Colombo Telegraph

Should Commonwealth Heads Come To Lanka?

By Kumar David

Prof Kumar David

The pros and cons of a still tough choice;  Should Cw’lth Heads come to Lanka?

Should the people of Sri Lanka call upon the Commonwealth Heads of State and Government (CwH) to boycott the gathering scheduled for latter this year, or to move the meeting to another country if feasible?  I intend to keep an open mind for a few more weeks till it is clear how this state sponsored constitutional chaos is resolved, and till I see if the regime is determined to ram through the subjugation of the judiciary, come what may. The regime’s authoritarianism and autocratic intentions are palpable; nevertheless there are more sides to the matter than this. One way or the other the people of Sri Lanka need to decide what message they intend to send to the Commonwealth of Nations, its people and its leaders. I would like to take up and weigh some aspects of this matter today.

A beggar-thy-neighbour approach is childish; what I mean is, that even though this corrupt sibling regime will cashe in on the CwH event, if the benefits to Lanka as a nation are substantial, then we should welcome the event and use it for our purposes as I will describe anon. The generic or long tem benefits for Lanka are high profile exposure, popularisation of its scenic beauty, the hospitality of its people, its delectable cuisine, and hopefully lasting benefits in trade and tourism. This is substantial.

The immediate benefit for Lanka is the opportunity to expose, at first hand, the nature of the regime to thousands of journalists and officials who will trek in. Lanka will be in the spotlight all over the Commonwealth for weeks before the event and it is an opportunity to mount a campaign to educate the public in those countries about political reality in Lanka. Interventions can be made in Commonwealth countries using many methods and official propaganda can be defeated with ease. Visiting journalists and officials (don’t expect to meet Heads of State) can be met and educated about abuse of power, corruption, the Rajapakse samagama (corporation) and the attempt to subjugate the judiciary to the Executive. This needs a campaign of leaflets, seminars, personal meetings and press coverage aimed at visitors. Available human resources are prolific in academia, the legal profession and political commentators, the great majority of whom have come to the point where they say, enough is enough. Most important will be a Meet the People Campaign for direct exposure. The point of all this is that viewed in this fashion, the CwH gathering is not an event to oppose to but an opportunity to grab.

Let’s now look at the other side of the coin; reasons for supporting a boycott; some Tamil diaspora groups have already launched a campaign. The motive would be to punish the regime for its human rights violations and unbridled abuse of power. The thinking is that by isolating the regime it can be weakened both internationally, obviously, and internally. The regime will be weakened internally, by international isolation, not so much politically (anti-Western and anti-White hysteria can be whipped up; trust Weerawansa), but in the economic domain. Loss of markets and trading privileges will hurt the people, but it will also make the government unpopular. This is in the minds of boycott enthusiasts.

The second way that international pressure works is by exerting severe, sometimes unbearable pressure on political leaderships. Take an extreme example; Assad’s future lies in the palm of President Obama, who will snuff him out when he thinks it best for America. Lanka is nowhere near as important for Washington as the Middle East, but Washington will be responsive to the argument that dictatorship, even in a small country, is destabilising and costly for the region and the world and should be nipped in the bud.Delhi, which should be more sensitive to this line of thinking, is drowning in scandal and rape. Lanka, no doubt, will remain low on its list of priorities for many months.

Another reason for calling for a boycott is the formal one; if a country falls short of Commonwealth values and principles, can the rest of the Commonwealth ignore it? Nihal Jayawickrama quotes as follows from among these principles:

“In case where a judge is risk of removal, the judge must have the right to be fully informed of the charges, to be represented at a hearing, to make a full defence and to be judged by an independent and impartial tribunal”.

The recent farce at Kotte was such a preposterous denial of natural justice that I find it difficult to believe that it actually happened. Can a government really be so brazen, barefaced and contemptuous of public opinion!  The Rajapakses obviously can, but still, if the impeachment sham was the only weapon the boycotters had, they will probably be unsuccessful. But there are many other damaging concerns as well. First, human rights and the war. Second, an open clash with the courts can bring the judicial system to a grinding halt. It is really hard to believe that these madmen in government are walking over the cliff with their eyes wide open. We will have to wait and see how things unfold.

To return to my starting point, what is less harmful; if the CwH gathering is called off, or if the people and the opposition agree to go ahead with it and use it to the full for their own purposes? The latter is the default option to prepare for in any case. I think there is a little more time to ponder the matter before arriving at a decision.

Back to Home page