Indian Boycott of Summit
After weeks of speculation over whether India’s Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh would attend the Commonwealth Summit in Colombo, in the late hours of Friday 8 Nov. 2013, Gulf News announced that “Prime Minister Manmohan Singh may skip the upcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) due to domestic political compulsions.” But the report kept the tension high, attributing the news to sources and saying there was nothing official.
It was in the early hours of Sunday 10 November however, that Business Standard reported the first firm hint that Singh will not go: “External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid will head the Indian delegation at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) Summit to be held in Sri Lanka next week with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh deciding against undertaking the visit in view of the opposition by parties in Tamil Nadu, as well as a section in the Congress.”
A PTI report on NDTV, also in the early hours of Sunday, gave these reports greater official credence reporting that “DMK President M Karunanidhi today welcomed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s decision not to take part in the Commonwealth Summit in Sri Lanka in view of opposition by political parties in Tamil Nadu.”
Even though there is still room for doubt till the Indian Government officially communicates this to Colombo, those of us who want the Commonwealth to stand for the citizens of member states and their fundamental rights, rather than to prop up those governing us, are very glad indeed.
Good Decision for Bad Reasons
However, the common strand in all reports is that the boycott is due to pressure from Tamils. Why this evasion? Do the fundamental rights of the people and the need to investigate the many credible allegations against the Sri Lankan government have anything to do with the boycott? There is a serious principle at stake, which Indian policy makers must stand by.
The unprincipled mandarins at the Indian External Affairs ministry, having failed in their advocacy of full participation, put forward a spin as late as Saturday 9th that any nonattendance need not be read as a boycott. “[Of] the last 10 Commonwealth summits,” they said, “only five were attended by the [Indian] prime minister of that time.” They further claimed at the time that a final decision is yet to be taken. That is, they were still trying on 9 Nov. to get the Prime minister to go.
Yet, if India does withdraw from the meeting, this along with the boycott by the UNP will raise a significant red flag at the summit, making it more difficult to proceed without attention to Sri Lanka’s violations.
The Next Stage
Provided these mandarins do not reverse the position by Monday 11 Nov. when the decision is to be officially communicated to Colombo, the case against Colombo will move on to the next stage. It is really too late to stop the Commonwealth Summit. So human rights advocates will work on what is to be raised and decided there.
The UK’s Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander called on PM David Cameron to push for a review of whether Mahinda Rajapaksa should be granted the position of the chair of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Group when he meets fellow leaders this week, reported the Belfast Telegraph. That article pointed out that any engagement with the regime – which has failed to meet international demands for an independent inquiry into events at the end of a bloody civil war in 2009 – amounts to “collaboration”. The Shadow Foreign Secretary’s letter also revealed that Cameron is willing to heed Labour’s call to review “the automatic passing of the Commonwealth’s Chairperson-in-Office to President Rajapaksa following the summit”.
His letter added,
“Serious questions will be raised by the prospect of President Rajapaksa representing the Commonwealth on an international stage. Failure to address this would run the risk that upcoming events such as the Commonwealth Games – which will be a proud moment for Scotland and a celebration of world-class sporting achievement – risk being a time of sustained questions about President Rajapaksa’s Commonwealth role and human rights record of his government.”
As the pressure mounted Cameron himself, reported The Guardian, who had previously said Sri Lanka’s controversial government needs to hold an independent investigation, “now turned up the rhetoric by calling for an inquiry with international oversight if the country does not order its own review.”
Defence Secretary Responds
Evading an inquiry is now too late, and for the first time, the victims of the mass murders and rapes in May 2009 have hope of justice. The indiscreet Defence Secretary in Colombo who has difficulties in controlling what he says, proclaimed (as reported in The Isiand on 9 Nov.)
“Channel 4 released the report in July 2011. If the British outfit is sure of its sources let them be produced before judicial authorities in UK or some other country in Europe. Otherwise, their identities can be revealed in Geneva or The Hague. If they are not prepared to substantiate such allegations, they should shut up.”
Is that not an implicit acknowledgement by Sri Lanka of a willingness to hold an international inquiry when such evidence is submitted? – something which the government has been strenuously, even violently, avoiding for so long.
In the meantime, the government’s misinformation campaign is now coming apart. Reports claimed that the Rt. Rev. Rayappu Joseph wanted Dr. Singh to attend the summit, which he has denied. Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran’s secretary too has said they never asked Dr. Singh to attend the Commonwealth Summit as reported in The Hindu. If they had really issued such statements, it would have come out in the open in some form. It is to be noted that many TNA sources put the concoctions of Wigneswaran’s desire for the summit to be attended by Dr. Singh to a plot to split the TNA.
Murky World of Diplomacy
As a TV program said, this is the murky world of diplomacy where we cannot understand the gulf between governments’ stated principles and their actions. Indian policy-makers must not act as if policy has nothing to do with principle. They must let common sense principles and value for human life govern their decisions.
In Sri Lanka, the only way for Sri Lanka to redeem her reputation is to hold an inquiry and punish those responsible, however high they may be. In this the Defence secretary has unwittingly spoken good sense by effectively calling for inquiries in Geneva or the Hague.
It would seem that Prince Charles and Prime Minister Cameron will be the major players conferring respectability on Colombo. In terms of diplomatic insults, recall the controversy in 1978 when Prince Charles pointedly ignored Idi Amin’s proffered hand at Jomo Kenyatta’s funeral and turned his back on Amin. Let’s see how he responds to President Rajapaksa’s hand at the Summit.