25 June, 2022


The Challenge After Success Of CHOGM

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The Sri Lankan government can take satisfaction at the close of CHOGM.  It ended without any major mishap, although there were several controversial incidents, such as the laying of flowers at the killing fields of Elephant Pass by the Canadian government’s representative, and the speech targeting Sri Lanka given at the People’s Forum by a British Minister.   By and large, however, the organization of events went like clockwork.  Those who attended the various CHOGM events would have been impressed by the attention showered on them by the organizers of the various events.  There was the best of hotel accommodation and food for them, apart from brand new cars and buses to transport them around.  There were always a plethora of personnel around to attend to their needs.  It appears that no expense was spared, the hallmark of the gracious host.

There was also the human interest dimension of CHOGM for the larger Sri Lankan population.  Most of them would have been proud and happy to see the children at CHOGM events, dressed up prettily for the occasion, and dancing gracefully and singing beautifully.  The media images of CHOGM were positive ones with few exceptions.  The sight of Prince Charles and his wife Camilla visiting orphanages, hospitals, women’s centres and the tea plantations, was heartwarming again on account of their visible kindness and graciousness.  Prime Minister David Cameron playing cricket with Sri Lankan cricket legend Muttiah Muralitharan and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot jogging on Galle Face along with the President’s son was a show of engagement with the interests of the general population.  The hosting of the wives of the dignitaries by First Lady Shiranthi Rajapaksa brought out the family spirit that must underlie the spirit of the Commonwealth.

The hosting of the Commonwealth Summit in Sri Lanka was indeed a great triumph for the Sri Lankan government in the context of the strong opposition to it on the grounds of the government’s failure to live up to Commonwealth Values.  The fact that the heads of government of very important countries visited Sri Lanka and spent several days no less, would count for a great deal.  British Prime Minister David Cameron, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and South African President Jacob Zuma are all heavyweights on the world scene, who might never have visited Sri Lanka at all in the ordinary course of events.    But they did on account of CHOGM.   The challenge now is for the Sri Lankan government to build on these links and to utilize them in the best interests of the Sri Lankan people, and to resolve outstanding problems.  This will require a fundamental change of approach to issues of governance.

Future Challenges

One of the earliest challenges to arise from Sri Lanka’s hosting of CHOGM has been British Prime Minister David Cameron’s declaration that the Sri Lankan government must investigate the issue of human rights violations in the last phase of the war before the next session of the UN Human Rights Council in March 2014.   The British Prime Minister was under immense pressure not to come to Sri Lanka by sections of the international community including human rights groups and the Tamil Diaspora.  He said that if an investigation was not completed by March, he would use the UK’s “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”.  Having made his announcement  and set a deadline, he will now be under further pressure to ensure that he carries out his promise that he would push for an international probe if the Sri Lankan government did not do so on its own.

However, the Commonwealth leaders who attended the Summit described it as a success and emphasised the importance of keeping the group of Britain and its former territories together in order to lobby in other international forums as one unit.  Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said that the 27 leaders who attended out of 53 Commonwealth nations expressed a “sense of wanting to stay together” and also said “We should not be divided.”  There will be strong sympathy for the host country, and its efforts to sustain its post-war development.   President Jacob Zuma of South Africa has reportedly offered his country’s experience in tackling the difficult issues of post-conflict accountability to assist Sri Lanka.  The South African model of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission with the power to grant amnesty would be an option that the Sri Lankan government might wish to consider and propose to the international communty as an alternative to the investigation sought by the British Prime Minister.

Apart from dealing with the difficult issue of post-war accountability, it will be necessary for the government to move forward on the issues agreed at the final session and listed in the final communiqué.  If the Sri Lankan government is to provide a degree of leadership to the Commonwealth, it will need to demonstrate in practice that it is committed to the values of the Commonwealth Charter to which it, and the other 52 member countries, are signatories.  As the Chairman of the Commonwealth for the next two years, a crucial responsibility is vested in President Mahinda Rajapaksa to uphold democratic values such as fundamental freedoms and human rights not only in Sri Lanka but to draw the attention of other Commonwealth States to if and when they falter in upholding these values. But this can only be done by leading by example and leading Sri Lanka in a new manner which accords with its international obligations.

Less Visible

It is regrettable that while the government was able to host the Commonwealth, it failed to bring in the opposition parties, which boycotted the event, showing the divisions within. In the run-up to CHOGM, and even thereafter, the government engaged in repressive actions that eventually led the main opposition party deciding to boycott CHOGM in protest although it had initially agreed to participate.  One of the more serious incidents was the mob attack and surrounding of the Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe’s vehicle outside the UNP party headquarters, just  prior to the CHOGM summit,when he was going inside to address a gathering of missing persons protesting against the government’s delay in finding their loved ones.  In addition, there was the turning back by police of over a hundred members of families of missing persons who were coming for this demonstration from the North of the country.

This kind of approach to control is in contradiction to President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s assurance that his government will uphold the values of the Commonwealth, which include respect for the freedom of association and right of free expression.   The dominant trend in the post-war years has been over-control on the part of the governmental authorities reinforcing divisions between the government, opposition and civil society.  It vitiates the democratic spirit that is essential for any country that hopes to play a positive role in the Commonwealth.  The unleashing of repressive elements against peaceful demonstrations and gatherings in the future can only lead to a negative impression in the eyes of the international community and can reduce their support to the government.  The government needs to keep in mind that there are those who would campaign to strip the Sri Lankan President of his Chairmanship of the Commonwealth if the government continues to act in a repressive manner.

All things cannot be controlled in a free and liberal society, nor hidden away from the international community, especially when the Sri Lankan President is Chairman of the Commonwealth for the next two years.   The plight of the war-affected people is being commented upon by journalists who flooded into the country on account of CHOGM and delved for the story behind the big new buildings that have appeared alongside the newly carpeted highways of the North and East.  The newly elected Chief Minister of the Northern Provincial Council is lamenting that he has not got the powers to run the provincial administration.  The way forward is to resolve these problems in a genuine manner by addressing them at their root.   Sri Lanka and its President will be judged not by the words they speak but by their actions of which there will be closer scrutiny by virtue of the President’s chairmanship of the Commonwealth.

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Latest comments

  • 0

    Jehan spare us your platitudes – you sound increasingly like Malinda Senevirtne – flattering and white washing Rajapassa – what about the missing Manmohan, the debacle when Mauritius pull out of hosting the next CHOGM circus etc.

    Your really do peace building and GENUINE RECONCILIATION a disservice by white washing and burying the truth, while preaching “truth and reconciliation”.
    Man you sound more and more like the old coot Vasudeva Nanayakkara!

  • 0

    I would not agree with Jehan Perera when he says that CHOGM ‘was indeed a great triumph for the Sri Lankan government’. While it certainly was not the fiasco hoped for by sections of the Tamil diaspora, it was not the outstanding success the Government had sought either. There was a lot of static and noise surrounding CHOGM as it took place. Cameron stole the show with historic trip to Jaffna and his press conference. All in all – CHOGM was mediocre despite the extravaganza and show. It certainly was not the success of the Non-Aligned Summit that Sirimavo chaired back in 1976.

  • 0

    “The Sri Lankan government can take satisfaction at the close of CHOGM.”

    Good, Jehan Perera is coming round & round to correct place. Welcome.

    • 0

      “correct place” where is it ? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qn31CUxh_mk

  • 0

    ” Prime Minister David Cameron playing cricket with Sri Lankan cricket legend Muttiah Muralitharan and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot jogging on Galle Face along with the President’s son was a show of engagement with the interests of the general population.”

    David Cameron visiting the North – does it count as interest in general population.

    What do you think about this Jehan?
    “Banner across the CHOGM 2013 speaker’s podium exemplifies what Sri Lanka means by ‘reconciliation’ and its famous ‘tri-lingual policy’.
    ආයුඛෝවන් – (“ayubowan” – Sinhala for ‘welcome’)
    ஆயுபோவன் – (“ayubowan” again, not “வணக்கம்” or “vanakkam” – Tamil for ‘welcome’)
    Ayubowan – (written in English, just in case it wasn’t clear the first two times who is host and who does the welcoming)

    You couldn’t make this up..”

  • 0

    Did you say “Success of CHOGAM”
    Are you using Succes as in the Queens English..

  • 0

    Surely some mistake!
    This guy couldn’t have been at the same event. As parties go, this was a shitty one and the sight of David Cameron walking out on his one-on-one with H E MR was indicative of the spirit of the whole event. Never mind Gehan, we understand you have to earn your daily bread, somehow.

  • 0

    Jehan, this is a balanced well written assessment of the CHOGHM. If you continue to write such balanced articles, you deserve an appointment as a member of the secretariat of the Human Rights Council. It needs people of your calibre to proceed with their plans for collaborating with selected Commonwealth countries to carry out their mission more effectively.

    The South African model of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission with the power to grant amnesties is the best option to heal this festering wound.

  • 0

    Successful CHOGAM. Lowest ever attendance.
    see below

    28/53 heads of Government

    No head of Government from:

    •Sierra Leone
    •St Lucia
    •Trinidad and Tobago
    •St Vincent

    And no one at all from

    No one from Maldives is the biggest surprise

  • 0

    Jehan remember. It is not war crimes that matter. It is the growing culture of impunity, the subversion of the independence of the Judiciary and the increasing collusion between the government and the opposition requirted to make Sri Lanka a sinhala buddhist state that is of concern.

    I do not see the internal resources that want to or that can reverse this process and until such resources are generated opposition to it will be strategic rather than political such as the war crimes cry.

    The entire world professes to be moving in the direction of law based governance with due process and no room for impunity, the eradication of rape and sexual offenses of all sorts and an increasing role for women in governance, the eradication of torture and murder and the institution of the kind of transparency that is being demanded.

    From the time of independence however we have been building a society where impunity rules, due process is ignored, the media is forced into submission and women are under represented in governance and both legislature and the judiciary are directed by and subject to the executive. The opposition is increasingly colluding with this project so that a change in government will make no difference.

    The only way to avoid calamity is to change direction – NOT change government. The question is whether we are willing to change direction and even if we are willing to change direction whether we will be allowed to change direction or killed for advocating a change of direction.

    • 0

      The crowning piece of the work is the Gramscian Disc Jockey Doctrine of “Backlash” and “Retreat and Resist”.

      Backlash is nothing more than a repeat of what was seen in 1983 with a new component that consists of the killing of one million Indian Tamils in the central hill country.

      “Retreat and Resist” consists of sections of the army who engage in the killing of these one million Indian Tamils taking up guerilla positions in the mountains and waging a war of attrition against global initiatives aimed at reversing current anti human and fascist tendencies within the island. This “retreat and Resist” calls for the setting up of Chinese supplied logistics and supply lines from the Hambantota port and Mattala airport wbhich of course demands the containment of activities at Wirawila.

      The challenge is to cure this paranoia based genocidal doctrines and encourage the growth of new perspectives.

  • 0

    Well the winners are cameron of uk and ramgoolam of mauritius.They stole the show. No doubts about it. As for sl and mr ” throw good money after bad money”

  • 0

    “It ended without any major mishap”

    Jehan I sometimes wonder where you live! Being exposed before the whole world as a nation that has repeatedly elected and continues to support a government that rejects global aspirations towards a world free from impunity and that is governed by the law, rather than the whims of one man who claims that his thoughts are a better substitute for democratically generated policies of governance, and who uses plain, raw and ugly violence including rape, torture and murder to suppress democratic expression, and where rapists, torturers and killers are allowed to roam free without punishment seems to be in your opinion no major mishap!

    I thought you laid claim to a Doctorate in Law from Harvard? Is this what you learned there? If so you have much in common with Gramski’s Grandson the Disc Jockey and others who continue to work hard to legitimize what is clearly a fascist regime.

    I think if anything you should be ashamed of what is being done in our name and you should be making clear and visible moves to distance yourself from it. This is the real world man: not the nursery at ladies college colombo.

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