of the Tamil minority were killed during the bloody military clampdown which ended a 26-year rebellion by Tamil Tigers separatists in 2009, and there have been widespread allegations of human rights abuses in the north of the island state since.
Mr Rajapaksa insisted his regime was ready to respond to complaints, telling reporters: “We are open. We have nothing to hide. If anyone who wants to complain about human rights violations in Sri Lanka, whether it’s torture, whether it is rape, we have a system. If there is any violations, we will take actions against anybody, anybody. I am ready to do that.”
Mr Miliband – who previously called on the Prime Minister to boycott this week’s summit – said that Mr Cameron must insist on the full implementation of the recommendations of Sri Lanka’s own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission investigation into the events surrounding the end of the civil war, as well as setting out a clear UK action plan to support improvements in human rights.
The Labour leader said: “At this summit this week, unless we see real and meaningful change on human rights in Sri Lanka, David Cameron should work with other Commonwealth leaders on securing an alternative candidate for chairperson-in-office.
“For Labour, the Commonwealth remains a vital network. It is a unique partnership representing over a quarter of the world’s population united by history, but rich in its diversity. Because we all believe the Commonwealth must remain relevant, the Prime Minister must make sure he defends the place of freedom, democracy and human rights at its core.”
Mr Cameron is due to be the first foreign leader to visit the Tamil heartland since Sri Lanka became independent in 1948, and is planning to speak to campaigners who have raised complaints about security forces.