The decision by Sri Lanka to turn away Liberal Foreign Affairs Critic Bob Rae is more than an insult to a distinguished Canadian who has worked at some personal risk to end violence in that country, but is an affront to Canada itself, a Commonwealth friend that has supported Sri Lankan peace efforts and which in 2006 strengthened the Sri Lankan government's hand by listing, correctly if belatedly, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam as a terrorist organization.
Mr. Rae was refused entry on Tuesday at the airport in Colombo, and yesterday was placed on a flight out of the country. This, though he had a valid visa and had consulted with Sri Lanka's High Commissioner in Ottawa before making the trip. The actions of Sri Lankan authorities are worrying evidence of a weakening of the country's civil infrastructure and its government's determined and continuing failure to reach out to the Tamil minority.
Canada lodged a formal protest with Sri Lanka, expressing "dismay and displeasure" over Mr. Rae's "unacceptable treatment." It needs to go further, and heed the call of those who are asking this country to step up pressure on Sri Lanka, which moved yesterday to extend a state of emergency giving the police and army sweeping powers to arrest and detain suspects indefinitely without charge. Sri Lanka has been an example of democracy in the developing world, but the militarization of the country continues, despite the crushing of the Tamil Tigers.
Some Liberal MPs in the past attended functions at which the LTTE were prominent, and Liberal governments resisted efforts to designate the Tigers a terrorist organization. Historically, Sri Lanka had cause to be frustrated by the actions of certain Canadian politicians. But Mr. Rae's involvement in Sri Lanka has been benevolent. He has briefed government and rebel negotiators on Canadian federalism and helped oversee constitutional discussions, and he has consistently opposed violence by either side. In 2008, writing in The Globe, he called the LTTE "a merciless armed group ... engaged in brutal attacks against civilians as well as assassinations of their opponents."
Mr. Rae is no threat to Sri Lanka's security, and he is manifestly not, as an army spokesman reportedly claimed, "an LTTE supporter." The authorities plainly fear that he will draw attention to a humanitarian and human-rights crisis, and to the failure of Sri Lanka's government to pursue reconciliation with its Tamil minority.
It is estimated that more than a quarter of a million displaced Sri Lankans are being confined in internment camps by the military. Efforts by international human-rights groups to monitor conditions facing Tamils, and to probe allegations of serious violations of international human-rights and humanitarian law by Sri Lankan forces (as well as by the defeated LTTE) have also been stymied. Amnesty International says it has received reports of "enforced disappearance, extrajudicial executions, torture and other ill-treatment, forced recruitment by paramilitary groups and sexual violence."
Sri Lanka needs Mr. Rae, and distinguished voices like his, as much now as at any time in its recent history of conflict. It should have rolled out the red carpet for him, and thanked him for his interest in its peace and long-term stability.