Colombo Telegraph

Why Commonwealth SG Sharma Must Show Leadership On Sri Lanka

By Callum Macrae

Callum Macrae

This is a vital moment in the ongoing campaign for truth and justice in Sri Lanka.

Tomorrow, Friday 26th April, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group will gather in London.  There they will discuss growing calls for the next meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) to be taken away from Sri Lanka.  CHOGM is scheduled to be held in Colombo in November this year.

The idea that CHOGM should be hosted by a regime accused of such serious war crimes is abhorrent to most people who believe and hope the Commonwealth should be a force for good – a community of nations working towards human rights and justice.

That the Sri Lankan government would then become the chair of the Commonwealth for the next two years is even more disturbing.  A regime embroiled in an increasingly desperate and dishonest campaign to delay and deny the serious evidence of war crimes – and the growing international determination to call them to account – is in no position to defend the core values of the Commonwealth.

At this critical time for the Commonwealth attention will focus increasingly on the role of the Commonwealth Secretary General, Kamalesh Sharma.

Many will be looking to him to provide the kind of leadership which can strengthen the Commonwealth’s role in encouraging human rights, justice and an end to impunity.

He can ensure that this issue is confronted. Indeed many would argue he has a clear duty to do that.  If the Commonwealth drifts blindly into allowing itself to be headed by a regime accused of such appalling war crimes and crimes against humanity it would be catastrophic.  But I see no signs so far that Mr Sharma has any intention whatsoever of acting to prevent that happening.  I hope I am wrong.

There is a curious Commonwealth procedure which provides for the Secretary General to exercise his “good offices” to resolve this kind of situation before serious action is taken.  It is suggested that a two month period be allowed for that.  Mr Sharma has been formally exercising his “good offices” for considerably more than two months now.  And in that time things in Sri Lanka have got worse, not better.  Repression of Tamils in the north has increased.  Tamil newspapers have been violently attacked.  A journalist from the Sunday Leader – whose founding editor was assassinated four years ago – has also been shot.

Now violently ultra-nationalist groups led by extreme Buddhist monks  – tacitly endorsed by the President’s brother, the Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa – have launched attacks on minority Muslims.  The country’s judiciary is in crisis following the politically motivated impeachment of the country’s Chief Justice.

Sri Lanka is rapidly sinking into a despotic morass – it is increasingly seen as a pariah state.

On Friday Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma will report on the question of Sri Lanka’s hosting of CHOGM to the members of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) committee.

He owes it not just to the future of the Commonwealth, but also to its values of truth and justice – to ensure that CMAG discusses taking CHOGM away from Sri Lanka.

On the webpage of the commonwealth…

http://www.thecommonwealth.org/subnewsarchive/191183/231999/ask_sharma/

…we – the citizens of the commonwealth – are invited to put a comment or a question to Mr Sharma, by sending a message, with ‘Ask Sharma’ in the subject line, to this address:

asksharma@commonwealth.int 

I suggest that as many of us as possible do that over the next 24 hours. Let’s make sure that today we ask him – politely and respectfully – what he intends to do about Sri Lanka and CHOGM.   And if he believes that a regime accused of such terrible war crimes – and likely to be embroiled ever more seriously in such allegations over the next two years – is really fit to lead the Commonwealth.

The calls from around the world are growing.  Last week 900 Commonwealth lawyers meeting in South Africa called for Sri Lanka to be suspended from the Councils of the Commonwealth due to its breaches of the rule of law and of the independence of the judiciary, as well as the gross harassment of members of the legal profession.

That call has now been endorsed by the Law Society of South Africa and echoed by the International Bar Association.

The tide is turning – the calls for justice growing.  The Commonwealth must not be left behind.

*Callum Macrae –  director, “No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka.”

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