By Brian Senewiratne –
I argued that the Commonwealth was a farce, and the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) a joke. That is not correct. I have re-written it to draw attention to an entirely different ‘event’ associated with CHOGM, the Commonwealth Business Forum (CBF).
CHOGM is not a farce. Hosting this event is an opportunity for the host country to make a lot of money. That is why Sri Lanka lobbied so hard in 2009 at CHOGM in Trinidad and Tobago to host the 2013 meeting. What goes on in the main meeting(s) might well be a farce, but the forums that accompany CHOGM, CBF in particular, is anything but a farce.
CBF is a gathering of businessmen from developed and emerging markets that aim to promote trade and investment. It is a business meeting, which has nothing to do with “Commonwealth core values”. It presents a tremendous opportunity for the ‘host nation’ to look at new partnerships and business opportunities – to hell with human rights, democracy or the rule of law.
Typically at every CBF the host country benefits most. At the last CBF (during CHOGM in Perth, Australia, 2011), some $10 billion in deals were sealed for Australia. For Sri Lanka, a $2 billion ‘business opportunity’ is projected for the November 2013 meeting.
Since 1997, CHOGM has an ‘official theme’ set by the host country on which the primary discussions are focussed. Sri Lanka’s choice was predictable. With the ‘need’ to maintain a massive Army of some 230,000 soldiers (up from 180,000 during the ‘war’ to 230,00 in ‘peace time’, and a call to increase this to 300,000), mega-corruption, fraud, extensive bribery, financial mismanagement and stealing all the way to the top, the country is desperately in need of money.
The budget deficit of US $ 4.2 Bn (revenue US$10.2 Bn, expenditure $ 14.5 Bn) is financed from domestic and foreign borrowings especially from the IMF, putting the country deeper and deeper into debt. Of the total expenditure of SL Rs 1.6 Tn (US$ 14.5 Bn), Rs 230 Bn is for ‘defence’, of which 88% goes to the military – to ‘defend’ the country from a non-existent enemy. The IMF, with its usual conditions of restricting social welfare and essential services which must be met, is creating massive problems for those at the bottom of the economic ladder, even higher up, which are resulting in intolerable living conditions, especially the upward spiralling of the cost of living. This is resulting in increasing unrest. A revolt in the Sinhalese South is likely.
As such, the most urgent need for President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government is money, not advise on human rights. The predictable choice of the ‘official theme’ of the up-coming CHOGM is: “Partnering for Wealth Creation and Social Development”.
Simply put, CHOGM is the much-needed opportunity to keep the ruling Rajapaksa junta in power and prevent an almost certain uprising of the majority Sinhalese at the escalating cost of living and grinding poverty. This is already happening, and is being crushed by the Army – hence the ‘need’ for a 230,000 strong Army, by far the largest Army per capita of the population of any country in the world.
Those who think that CHOGM will afford an opportunity to hold the Sri Lankan government accountable for the well-documented serious violation of human rights and crimes against humanity that have occurred after Rajapaksa came into power (November 2005) and is continuing today, more than 4 years after the genocidal massacre of the Tamil people in the North and East, have no idea of realpolitick.
Those who attend CHOGM do not know, or want to know, what is going on behind the closed and censored doors of Sri Lanka, or the agenda of the Totalitarian State under the Rajapaksas (all of them). In practical terms “Partnering for Wealth creation” is ‘wealth creation’ for the Rajapaksa family (all of them) and their stooges.
People who think that some country, any country, will ask the hard questions on the violation of human rights, the dismantling of democracy and the separation of powers, strangling the media, interfering with judicial independence and rule of Law, and demand a response from the Sri Lankan government, do not know how these tea-clubs function.
For example, will some country ask Sri Lanka why it is necessary to have such a large Army (as President Rajapaksa was asked in the recent disastrous AlJazeera TV interview at which he was visibly shaking), and why Amnesty International (AI), Human Rights Watch (HRW) and International Crisis Group (ICG) are barred from entering the country, let alone the Tamil North and East? It will not happen. If it does, the answer from Sri Lanka will be a downright lie.
The answer will be that that the Tamil people have been ‘successfully rehabilitated’ and there are now only happy smiling (Tamil) faces in the former conflict area in the North and East. Will the follow-up question, “Can AI, HRW and ICG check that out?” be asked? No, it will not be asked because that will rock the boat which is ‘not good for business’. That is how realpolitik operates.
Fiji is the only country in the 52 nation Commonwealth to remain suspended. No action has been taken against Sri Lanka, the country with the worst human rights record in the Commonwealth, and far worse than what Fiji did which was relatively minor in comparison to the extensive violation of the Commonwealth ‘core values’ by Sri Lanka. The double standards, one for Fiji, and an entirely different one for Sri Lanka, is downright hypocrisy.
The Declaration of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers creating the modern Commonwealth (28 April 1949) stated:
“……the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Pakistan, Ceylon, hereby pledge that they remain united as free and equal members of the Commonwealth of Nations, freely co-operating in the pursuit of peace, liberty and progress”.
60 years later, Queen Elizabeth II, Head of the Commonwealth, in December 2009, said:
“The Commonwealth is not an organisation with a mission. It is rather an opportunity for its people to work together to achieve practical solutions to problems”.
To put this in the current context, “the practical solutions” is to get Commonwealth countries to provide the money for Rajapaksa to solve his “problems”. That is what is needed, not advise on human rights or democracy.
In the course of its history, the Commonwealth membership has grown from 8 to 52 countries. Some have been suspended, two of them, twice. The suspension has been revoked in some, remains suspended in one (Fiji).
The (supposed) aim of the Commonwealth has been to address issues such as:
- Opposing racism in all its forms
- Assisting Commonwealth countries to transit to multi-party democracies
- Promoting human rights
- Setting an agenda for advocating and advancing the rights of small states and the vulnerable
- Ending international and interracial conflicts.
In addition, there was the intention to provide ‘intellectual leadership’ in a variety of areas, including, through the work of Expert Groups, advancing social, political and economic rights, and the rights of women.
I will put this to the ‘host country’, Sri Lanka, (in italics) in a relevant way so that it, and the rest of the world, can hear it loud and clear:
- Opposing racism. Opposing ethnic discrimination in all its forms, anti-Tamil ethnoreligious chauvinism, in particular.
- to transit to multi-party democracies. Not a Fascist Dictatorship, a Totalitarian State, which has destroyed all traces of democracy and made Parliament irrelevant.
- Promoting human rights. Not violating every Article in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – the key declaration in human rights.
- Setting an agenda for advocating and advancing the rights of small states and the vulnerable. Not an agenda that denies all rights to the vulnerable Tamil people in the North and East. Not establishing Sinhala-Buddhist ethno-religious chauvinism as the key goal of the (Sinhalese) Government.
- Ending interracial conflicts. Not by committing mass murder, crimes against humanity and Genocide.
In 1995, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) was created because of the absolute need to deal with serious violations of the ‘core values’ by member nations, and to take action where it is appropriate (suspension or expulsion).
The earlier commitments to Commonwealth ‘values’ in the 1971 Singapore Declaration, and the 1991 Harare Declaration (which, in particular, dealt with serious and persistent violations of these commitments), were updated in 2009 CHOGM in Trinidad and Tobago – “Affirmation of Commonwealth Values and Principles”.
Kamalesh Sharma, the then newly (2008) appointed Secretary General of the Commonwealth, reaffirmed these ‘core values’ in the 2009 meeting as:
International peace and security, democracy, the protection of human rights, tolerance, separation of powers, the rule of law, freedom of expression, development, gender equality, access to health and education, good governance, safeguarding civil society, respect and understanding.
He went on to reaffirm his commitment to the core principles of:
- consensus and common action,
- mutual respect,
- inclusiveness and transparency,
- legitimacy and
It is obvious that to ensure its relevance and secure its future, the Commonwealth needs to put in place effective machinery to deal with those who breach its values, particularly the protection of human rights, democracy, the separation of powers, the rule of law, and freedom of expression. Those who do so should be suspended or sacked from the Commonwealth until they comply.
The changing record
In the past the Commonwealth has had a commendable record of responding to serious violations of Human Rights within its member countries, including apartheid South Africa and Southern Rhodesia, the excesses of Idi Amin in Uganda, and military coups in Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Pakistan and Fiji. In each case the Commonwealth has intervened in one way or another – ranging from condemnations to sanctions, including suspension.
In recent years, however, there has been growing criticism that the Commonwealth does not take a stand on violations of its values by member states, other than in the non-constitutional removal of a Government.
Serious, and entirely justifiable, concerns have arisen when one or more of the core values, which the Commonwealth has set for itself and by which it will be judged, are breached, and no action taken. Worse still, in the case of Sri Lanka that has breached most, if not all, of these ‘core values’, the country has been ‘rewarded’ by being allowed to host CHOGM.
As for the non-constitutional removal of a government, what if the government remains in power having ‘won’ a completely rigged election or an election where the political opponents are threatened or killed, and the governing party uses the media and every State facility for its propaganda, and the Police and Armed Forces to intimidate opponents, effectively making it a sham election? Is that acceptable? What is the difference between this and the ‘un-constitutional removal of a government’?
These are questions that will have to be put to Sri Lanka, where international Election monitors have expressed serious concerns of election malpractice at the recent General Election and Provincial Council Elections.
When these ‘core values’ are abused and imperilled, the Commonwealth countries must speak out. They cannot remain silent. If they do, and worse still, take no action, the Commonwealth will become irrelevant or even demise. However, the CBF will make sure that the Commonwealth limps along, because it is essential for business.
The Commonwealth ‘core values’ stated, and re-stated, are inseparable, which is why democracy and the rule of law, religious, social and cultural rights, and the safeguard of human rights must be the focus, if the Commonwealth is to be a credible.
This is not happening. There is no better example of this than what has happened, and is continuing to happen, in Sri Lanka, not only in the extensive and progressive violation of human rights, but in several other area, such as the muzzling of the media, silencing of free speech, rigged elections, the dismantling of democracy, and interference with the Judiciary and the rule of law – to mention just a few.
‘Human Rights’ are about the rights of people. Proclaimed in 1948 of the UN General Assembly – Universal Declaration of Human Rights, they have been elaborated in two important International Covenants (in addition to several others) :
1. The International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
2. The International Covenant on Economic, Civil and Cultural Rights (ICECCR)
More than a hundred international Treaties, Conventions and Declarations have been promulgated, invariably taking diplomats to the world’s most pleasant, and expensive cities: Geneva (incessantly), The Hague, Vienna, Rome and New York. The result has been to define and extend human rights on paper – endless reams of paper – but never seriously to discomfit a single torturer, until Chile’s General Augusto Pinochet, torturer-in-chief, was arrested in London in 1998 when he went there for a back peration. Even he escaped unscathed, thanks to the then British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher (his close friend), the Pope (!) and a bunch of dumb doctors who declared that Pinochet was old, weak and demented and unfit to face trial.
He fled to Chile. When he arrived in Chile, the dementia suddenly ‘cleared’ and he rose to address the crowds, looking hale and hearty. Never since Biblical times, when people rose from the dead, has there been such a miracle.
It is possible that when those in Sri Lanka who are guilty of Crimes against Humanity, and Genocide, are finally brought to face the international Bar of Justice, they too might say that it was too long to remember and plead ‘dementia’. It will no doubt be possible to find another bunch of dumb doctors to certify that they are ‘demented’ and medically unfit to stand trial. They will return to Sri Lanka, perhaps to the Mattala Rajapaksa International airport, where their ‘dementia’ will instantly disappear. History has a habit of repeating itself.
These important, but seemingly useless and toothless, International Conventions have been seriously violated by Sri Lanka and no action taken – by the Commonwealth countries or any other, it is an appalling failure to act.
Sri Lanka hosting the November 2013 CHOGM
There have been repeated international demands for an independent international investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity, which Sri Lanka has flatly rejected. The UN Secretary General’s Panel of Experts to look into Accountability, were unable to get into the country. The International Bar Association was so concerned about what is going on that it planned to send three senior lawyers to Sri Lanka. They were refused entry visas.
The UN Human Rights Council has taken up the human rights problems in the March 2013 meeting and passed a Resolution expressing concern at what is going on in Sri Lanka. It will be taken up again at the March 2014 – hopefully with a stronger Resolution.
Every major human rights organisation in the world, AI, HRW and ICG, has published a series of damning reports on Sri Lanka. Many of these have been after the end of the armed conflict – in so-called ‘peace time’ in Sri Lanka.
If, as the Sri Lankan government claims, all the concerns expressed have been addressed and that there is now ‘no problem’, then the obvious question is why these internationally credible human rights organisations are barred from entering the country. It is clear that there is something to hide behind the closed and censored doors of Sri Lanka.
There is, in fact, a lot to hide, not only the continuing gross violations of human rights, but the dismantling of democracy, serious governmental interference with the judiciary, including the removal of the Chief Justice despite a ruling against this by the Sri Lankan Appeal Court, to mention just a few.
There are serious problems with governance, with ‘involuntary disappearances’, media freedom, murder of members of the media and those who voice a view critical of the government. There is a gross abuse of power by the ruling junta.
Providing the opportunity for Sri Lanka to host the CHOGM in November 2013 will only serve as a declaration of the Commonwealth’s indifference to human rights concerns. It will also allow a government, facing international concerns and a demand for an international investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity, to preside over the organisation from 2013 to 2015 without the necessity of having to conduct any serious or credible investigations into the allegations it faces.
As I (and others) have said, to hold CHOGM in Sri Lanka is an outrage. To make this worse, as is customary, Sri Lanka, as the host nation, will take up the leadership of the Commonwealth for two years following November 2013 i.e. until the next CHOGM in Mauritius in 2015. That the President of a country, who has a case to answer for committing crimes against humanity, will be the “Chairperson-in-Office’ seems to be of no concern – not to the Commonwealth, and certainly not to the CBF. When trade is pitted against human rights, trade always wins. There are no exceptions.
This is a disaster that will have a serious impact on the relevance of the Commonwealth.
The British House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee in its recent report – “Role and Future of the Commonwealth” – has sharply criticised the decision to hold CHOGM in Sri Lanka, and has called on Prime Minister David Cameron to boycott the meeting. Cameron will go, so will Prince Charles. This will confirm that trade and geopolitics are more important than human rights.
Human Rights Watch has expressed its concerns that holding CHOGM in Sri Lanka casts serious doubts on the Commonwealth’s commitment to support human rights, democratic reform, and fundamental principles enshrined in the Commonwealth’s Harare Declaration of 1991.
Amnesty International has expressed similar concerns.
Just one Commonwealth country had the integrity and decency to protest – Canada.
Canada – a principled stance
The Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, said that he will not attend CHOGM unless Colombo investigates suspected war crimes committed by Government troops during the civil war.
The Canadian Foreign Minister, John Baird, put it strongly:
“We’re appalled that Sri Lanka seems poised to host CHOGM and to be chair-in-residence of the Commonwealth for two years….Canada didn’t get involved in the Commonwealth to accommodate evil; we came to combat it. We are deeply disappointed that Sri Lanka appears poised to take on this leadership role…..
Far from seeing “meaningful progress” since the last CHOGM in Perth in 2011, the Sri Lankan government had only grown more authoritarian and less accountable and open to reconciliation…..
It’s not just Canada: the Commonwealth Journalists’ Association; the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative; the Commonwealth Lawyers’ Association; the Commonwealth Legal Education Association; the Commonwealth Magistrates’ and Judges’ Association; Human Rights Watch, the United Nations Human Rights Council – all of these people have come out and unanimously have said that not only has Sri Lanka not made progress, but in many instances, is getting worse”.
He referred to the impeachment and sacking of the country’s Chief Justice and her replacement with a successor who is close to President Mahinda Rajapaksa:
“Both of those actions are appalling and they show that not only have we not seen an improvement, we’ve seen a deterioration in recent months and that is causing Canada great concern”.
What has the rest of the Commonwealth done? Nothing.
The impeachment of the Sri Lankan Chief Justice, despite a ruling from the highest Court in the country, has been found to be unconstitutional, a direct violation of the rule of law and a contravention of Commonwealth Values and Principles.
The Catholic clergy in the Tamil areas
The Commission for Peace and Justice of the Catholic Diocese of Jaffna has just (18.10.2013) sent a letter to the Most Rev. Dr Joseph Spieri, the Apostolic Nuncio, in Colombo titled, “External development cannot substitute the settling of the basic unresolved issues of the people in the North and East”. It is a comprehensive document which sets out in detail the plight of the Tamil people, the need for accountability for human rights violations, and the safety of Tamil women and girls in the North and East now run by the Sinhalese Armed Forces. It is essential reading.
The Most Rev Dr Rayappu Joseph, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Mannar (in the North West) and his fellow clergy, have written volumes on the plight of the Tamil people and that if more time is given for the Sri Lankan government to do what it has for the past 4 years, “the Tamils will cease to exist as a people”.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Navanethem Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who has just spent a week in Sri Lanka, she issued a scathing report of what she found in the area of human rights, the interference with the judiciary and the law, and the dismantling of democracy. She said that Sri Lanka “is showing signs of heading in an increasingly authoritarian direction”. She was actually wrong. Sri Lanka is not ‘heading in an authoritarian direction’, it is already there.
The British Prime Minister
Despite strong opposition by the British House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee against the British Prime Minister David Cameron going to CHOGM, he is going. He intends to visit the Tamil areas. He might well be allowed to do so, but only if accompanied by a member of the Armed Forces with a note book to see who he speaks to and what was said. What will follow for these brave people is obvious.
It is likely that he will be driven to Jaffna and shown the fine new roads and infrastructure, but not allowed to have free and unaccompanied meetings with the people. That will be out of bounds.
Where will CHOGM be held in Sri Lanka?
- At “The Nelum Pokuna (Lotus Pond) Mahinda Rajapaksa Theatre, formerly the National Performing Theatre. This cost some Sri Lankan Rs 3,080 million, with the Chinese government providing Rs 2,430 million.
- The “Bandaranaike Memorial International Convention Hall (BMICH)
This was a ‘gift from the People’s Republic of China’!
Will the Chinese be there at CHOGM?
China is, of course, not in the Commonwealth and should not be there. But they will be there for sure, just hanging around, ‘to make sure that their ‘gifts’ – where the events will take place – function without a hitch’. The Chinese are unlikely not to be ‘available’ especially if there are financial deals to be struck, which there will be at the Commonwealth Business Forum which will be running parallel sessions with CHOGM.
The invisible presence of the Chinese will surely be there – especially hanging around CBF sessions – just in case they can ‘be helpful’. The visible evidence of this invisible presence will be seen shortly.
The comment by Geoffrey Robertson QC
Geoffrey Robertson QC, Britain’s most famous barrister in human rights and a world authority on Crimes against Humanity (the title of his famous book), had this to say when he addressed a Conference on ‘Genocide in Sri Lanka’ in London (28 September 2013):
He commented on the outrageous decision to allow Sri Lanka to host CHOGM in November 2013. He referred to Navi Pillay, the UN Human Rights Commissioner, who had just visited Sri Lanka and issued a Report of her findings:
“She (Navi Pillay) said that the Government (of Sri Lanka) had failed to independently or credibly investigate allegations of war crimes…….
So it is clear that soft power, arguments, and diplomatic solutions have failed to bring home, to punish the perpetrators, to bring pressure on the Sri Lankan Government and, as it proudly luxuriates the publicity opportunity, prepares to host the Commonwealth Conference in six weeks, we have got to ask what remedies might be in international law to bring the perpetrators to account.”
He went on to detail what can be done to take Sri Lanka to the Human Rights Committee, a UN body.
He ended with a direct reference to November 2013 CHOGM:
“The two – the Crime against Humanity committed by the Government against the Tamil community in 2009, and the removal of the Chief Justice which was a breach of the most fundamental rule binding the Commonwealth of Nations, should have ensured that Sri Lanka did not host the Commonwealth Conference.
Canada certainly took that view and commendably is staying away.
It is outrageous that this country (UK) is going to a forum that will allow the perpetrators of crimes against humanity to shine in the reflected glory of the British Crown. It is simply not good enough that the Queen is not going. Charles is going, perhaps as a pathetic effort to have him selected as successor. I don’t think the Commonwealth is minded to have the Windsor family as successor. They are looking for a more inspiring Head, and they will need an inspiring Head if they continue like this in giving favourable publicity to mass murderers and that is what they will be doing in November at the Commonwealth Conference.
It is a matter of great regret that countries like Australia and the United Kingdom will be seeming to give support to the Sri Lankan Government which should be in the dock. If no country is prepared to put it in the dock, then I recommend that the Tamil community, through its international organizations, should begin to bring charges against the Government in the Human Rights Committee for a start, and should try to obtain the support of other States in order to take the matter to the World Court.
Professor Francis Boyle, Professor of International Law, University of Illinois College of Law, USA, is an international legal expert, who has won major Court cases at the International Court of Justice (the ‘World Court’). Addressing the same meeting in London on Genocide in Sri Lanka, he said that what was going on in Sri Lanka was Genocide of the Tamil people, and went on to justify the use of this term. He said, “I say Rajapaksas to the Hague”.
Well, there you have it. The Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of a major Commonwealth country, Canada, will not be going. The Foreign Affairs Select Committee of the British House of Commons thinks that the British Prime Minister should not go. A world authority on human rights and crimes against humanity, Geoffrey Robertson QC, who lives and works in the United Kingdom, thinks that it is an ‘outrage’ for Britain to go. A legal expert from the USA has said that what is going on in Sri Lanka is Genocide of the Tamil people. The Asian Human Rights Commission has just released a very disturbing report on “Increasing authoritarianism in Sri Lanka”. The Commission for Peace and Justice of the Catholic Diocese of Jaffna has just published a detailed report of the humanitarian tragedy in the Tamil areas.
They are views and publications that cannot be ignored – but they will be. That is why CHOGM November 2013 will go on and everyone, other than Canada, will attend a meeting which will probably be another talk-shop. The Commonwealth Business Forum will work overtime to provide the money to keep themselves enriched, and to provide the necessary funds to keep a Totalitarian regime in power.
All are Tamil Tigers
The predictable response of the Sri Lankan government is that all of us who are critical of what the Government is doing are ‘Tamil Tigers’ – irrespective of our ethnicity. “Tamil Tigers” has become a generic term to the Sri Lankan regime and its supporters. So, Navanethem Pillay, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, is a “Tamil Tigress in the UN”. So is Rt Rev Dr Rayappu Joseph, the Catholic Bishop of Mannar, (“a Tamil Tiger in a cassock”), and the Roman Catholic Peace and Justice Commission in Jaffna (more Tamil Tigers in cassocks).
Others who will be added to this increasing list of ‘Tamil Tigers’ will be Professor Francis Boyle, Geoffrey Robertson Q.C, the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Canada, Archbishop Desmond Tutu (who has voiced his concerns several times), and the UN Secretary General’s Panel of Experts that released a devastating Report on Sri Lanka. The list grows, as increasing numbers of people critical of President Rajapaksa and the murderous regime he leads, demand an international investigation into war crimes, and are critical of CHOGM being held in Sri Lanka. They are all “Tamil Tigers”.
So, of course, is the writer of this article, who has campaigned for six decades for the rights of the Tamil people to live with equality, dignity, safety, and now, to live at all in the country of their birth. According to supporters and apologists of the Rajapaksa regime, he (the author of this article) is just a Sinhala-skinned ‘Tamil Tiger’, despite the fact that his cousin was the previous President of Sri Lanka.
To the Sri Lankan government and its apologists, we are all ‘Tamil Tigers’ – by definition – if we are critical of the Sri Lankan regime.
President Rajapaksa is on record as saying that there are no minorities in Sri Lanka. There are only those who love the country and those who don’t. So also in the international community. There are ‘fine people’ (those who support him and his murderous Armed Forces and junta), and ‘Tamil Tiger terrorists’ who are critical of what he and his regime do.
There has been a decimation of the ‘core values’ of the Commonwealth by tyrannical and despotic regimes continuing to be members, and even rewarded by making them venues for CHOGM. The Commonwealth has changed from one which generates hope to one where hope is abandoned.
It is now too late to relocate CHOGM. The very least that can be done is to see that the mantle of leadership (till 2015) goes to some other country. Will that happen? No, it will not, because it will ‘upset’ the host nation, and that is ‘not good for business’, which is what matters.
Given the international concerns about the gross violations of human rights in Sri Lanka, and the failure of the Commonwealth to act, there are serious doubts about the relevance of the Commonwealth. However, CHOGM has nothing to do with human rights, the rule of law, accountability, freedom of expression, democracy and good governance – some of the supposed ‘core values’. It is a talk-shop, a tea-club, and an opportunity (for CBF) to do some financial deals.
There are serious problems in Sri Lanka which I can only mention, but not deal with here. Here are some. Sri Lanka’s disastrous human rights record, the replacement of a democracy by a Totalitarian State, dismantling the ‘separation of powers’ which are the pillars of Democracy, making Parliament a tool of the Executive President, Government interference with Judicial independence, the removal of the Chief Justice and her replacement by a Government stooge, turning the Media into a tool of the Government and becoming one of the most dangerous places in the world for independent journalists and free speech, involuntary ‘disappearances’ (the second highest in the world after Iraq), rampant corruption, a massive Army out of control running the Tamil North and East and treating the area as conquered territory and the people as ‘the spoils of war’, the need for such a huge Army of 230,000 – the highest per capita of the population in any country in the world, Sri Lanka being dragged before the UN Human Rights Council, with more to follow, a disastrous Report by the UN Secretary General’s Panel of Experts into Accountability, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights who, after a recent visit, said that the country is “showing signs of heading in an increasingly authoritarian direction”, an international demand for an independent inquiry into war crimes, a deluge of reports by internationally credible Human Rights organisations expressing serious concern, and the refusal by the Government to allow Amnesty International, a Nobel Prize winner, Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group, not to mention the UN Secretary General’s Panel of Experts, to enter the country and see what is going on behind the closed and censored doors of Sri Lanka. These are some of the problems that will have to be addressed.
This will be dealt with in another article, Sri Lanka and the Commonwealth, which will set out what can and must be done, if the Commonwealth is to maintain its credibility or what is left of it. This will need a detailed account of what has happened in Sri Lanka and the responsibility of the Commonwealth in general, Britain in particular, especially Colonial Britain which set the stage for the disaster that has followed.
*Brian Senewiratne – MA, MBBChir (Cantab), MD (Lond), FRCP (Lond) FRACP – Brisbane, Australia