A couple of weeks ago it was revealed that the Sri Lankan army used cluster munitions, some of the most dangerous weapons in the world, on their own people. The government of Sri Lanka had previously claimed only the LTTE had used cluster munitions (something that may well also have happened).

Weaponry such as cluster bombs – illegal under international law in 102 countries (but not in Sri Lanka as they never signed the treaty) – by their very nature target civilians. Cluster bombs are controversial weapons consisting of a canister which breaks apart to release a large number of small bombs. They can cover a large area and do not have precision guidance. Many do not explode on impact with the result that, like landmines, they litter the ground with the potential to explode years later.

The effects of cluster bombs and land mines are only too familiar with children around the world still being maimed and hurt long after these weapons were deployed. Examples of this are a dime and dozen across Africa and the Balkans, especially Kosovo. A report by the Cluster Munitions Coalition (CMC) in 2011 mentions that CMC wrote to President Rajapaksa in February 2009 asking for clarification on whether Sri Lanka had cluster munitions capabilities, they haven’t had a reply.

But elsewhere the Sri Lankan government not only denied having used cluster munitions, they emphasised that they did not have any military capabilities to deploy them. Despite these strong refutations, evidence of Government use of cluster bombs was found in 2012.

For years survivors of the civil war claimed that they had been subject to attack with white phosphorous and cluster munitions. The Government of Sri Lanka always claimed these claims were fabrications, but now that the use of cluster munitions has been demonstrated questions will continue to be asked about the use of white phosphorus – which is illegal under international law. This is yet another reason why an independent international investigation into the Sri Lankan civil war is needed.

The Sri Lankan Government’s conduct has been unbecoming of a member of the Commonwealth. It has been unwilling to allow international monitors to investigate allegations of human rights violations, the use of cluster munitions, or the suspicious disappearances of human rights activists. Instead, the Government of Sri Lanka play an endless blame game to avoid the real issue – as Roma Tearne wrote

It is now hard not to demand answers to these legitimate questions: Why is Sri Lanka’s membership of the Commonwealth not even up for discussion? Why is the Commonwealth summit 2013 being held in the Rajapaksa regime’s “model village” of Hambantota? Why is the Commonwealth collective still turning a blind eye to obvious oppression of democracy and human rights violations in Sri Lanka?