19 October, 2017

Did The Commonwealth Summit Backfire On Sri Lanka?

By S. I. Keethaponcalan –

Dr. S. I. Keethaponcalan

Dr. S. I. Keethaponcalan

Although Commonwealth is an insignificant and inconsequential organization, the Sri Lankan government organized the 2013 Summit in Colombo with great expectations which involved political, economic as well as personal designs. The government expected the Summit to: (1) facilitate greater foreign capital investment in the country, and (2) help mitigate the Western isolation caused by allegations of serious human rights violations during the last phase of the war in 2009.

In terms of the first objective, the government, despite some of the shortcomings, has done a good job showcasing the resources and potentials of the country. One however has to wait and see whether the Commonwealth Summit will fetch more foreign investments. Immediately after the Summit, a news report suggested that the Chinese government has agreed to invest on new projects in Sri Lanka. The reality is that the Chinese do not need the Commonwealth to invest in Sri Lanka. Government and semi-government Chinese institutions are investing in Sri Lanka on a regular basis as Sri Lanka’s leading newspapers report about one or another Chinese project almost every week. Therefore, what we are talking about is non-Chinese, mostly Western investment. Time will tell whether the Sri Lankan Summit boosted foreign investments.

It is the second objective, i.e. beating the Western isolation and international condemnation of serious human rights violations that has become problematic. Some critics believe that the historically low attendance of heads of government in the Colombo Summit was a problem. Only 27 of the 53 countries were represented at the top level, which to a certain extent, would have disappointed the Sri Lankan government. There is however, no concrete evidence to suggest that the decision to send second tier leaders or lower level officials to Colombo by many member states of the Commonwealth was influenced by their attitude towards Sri Lankan. The insignificance of the Commonwealth itself could have been a factor.

Yet, some states, especially India and Canada decided to send lower level delegations due to human rights concerns at various levels and the British Prime Minister David Cameron while deciding to attend the Summit, took a hardline position towards the Sri Lankan government or the situation. These decisions reignited the international interest on human rights problems in Sri Lanka, which were being relegated to the back burner of global agenda before the Summit. The Summit opened up a fresh space for the Tamil community in the North, especially the war victims to tell their stories through different means to the international media. The Sri Lankan government had no option but silently watch active exploration of the human rights situation in the North by the Western media, especially by Channel 4 and similar institutions. This is exactly why some observers are inclined to believe that the Colombo Summit backfired on the Sri Lankan government.

Two developments were significant in this regard: (1) Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s decision to miss the Summit, and (2) British Prime Minister Cameron’s activities in Sri Lanka and his warning.

India constantly supported the Sri Lankan government on the issue of holding the Summit in Colombo in 2013 as international human rights lobbies and Tamil diaspora groups resisted the idea from the inception. In fact it was the Indian patronage that saved the Colombo Summit eventually. These developments made Singh’s participation crucial and significant. Tamil nationalist groups and some of the political parties in Tamil Nadu however, had other ideas. They fiercely resisted the Colombo Summit and demanded India’s boycott. They believed that India’s participation would endorse Sri Lanka’s position on human rights issues. New Delhi however favored attendance at the highest level. The tussle between Delhi and Tamil Nadu and the debate whether Singh will or rather should in fact attend or not, helped sustain the attention on human rights issues in the pre-summit period.

Some of the commentators and policy makers both in Sri Lank and New Delhi who favored Singh’s visit argued that missing the Summit will jeopardize an opportunity to engage the Sri Lankan government on crucial issues including human rights concerns. This was misleading because this argument was based on the assumption that Sri Lanka and India are two equally powerful states. Although on paper they are equal members of the internationals system the reality is that India is a very strong state and a major international player. Therefore, if India desires to engage Sri Lanka while missing the Summit it can force Sri Lanka to do so or take advantage of the prevailing Western animosity towards Sri Lanka to engage the neighboring small state.

Prime Minister Singh’s eventual decision to miss the Summit was to a certain extent a setback for the Sri Lankan government. This however did not curtail engagement. In the immediate aftermath of the Colombo Summit, which the Indian Prime Minister skipped, Sri Lanka’s Secretary of Defence Gotabaya Rajapaksa visited New Delhi and reports indicate that he met and had talks with several political figures and policy makers. Hence, engagement between the two countries continues. One could safely assume that India will take full advantage of the Geneva process against Sri Lanka, because, Colombo still need India’s support to meet, probably more stringent challenges from the UN Human Rights Council sessions in Geneva in March 2014.

There are adequate reasons to expect serious debates and perhaps outcomes on Sri Lanka in the Human Rights Council meeting in March 2014. One of these reasons is that David Cameron who was in Colombo to attend the Commonwealth Summit used the opportunity to expose human rights related problems and eventually delivered a warning to the Sri Lankan government. He declared that “if an investigation is not completed by March, then I will use our position on the UN Human Rights Council to work with the UN Human Rights Commission and call for a full, credible and independent international inquiry.” Sri Lanka does not want an international inquiry.

Cameron, making use of the Commonwealth Summit met with people who were affected badly by the war including relatives of the disappeared persons. He also visited refugee camps and a leading Tamil newspaper printing press, which came under attack. This helped international media to follow the Prime Minister and expose some of the humanitarian problems in the Northern Province. Channel 4, which carried on a sustained campaign against the Sri Lankan government on issues of war crime, also was actively exploring the political environment in Sri Lanka. It is highly likely that Channel 4 will use the information and images gathered in Sri Lanka during the Commonwealth Summit to produce damaging reports in the future.

These developments especially Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s decision to miss the Summit, British Prime Minister David Cameron’s meetings with the war affected people in the North and his warning, and international media’s focus on humanitarian issues in the North seem to have exasperated the pressure on the Sri Lankan government. In response, the government has initiated two schemes: (1) it has promised to undertake a survey to assess the number of people who were killed and people who went missing during the war, and (2) it has accelerated the course of action to consult and seek Indian assistance to deal with the challenges of Geneva process. One of course has to wait and see whether these initiatives are adequate to mitigate the pressure recreated by the Colombo Summit.

*Dr. S.I.Keethaponcalan is Chair of the Conflict Resolution Department, Salisbury University, Maryland. Email: skeetha@yahoo.com.Version of this article appeared in Eurasia Review on December 14,  2013

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Latest comments

  • 4
    10

    With free 2 new warships to hunt down Tamils, no way!

    It was a resounding success.

    But from a Tamil point of view it was a disaster.

    Anything BAD for Tamils is good for SL.

    • 4
      3

      I am a Sinhalese with no socialist or racist attitudes. I am even not a supporter of opposition although I am very critical about many of the policies and actions of this government

      What I see is that this summit is a self-made booby trap of the government.

      I am not going to write a long comment on this. Just a small example.

      Do you know that C4 gained a lot from the train journey interruption? They knew very well that they are going to be interrupted. That’s why they selected train as their mode of transportation which is very odd for such team. They also gave a big publicity for this journey in advance. They provoked the government from the day that they steeped in the country.

      Do you know that while the public figures of the C4 team were stopped and sent back in a big show, the real journalists of the team were busy taking info in North, sent undercover few days before.

      Almost everything went on that way. Government thought that they could outsmart the delegates. But those who were against SL were way ahead of the government brains.

      What you are seeing today and tomorrow are the results of this unforeseen stupidity of GoSL. This is not going to do any “GOOD” to Sinhalese.

      • 1
        4

        Don’t you think it was stupid of C-4 to do this kind of things, by sending a few tamils in advance, if it really happened.

        they should have asked a tamil to video every thing and send it. by that, way, they could done it without spending a penny. that would have made their balance sheet look really good.

  • 6
    5

    Well balanced and a useful analysis.

  • 9
    2

    Fathamia, Pls check two ratios for us please:

    1) The Sinhalese on Boats fleeing SriLanka/ Illegal Immigrants fleeing Mother land.

    2) The size of your brain / the size of the Neanderthal brain

  • 2
    1

    Good to hear from the Writer after a long while. I remember meeting him at the Colombo think-tank circuit a few years and wondered where he is. Good narrative. Sri Lanka has, more than once since Independence, made the mistake of unnecessarily taking on India and then backtracking. It is not that the people of the Island are anti-India. On the contrary they feel warmly towards India and its people. It is the occasional misdirected “patriotic” political megalomaniac at the helm of affairs that causes this aberration. The present regime has more than one. After committing the skullduggery they employ men like Sharma and Dr. Subramaniam Swamy, rumoured at high cost, to save their skins. Between now and April 2014 India will haul the Rajapakses over the coal and, frighteningly for the local cardboard sandos, this period includes the nightmarish Geneva UNHC episodes as well.

    The Dimu J heroin scandal exacerbates the Rajapakse conundrum. Now the top tier of the Cabinet too is on the radar of Interpol and global anti-drug trafficking organisations – what until now was restricted to the lower level in the Govt structure.

    R. Varathan

  • 2
    3

    For me, this is a stupid article.

    ” Although Commonwealth is an insignificant and inconsequential organization, “

    If it is insignificant and inconsequential why did Tamils all over the world did every thing they could in order to stop.

    Are you saying that those Tamils were stupid ?

    OR is it simply the story of the FOX which tried to eat Grapes higher up their on a vine. Stupid – Tamil foxes could not do anything, so now they are trying another version ?

  • 1
    3

    Western Isolation …. ? BS.

    If you don’t know the reality you are living in your own drugged and hallucinated world.

    • 3
      1

      Jim Softy – win or lose fifty, fifty – Policies of this govt., is lofty, lofty – after the rape by Geneva, your bum will be Softy, softy…..Get ready to enjoy the rape!!!!

      • 1
        0

        His wife left him for some one….months ago…

  • 1
    3

    If there was western isolation against Sri Lanka why Did Camaron first allowed CHOGM to be held in Sri Lanka ?

    IT looks that you humiliating yourself by talking this CRAP.

  • 0
    0

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

  • 1
    0

    The Commonwealth is indeed a largely insignificant organisation that is only useful for the photo opportunity that it affords with British Royalty. The event by itself is unlikely to cause a great surge of inward investment. China is our new ‘best friend’ when it comes to investment, but they use different yardsticks to determine why, where and when they will invest. The expected surge of investment from other sources, post 2009, has not materialised. The GOSL are still trying to work out why. Perhaps they will get round to appreciating that even greedy capitalists can have their qualms; most of them fully understand the old saying that goes ‘if you lie down with dogs, expect to stand up scratching’. Cameron was bound to come to CHOGM since not to do so would have been a snub to Prince Charles – so he did, and he took the opportunity to make a thorough nuisance of himself, when, truth to tell, the British people couldn’t give a tinkers cuss about SL affairs (except of course the inconvenience caused by Sri Lankans washing their dirty linen in the public squares of London. True to form, there has been characteristic knee-jerk reaction from the GOSL and the flavour of the month is a second-hand ‘truth and reconciliation’ commission along the lines of South Africa; obfuscation and typical delaying tactics. One is more likely to get water from a rock that ‘truth’ and ‘reconciliation’ from the GOSL.

  • 3
    1

    CHOGM exposed government claims of resettlement of IDPs. When British PM David Cameron came out of the tin thatched camp that keeps the thousands of IDPs whose houses were seized by the military the world got a shock as to the credibility of the the government claims. President Rajapakse put himself as the chair of the Commonwealth draw international spotlight and the media and those states concerned about human rights will keep on checking on him and the plight of the victims. The money spent on the CHOGM is added to the debt which, of cause, the government is not worried.

  • 0
    1

    srilanka is a communal country, it was built by budhist monks,catholic presi. it a shame for religions.undemocratic. judical in politics,corruption in ministers, police,forces,future younger generation live ina bad wicket, young youth will come up against the government,srilanka in isolated in world. USA TAKEN ACTION AGAINST SRILANKA SANCTION IN ECONOMIC, PETROL,VISA,AND MANEY.GOOD LESON TO LEARN

  • 1
    1

    Platinum Pads on Bagathalle Road starts from USD 500,000 plus for a 3 Bedder on the 5th floor and above. And CHOGM wasn’t even started.

    Just imagine how much it must have hiked after all those World Leaders and their delegates descended on our new Harbor City.

    At 500 G Plus these are exclusively targeting the Diaspora rich.who like to live as rich folks, after three decades of hard slog in White Lands.

    Wellawatta ( which is Colombo 6) pads are still affordable although it won;t be long before they catch up with Bagatalle Platinum.

    Our Ex CJ’s pad in Trillium looks like the bargain of the Century….

  • 1
    0

    it was “illang kama” in typical sinhala terminolgy. it means “asking and eating”. -:)

  • 2
    3

    I think this author did not know why USA throw out the CH.4 in the garbage long ago and said “no need to push” Sri lanka!

    The Tamil problem is not reconciliation or finding a solution but to serve British interests through calamity and mayhem!

    • 2
      1

      Sivananthan you Sinkalam ( Appuhamy) :

      So according to you CHOGM was all about Channel 4 and nothing else mattered . The fact that Channel 4 ended up in the Garbage ( which is incorrect and a piece of Garbage from you as usual) in the USA marks the CHOGM as a resounding success. What a clever dick you are and you deserve a Doctorate from Moratuwa University.

      The Tamil problem is to take you along with MR to the HAGUE and at the Same time serve the British Interest. What is wrong with that.

      This time last year in one of your comments you said that you will never yield Power to Tamil Minority and one year down the line look where we are and just imagine where the Tamils will be in one year from now.

      MR in the DOCK and Tamils in their PROMISED Land so get used to it you Sinkalam.

    • 1
      0

      Mokkan these things are too difficult for you to understand. Leave these things to your leader Doglas.

  • 1
    1

    CHOGM was a SOGAM (Sad in Tamil Language)This conference was used for boost the(Artificial) image of MARA but was not successful locally and internationally as anticipated by the regime.Lots of commission games had been taking place in all aspects of the conference. Mara and his gang has made big money from this Thamasha.Some of the delegates even shared their dissatisfaction of the process.Mara wanted to show the local population that he was highly recognized as a real unique leader of the world ( He may even compare him with Mandela at a later stage)by giving him the Chairmanship of CW.This is to mislead the people and get their support to continue to be in power and make money and enjoy the wealth of the country without interruptions.But he should realize that he could not mislead the international community theway he does for local community.

    • 2
      1

      Whether it backfired ?

      Definitely, CHOGM became a CHEWEDGAM, when looking back. It was just the collosal sums that wasted was gone. Else, what have they achieved to boast again and again. Now leaders on the west, day to another, are trying to squeeze MR^s neck…
      Yesterday, I heard EU has already issued joined statement that LANKEN regime should be serious with LLRC recommendations.

  • 1
    1

    Two developments were significant in this regard: (1) Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s decision to miss the Summit,

    This is simply sooth saying.

    Just wait until the indian election comes closer and see what happens.

    The whole article is the STORY OF THE FOX WHICH COULD REACH TO THE GRAPE VINE.

    • 1
      1

      Jim Sooty you Moron ,

      You don’t have to wait until the Indian Election comes closer. People have already spoken on the 9th December. Congress was Humiliated and BJP won a landslide in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Congress was decimated in Delhi after 15 years in power.
      You cannot bribe BJP like you bribed Congress to hide your Crimes.

  • 0
    1

    Quite right, we have reasons to believe that on government account, Human Right Activist and others who wanted to give publicity to their concerns and problems which government was trying to sweep under the carpet got a major publicity which would not high lighted this manner otherwise. Further in spite of President and few others trying deny the allegations and warning given to them with deadlines by Cameron and others have made government to start its cover up work immediately but it’s to early how far they would succeed will have to be seen only next year UNHCR. Of course Mahinda got the Chairmanship of Commonwealth which is person benefit and a feather in his cap for which he is ready waste any amount public money succeeded. What have Sri Lanka gained?

  • 2
    1

    Did The Commonwealth Summit Backfire On Sri Lanka:

    It depends on who you listen to. If you listen to GOSL and read the Government Mouth peace( Papers) and listen to the Media it was a resounding success. But then what else do you expect. MR has this knack for taking it on the Chin even when he is humiliated and that is what happened.

    Look at the Dismal Record.

    1) The lowest number of Head of States attended in its entire history.
    2) Hotels were empty.
    3) CHOGM didn’t bring any new businesses and it was a total failure.
    4) Channel 4 had a field day.
    5) Mr.Cameron kept his World and put the spot light on the Human Rights record and more importantly Put Jaffna on the World Map.
    6) MR was humiliated at the Press Conference. First one hurriedly cancelled and in the 2nd one the only question that was asked was Are you Guilty of War Crimes even by the Sinhalese reporter and one wonders if he is still alive.
    7) The scene has been set for a Count Down in March 2014.

    But despite all the above MR is oblivious to the impending disaster and the Only Nation and Party ( Congress) that has helped him is about to have a Change at the top and MR is looking in to the Abyss.

    Read what you will.

    • 2
      1

      It also exposed the stupidity of the Sri Lankan politicians. Even Australia had started to realize its mistake and began to distant itself now.

  • 0
    0

    Many friends will leave any party where Srilaka participates, India has started slowly, wait for other Nations to do the same, however for Tamils West is the most important player in all this, first the Crimes against Humanity and War Crimes, then Tamils’ democratic and human rights, resolving the land dispute, sharing the power, many things have to be sorted, March2014 will be the starting point.

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