11 August, 2020

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Deciding On CHOGM Venue Two Years Ahead Should Be Discouraged Says Commonwealth Expert

Two years is a long time and much could happen in that period to change the attractiveness of a Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) venue, a Commonwealth Expert said recently, referring to the 53 member organisation’s decision to controversially declare Sri Lanka with its failing human rights record host of the 2013 summit.

Sir Ronald Sanders

“The process gives hostages to fortune. While countries could indicate their desire to host a summit, it would be both practical and desirable for the decision on the venue to be taken only within a year before the meeting by a process of the Secretary General taking soundings from governments about the countries that have offered themselves,” said Sir Ronald Sanders, a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies in London.

Saunders was delivering a lecture entitled ‘The Commonwealth in troubling times’ to mark the 100th Anniversary of the Charter of the Bristol Commonwealth Society at the Mansion House, Bristol on 12 October 2013.

Saunders added that he had recommended to the last Summit in 2011 as a member of the Eminent Persons Group of the Commonwealth, that the position of the two year chair in office should be abolished. “This recommendation was rejected. But, had it been accepted, the Commonwealth would not now be subjected to the criticism of the President of Sri Lanka being Chair-in-Office of the Commonwealth while he and his government defend themselves in the United Nations Human Rights Council,” Saunders noted.

He said it was understandable that Canada was leading the call for a boycott of the Sri Lanka based Summit, since it was Ottawa that had led the Commonwealth membership in its first resistance against the Apartheid regime in South Africa. “This stand by the Canadian government is entirely consistent with its record on upholding Commonwealth values. In 1961, it was Canada that first declared the racist policies of the government of South Africa to be incompatible with Commonwealth values and prompted it to withdraw from the Commonwealth,” he said.

Saunders said it was also Canada in the 1980s that stood alone of all the OECD countries in imposing sanctions on South Africa to help force the release of Nelson Mandela from prison. “Canada also took a lead role alongside African, Asian and Caribbean States in the 1980s and 1990s to bring an end to the minority Ian Smith regime in Southern Rhodesia and later in the struggle to end Apartheid in South Africa,” he notes in his lecture.

The following is the full portion pertaining to Sri Lanka in the text of Sir Saunders’ lecture:

The controversy surrounding Sri Lanka

Because of its topicality, I will digress from the main thrust of this presentation to make a few observations about the controversy that surrounds the Commonwealth summit being held in Sri Lanka.

As is well known Sri Lanka has been the focus of attention of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights for several years.

At the end of August 2013, the UN Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay, expressed her “deep concern” that the government of Sri Lanka “is showing signs of heading in an increasingly authoritarian direction”.   This statement came in the wake of an allegation by an Expert Panel set up by the UN Secretary-General that war crimes had been committed in Sri Lanka, and recommendations that there should be an independent international investigation.

The Sri Lankan government resisted such an investigation.

In the ensuing period several organisations including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative have accused the Sri Lanka government of “restrictions on civil liberties, intolerance for dissent, intimidation of the media, and inaction in the face of extremist attacks against minorities”. They have all called on Commonwealth governments to change the venue of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). The impeachment of the country’s Chief Justice, by a process held to be illegal both by Sri Lanka’s own Supreme Court and international experts, strengthened calls for the change Those who called for the change in venue argued that “allowing Sri Lanka to host CHOGM (the Heads of Government Meeting) might be seen as condoning the violations of its (the Commonwealth’s) values”.

For his part, the President of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa, rejects any notion of serious and persistent human rights violations by his government. Instead, he and other members of his government have characterised efforts to criticize his government’s record as unjustified and interfering.

In a statement to the UN General Assembly on 24th  September 2013 said three things: First: “It is disturbing to observe the growing trend in the international arena of interference by some in the internal matters of developing countries in the guise of security and guardians of human rights”. Second, “This turmoil results from attempts to impose a type of democracy upon countries with significantly different cultures, values and history. The world needs no policing by a few states”. And, third: “I am proud that Sri Lanka has eradicated separatist terrorism spanning three decades and is in the process of addressing the issues of development and reconciliation”.

While concerns have been expressed about the situation in Sri Lanka by some Commonwealth governments notably the governments of the United Kingdom and India, it is the government of Canada that has most robustly expressed its disquiet. For almost two years the Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Foreign Minister John Baird have stated that: “The absence of accountability for the serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian standards during and after the civil war is unacceptable”.

This stand by the Canadian government is entirely consistent with its record on upholding Commonwealth values. In 1961, it was Canada that first declared the racist policies of the government of South Africa to be incompatible with Commonwealth values and prompted it to withdraw from the Commonwealth; it was also Canada in the 1980s that stood alone of all the OECD countries in imposing sanctions on South Africa to help force the release of Nelson Mandela from prison; Canada also took a lead role alongside African, Asian and Caribbean States in the 1980s and 1990s to bring an end to the minority Ian Smith regime in Southern Rhodesia and later in the struggle to end Apartheid in South Africa.

On 7th October 2013, Prime Minister Harper announced that neither he nor any Minister of the Canadian government would be attending the Summit in Sri Lanka. Instead, Canada’s representative would be Parliamentary Secretary in the Foreign Ministry, Deepak Obhrai, whose presence, according to Mr Baird, would be “to enable Canada to partake in some events surrounding the summit which will allow us to shed light on the true tragedy in Sri Lanka”

Mr Harper gave as his reason for non-ministerial representation at the meeting in Sri Lanka that: “Canada believes that if the Commonwealth is to remain relevant it must stand in defence of the basic principles of freedom, democracy, and respect for human dignity, which are the very foundation upon which the Commonwealth was built. It is clear that the Sri Lankan government has failed to uphold the Commonwealth’s core values, which are cherished by Canadians”.

And therein lies the rub.

Upholding values or a sinister purpose President Rajapaksa’s statement at the UN General Assembly and the reasons given by Prime Minister Harper for Canada’s non-ministerial representation at the Summit in Sri Lanka go to the core of serious dissension within the Commonwealth. It is a dissension which is also reflected in the decision by President Yahya Jammeh of the Gambia to withdraw his country from the Commonwealth effective 3 October 2013.

There is now a resiling by some governments from the values that all Commonwealth governments have declared they support, and an accusation that those governments that seek to uphold those values – and the credibility of the Commonwealth – have a sinister purpose.

This is an issue that requires urgent attention by all Commonwealth governments if the association is to remain cohesive and effective. The problem will not go away, nor can it be papered over by mere expressions of concern. It requires vigorous and serious attention by governments at the highest levels.

Before I leave the Sri Lanka matter, I would make two observations about the venue for Summit meetings and the Chairmanship of the Commonwealth.

First, deciding two years in advance (or even longer) on the venue for the Heads of Government Meeting should be discouraged. It is a practice that did not occur before 1993. Two years is too long a time, and much could happen to change the attractiveness of a venue. The process gives hostages to fortune. While countries could indicate their desire to host a Summit, it would be both practical and desirable for the decision on the venue to be taken only within a year before the meeting by a process of the Secretary-General taking soundings from governments about the countries that have offered themselves.

Second, with regard to the Commonwealth Chair-in-Office – a position that was established in 1999 – the Eminent Persons Group (the EPG) of which I was a member had recommended to the last Summit in 2011 that both the position of the two-year Chair-in-Office and the Troika of past, present and future Chairs of Commonwealth meetings be abolished. We made the point 6 that “the Commonwealth has not benefitted from the current arrangements”.

This recommendation was rejected. But, had it been accepted, the Commonwealth would not now be subjected to the criticism of the President of Sri Lanka being Chair-in-Office of the Commonwealth while he and his government defend themselves in the United Nations Human Rights Commission.

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Latest comments

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    hmm .. yawn! zzz.

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    Well, you can always have a second thought. Kamlesh Sharma did not let the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group consider CHOGM in Sri Lanka.

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    It was already suggested in 2009 and CHOGs have a bad habit of not weighing evidence before making decisions.

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      Rudra’s government ministers got caught in child molesting Sudan

      now these terrorist live in UK and talk about human rights

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        ANYTHING ELSE KRIS? IN CASE YOU ONLY SKIPPED THROUGH THE STATEMENT, Saunders added that he had recommended to the last Summit in 2011 as a member of the Eminent Persons Group of the Commonwealth, that the position of the two year chair in office should be abolished. “This recommendation was rejected. But, had it been accepted, the Commonwealth would not now be subjected to the criticism of the President of Sri Lanka being Chair-in-Office of the Commonwealth while he and his government defend themselves in the United Nations Human Rights Council,” Saunders noted.

        He said it was understandable that Canada was leading the call for a boycott of the Sri Lanka based Summit, since it was Ottawa that had led the Commonwealth membership in its first resistance against the Apartheid regime in South Africa. “This stand by the Canadian government is entirely consistent with its record on upholding Commonwealth values. In 1961, it was Canada that first declared the racist policies of the government of South Africa to be incompatible with Commonwealth values and prompted it to withdraw from the Commonwealth,” he said.

        Saunders said it was also Canada in the 1980s that stood alone of all the OECD countries in imposing sanctions on South Africa to help force the release of Nelson Mandela from prison. “Canada also took a lead role alongside African, Asian and Caribbean States in the 1980s and 1990s to bring an end to the minority Ian Smith regime in Southern Rhodesia and later in the struggle to end Apartheid in South Africa,” he notes in his lecture.

        There is now a resiling by some governments from the values that all Commonwealth governments have declared they support, AND AN ACCUSATION THAT THOSE GOVERNMENTS THAT SEEK TO UPHOLD THOSE VALUES – and the credibility of the Commonwealth – HAVE A SINISTER PURPOSE”

        wONDER IF YOU MULLED THIS OVER, ESPECIALLY THE LAST SENTENCE ENDING WITH “..HAVE A SINISTER PURPOSE”. IT WILL SOON BE MADE EVIDENT THAT IT’S THE GOVERNMENTS ARRAIGNED AGAINST SUCH GOVERNMENTS THAT HAVE SINISTER AGENDAS.

        THE COMMENTS BY SIR RONALD SANDERS NEED TO BE SERIOUSLY CONSIDERED BECAUSE THERE IS INNUENDO TO THE EFFECT THAT THE LANKAN PRESIDENT IS SOMEHOW PARTY TO THE ACCUSATIONS THAT GOVERNMENTS WHICH SEEK TO UPHOLD COMMONWEALTH VALUES ” HAVE A SINISTER PURPOSE” IN ADDITION TO THOSE GOVERNMENTS NOW ‘RESILING FROM THE VALUES THEY HAVE PLEDGED TO SUPPORT”

        WE HAVE BECOME EXPERTS AT TRIGGERING SUCH SHAMEFUL ATTACKS ON SRI LANKA.

        WE ARE IN EFFECT BEING NOW ACCUSED OF WHAT APPEARS TO BE A PLOT BY SOME C’WEALTH MEMBERS TO DESTROY THE C’WEATH FROM WITHIN.

        WHO WILL,BENEFIT FROM THAT ” FROM YET ANOTHER WORLD BODY THAT STILL HA CLOUT ON THER GLOBAL SCENE?

        CHINA ? RUSSIA ?WHY IS INDIA GETTING 7 MORE SUP=EA CLASS AMERICAN BUILT FIGHTER AIRCRAFT ? IS IT NOT TO MEET THE GROWING REGIONAL THREAT FROM CHINA? WHO HAS MADE IT POSSIBLE FOR A SHRINKAGE OF THE REACH OF THE BURGEONING CHINESE MILITARY IN THE INDIAN OCEAN EXTENDING TO THE ENTIRE INDO-PACIFIC THEATRE ?

        MAHINDA RAJAPAKSA ?

        WHAT HAS PUSHED THE US INTO A DE FACTO DEFENSE MEMORANDUM WITH THE MALDIVES ? THE SAME EXTENDED CHINESE RWCH IN THE REGION MADE AVAILABLE TO CHINA BY MAHINDA RAJAPAKSA VIA THE SOUTHERN PORT AND AIRPORT PROJECTS ?

        WHAT FORCES INDIA TO ADOPT GROWINGLY RIGID STANCES AGAINST SRI LANKA BUT THE FACT THAT RAJAPAKSA IS OBVIOUSLY PLANNING [ OR HAS ALREADY FINALISED PLANS] TO BEGIN MANUFACTURING ARMS AND LAUNCH A NUCLEAR PROGRAM IN SRI LANKA,OBVIOUSLY IN ASSOCIATION WITH CHINA ?

        I IT SRI LANKA PR CHINA THAT WANTS AN EXTENDED NUCLEAR CAPABILITY AND CONVENTIONAL ARMS CAPABILITY ON INDIA’S DOORSTEP…OR SRI LANKA ? SURELY NOT SRI LANKA? DID SRI LANKA NOT PERSUADE NASHEED OF THE MALDIVES TO ENTER INTO AN AGREEMENT TO ALLOW CHINA TO BUILD UNDERWATER MILITARY CAPABILITY AT A COUPLE OF ATOLLS IN THE MALDIVES ? REMEMBER NASHEEDS VISITS TO COLOMBO AT THAT TIME A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO? AND THAT COMPELLED THE US TO USE STRONG DIPLOMACY TO GET THE MALDIVES TO ENTER INTO AN AGREEMENT WHICH MAKES PROVISION FOR A FULLY EQUIPPED AND MANNED US MILITARY BASE IN THE MALDIVES!

        SO HAS RAJAPAKSA BECOME MORE THAN JUST A REGIONAL TOOL IN BEIJING’S HANDS AND HENCE A HUGE DANGER TO iNDO-US REGIONAL SECURITY CONCERNS. ISN’T THE MASSIVE INDIAN MILITARY RESPONSE TO THE CHINESE BUILD-UP IN SRI LANKA AND ATTEMPTS IN THE MALDIVES THE ENTIRELY BECAUSE OF RAJAPAKSA ‘SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY’ AS ONE INDIAN COMMENTATOR PUT IT ?

        THAT’S JUST A SKETCH OF THE INDIAN AND US PERCEPTION OF RAJAPAKSA AS A HUGELY DANGEROUS POTENTIAL CHINESE PARTNER IN CRIME WHO IS HELPING EXTEND BEIJING’S SPLIT-SECOND MILITARY REACH IN THE REGION.

        THE SOUTHERN EXPRESSWAY, SEEN THROUGH US AND INDIAN EYES IS ALSO A MEASURE PUT IN PLACE IN ADVANCE FOR QUICK TRANSPORT OF HEAVY MILITARY EQUIPMENT FROM THE SOUTH TO OTHER VANTAGE POINTS. THAT’S A BIGGER THREAT TO INDIA. THE US MOVE IN THE MALDIVES NECESSITATED THE HAMBANTOTA HARBOUR AND NO, THE US AND INDIA SEE MORE POTENTIALLY SINISTER OBJECTIVES IN SRI LANKA ‘WANTING’ THIS SECOND HARBOUR AND AIRPORT.

        THE CHINESE HIGHWAY CONSTRUCTED RIGHT UPTO THE VERY BORDER OF THE REGION BETWEEN CHINA AND INDIA IS NOT FOR TOURISM EXPANSION EITHER.

        DOES IT NOT LOOK LIKE CHINA HAS WELL AND TRULY SUCKERED RAJAPAKSA INTO ITS GRAND REGIONAL MILITARY PLANS? TO MY MIND, CHINA HAS CERTAINLY MADE THE PEARL OF THE INDIAN OCEAN THE CENTERPIECE IN ITS ‘CHAIN OF PEARLS”.

        WHAT A GHOULISH FACT.

        SIR RONALD ANDERS ADDS REGARDING THE ‘SINISTER PLANS” OF THE UNNAMED ROGUE ELEMENTS WITHIN THE COMMONWEALTH THAT : “This is an issue that requires urgent attention by all Commonwealth governments if the association is to remain cohesive and effective. The problem will not go away, nor can it be papered over by mere expressions of concern. it requires vigorous and serious attention by the government at the highest levels.”

        That, to me. sounds like he is drumming up a demand for an urgent meeting of the CMAG TO HAVE SRI LANKA KICKED OUT, NOT MERELY SUSPENDED, AS THE CW DID WITH THE MALDIVES.

        wE KNOW THAT WHEN A JEWELLER SETS A PEARL IN A NECKLACE HE KEEPS IT SECURELY IN PLACE WITH BETWEEN FOUR TO SIX CLAWS ISSUING OUT OF THE BASE METAL, CURLING OVER THE PEARL. I’D SAY THAT THE PEARL OF THE INDIAN OCEAN HAS BEEN SET INTO A SHANK SMALLER THAN THE DIAMETER OF THE BASE AND THEN SOLDERED TO THE BASE.

        ZERO ROOM FOR FALLING OUT OF ITS GRIP.

        ANYONE STILL THINKS RAJAPAKSA IS SMART ? LOOKS TO ME HE’ JUST A MEDIOCRE DILETTANTE WHEN IT COMES TO GLOBAL POLITICS.

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          Sorry, para 13 please read “Is IT SRI LANKA THAT WANTS AN EXTENDED NUCLEAR CAPABILITY AND CONVENTIONAL ARMS CAPABILITY ON INDIA’S DOORSTEP…OR CHINA?

          Thanks…and excuse other typos.

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    Sri Lanka should like Gambia and Pakistani before pull out of the racist Commonwealth. Why are there never queries as to how the Maoris are treated in New Zealand (high percentage of unemployment driving the youth to crime) the native Australians who have less rights than domestic animals in the white men’s houses, or the Native Canadians whoi are run off their ancestral lands in the 21st century so that some white man can build a gold course and make money. What about the Human Rights of these people? When will these governments be asked to pay compensation to natives. Another question must be asked of the British Tamil Forum and the Global Tamil Forum. What are their thoughts on the immigrants from East Europe who are not involved with crime as their own brethren are in Europe and the UK?

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      Are you working for Lynton Crosby (Crosbytextor.com)?

      Sri Lanka standing down after CHOGM is the plan I heard in Mauritius.

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    Tough titties! Thanks to mealy-mouthed procrastination the organisation is now stuck with CHOGM in SL next month and the SL Chairmanship for the next two years. How many self-respecting members will pride themselves in their membership of such an organisation? Already members of the SL government are crowing, pointing to the imminent success of the planned celebrations and offering it as clear evidence that all cannot be bad internationally if 52 out of 53 attendees will be breaking bread with President MR in our own land like no other. In the months (and years) to come, MR will use HIS Chairmanship as as a sheild to defend his GOSL in the continuing accusations that emanate from Geneva.
    We shall have plenty of time to rue those missed opportunities.
    Oh the shame of it all!

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