By Rev. S.J. Emmanuel –
Cde. Mr Gwede Mantashe,
African National Congress,
PO Box 61884 Marshalltown,2107,
Republic of South Africa.
24th October 2013
I am writing, on behalf of the Global Tamil Forum (GTF), to humbly ask whether South Africa would be willing to boycott the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Sri Lanka. As Secretary General of the ANC – an organisation that has done much to draw attention to the human rights violations on the island as well as the lack of accountability and reconciliation since the end of the armed conflict in 2009 – I would be most grateful if you were willing to raise this matter with senior figures in the South African Government, including the President.
Mahinda Rajapaksa’s regime is accused of responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity, as well as the on-going perpetration of egregious human right violations. It is alarming that as host of the 2013 CHOGM, Sri Lanka will take over as Chair of the association for the next two years with the right to sit on bodies such as Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group. This would seriously undermine the credibility of the Commonwealth.
In 2009, Sri Lanka’s candidature for hosting CHOGM was deferred from 2011 to 2013 in protest at the military repression against the Tamil population and to act as an incentive to improve the human rights and political situation on the island. However, it is clear that since the end of the armed conflict, over four years ago, negligible progress has been made.
The Tamil majority, former conflict areas in Sri Lanka have been militarised. There has been no inclusive political settlement that addresses the underlying cause of the conflict – the discrimination and marginalisation of the Tamil people, which has been endemic since independence from Britain in 1948. The recent Northern Provincial Council elections on the island, which were won in a landslide by the Tamil National Alliance, were a repudiation of the Government’s policies in the region and were marred by widespread breaches of election laws.
Recent statements made by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Navi Pillay, have only reinforced the need to challenge the policies of the Government of Sri Lanka. Speaking following her visit to the island in August, Ms Pillay, noted that Sri Lanka “is heading in an increasingly authoritarian direction.” She expressed her serious concerns regarding the “curtailment or denial of personal freedoms and human rights […] persistent impunity and the failure of the rule of law.” The High Commissioner’s oral update on Sri Lanka to the UN Human Rights Council, in September, was equally damning and raised alarm at “the recent surge in incitement of hatred and violence against religious minorities.”
In addition to the above, the illegal impeachment and dismissal of Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake was a contravention of the Commonwealth’s Latimer House Principles. Sri Lanka should not have been allowed the right to hold this year’s CHOGM, and for the reasons stated above, Bishop Desmond Tutu has urged “the Commonwealth to seriously reconsider appointing Sri Lanka as its chair for 2013-15.”
However, Commonwealth Heads of Government can still send a powerful message by staying away from Colombo in November. This is why we support the position of the Prime Minister of Canada, Rt. Hon Mr Stephen Harper MP, who has decided to boycott the event given the clear evidence “that the Sri Lankan government has failed to uphold the Commonwealth’s core values.” We note from credible, international media sources that the Indian Prime Minister, Hon. Manmohan Singh MP, is also considering his attendance at the event and the UK Prime Minister, Rt. Hon David Cameron MP, is coming under increasing domestic pressure to follow Canada’s lead.
Given these important developments, we would warmly welcome South Africa taking similar action. The core values of the Commonwealth are being breached on a daily basis in Sri Lanka. GTF, and many others, wants the Commonwealth to reclaim its moral authority, which was most notably asserted in the fight against apartheid in South Africa and white rule in the former Rhodesia, by promoting and protecting the principles it holds most dear. The ANC’s heroic struggle against apartheid and South Africa’s prominent place in African, international and Commonwealth politics means the country has an important role to play in standing in support of justice, democracy, human rights and the rule of law and against the tyranny of the Rajapaksa regime.
Thank you for considering this request and I look forward to hearing from you. Yours sincerely,
Rev. Dr S.J. Emmanuel
Global Tamil Forum
Cc – Hon. Cde Mr Ebrahim I. Ebrahim MP, Deputy Minister for International Relations and Cooperation
Hon. Cde Mr Kopeng Obed Bapela MP, Deputy Minister in the Presidency for Performance Monitoring and Evaluation & ANC NEC Chair for International Relations
Cde. Ms Naomi Mosholi, ANC International Relations Manager
Hon. Cde Sisa Njikelana MP, Chair – Solidarity Group for Peace and Justice in Sri Lanka