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Much Ado About CHOGM

Much Ado About CHOGM

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Published by Thavam

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Published by: Thavam on Oct 19, 2013
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10/19/2013

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October 18, 2013
Much has been said concerning Sri Lankahosting the approaching Commonwealth Headsof Government Meeting (CHOGM). Asignificant part of the discussion has been withregard to Canada’s decision to boycott CHOGM.In his official statement Prime Minister StephenHarper stated that:"When Sri Lanka was selected to host the 2013 Commonwealth Heads of GovernmentMeeting, Canada was hopeful that the Sri Lankan government would seize the opportunity toimprove human rights conditions and take steps towards reconciliation and accountability.Unfortunately, this has not been the case…The absence of accountability for the seriousviolations of human rights and international humanitarian standards during and after the civilwar is unacceptable. Canada noted with concern the impeachment of the Sri Lankan Chief Justice earlier this year, and we remain disturbed by ongoing reports of intimidation andincarceration of political leaders and journalists, harassment of minorities, reporteddisappearances, and allegations of extra judicial killings…It is clear that the Sri Lankangovernment has failed to uphold the Commonwealth’s core values…As such, as the PrimeMinister of Canada, I will not attend the 2013 CHOGM in Colombo, Sri Lanka..."This position brought upon Canada the ire of the Sri Lankan government, with the Minister for External Affairs furiously dismissing Canada’s initiative as "an attempt to politicize the proceedings of the Commonwealth".Instead of merely lashing out defensively however, the Sri Lankan Government would do wellto seriously consider the significance of Canada’s decision.‘To boycott or not to boycott’As Sri Lankans our concern must not be merely whether countries boycott CHOGM or not, but that the human rights situation in Sri Lanka is of such a nature that countries are forced toeven consider the question.Even if the Sri Lankan government is so unwise as to peremptorily dismiss Canada’s decision
 
to boycott, it surely cannot deny the fact that Canada is not alone in its concern regarding SriLanka’s Human Rights situation.Britain’s decision to attend CHOGM was not without controversy. The Queen was stronglyurged to boycott CHOGM to protest against the lack of progress in an investigation into themurder of a British citizen, Khuram Sheikh, in Sri Lanka on Christmas day in 2011. A UK  parliamentary committee has accused the government of a timid and inconsistent policytowards Sri Lanka, where it says there are "continuing human rights abuses", stating that thegovernment should have made Sri Lanka's bid to host CHOGM conditional on improvementsin human rights. "The UK could and should have taken a more principled … and robust standin the light of the continuing serious human rights abuses in Sri Lanka," the MPs say in areport.All this, despite pretty strong words by the British government making it clear that its participation at CHOGM was not an endorsement of its host nation.British High Commissioner John Rankin clearly stated that Britain was"concerned about…respect for human rights, rule of law andindependence of the judiciary in Sri Lanka". Further he stated thatBritain’s Prime Minister will attend "because of the importance we attachto the Commonwealth, irrespective of the location of the CHOGM" andthat the spotlight on Sri Lanka during and after the summit will help pressure Sri Lanka to demonstrate that it was committed to the"Commonwealth values" of good governance. He also made it clear thatBritain intends to do its part in this process, announcing that "…theBritish government will come with a clear message that Sri Lanka needsto make concrete progress on human rights, reconciliation and a politicalsettlement," and that Prime Minister David Cameron will send a strongmessage to Colombo to improve its rights record and demonstrate acommitment to good governance.India too has grappled – indeed is still grappling - with the question of whether to attendCHOGM or not. Domestic pressure to protest against Sri Lanka’s abysmal Human Rightsrecord by boycotting CHOGM is intense. The most recent reports indicate that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is likely to skip the summit. Notably, concerns relating to Sri Lanka’s Human Rights record are not isolated to the hostingof CHOGM.Last month, United Nations Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay warned that Sri Lanka mustshow "clear progress" towards reining in rights abuses and investigating suspected war crimes by March 2014, or face an international probe. This comes following Sri Lanka’s inaction on 2resolutions relating to its Human Rights record in the United Nations Human Rights Council,one of which primarily sought that it implement the recommendations of its own LessonsLearnt and Reconciliation Commission, appointed by President Rajapaksa.
 
The incongruity of a nation under such intense censure for its Human Rights record chairingthe Commonwealth has not gone unnoticed. In a recent statement Human Rights Watchrequested Commonwealth foreign ministers to not award Sri Lanka chairmanship of theCommonwealth following CHOGM. Brad Adams, Director of Human Rights Watch statedthat:"It’s bad enough that the Commonwealth has allowed a government accused of massive rightsabuses and war crimes to host its summit…to effectively put the Commonwealth in the handsof an unrepentant government that doesn’t meet the Commonwealth’s official values ondemocracy or human rights would be the height of hypocrisy."The question for those of us in Sri Lanka is not, and never was, whether any given country willdecide ‘to boycott or not to boycott’. That is a decision that must be taken by each respectivecountry. It is the country that must decide how it will promote the values and principles theCommonwealth stands for, and this is something that must be respected. As Britain has madeclear, the decision not to boycott is not necessarily endorsement of the Human Rights record of Sri Lanka. In fact, it can be just the opposite: a decision to use the summit as an opportunity toexpress its concern about Sri Lanka’s abysmal Human Rights situation and do all it can to pressure the Sri Lankan Government to begin improving it.Similarly, the decision to boycott CHOGM as a means of protest against Sri Lanka’s dismalHuman Rights situation is also one that must be respected and recognized for the courageousact that it is. Canada’s decision is not a political attack against Sri Lanka. It is in fact one morein a string of Human Rights initiatives Canada has been credited with. The country isrecognized internationally for standing at the forefront of global efforts to promote humanrights. Canada is in fact credited with creating the modern concept of UN peacekeeping.In the 1980s, Canada took the lead in bringing economic sanctions against apartheid SouthAfrica. In 1996, Canada, together with the European Union called for a United Nationsgathering on the Burmese democratisation process, and soon after the European Council took its first Common Position on Burma, which introduced "soft sanctions". In 2007, Canada ledthe struggle to keep Belarus off the United Nations Human Rights Council, in light of itsatrocious Human Rights record. In June 2011 Canada took the lead in condemning the Syrianregime’s attacks on its own people at the United Nations Human Rights Council. Canadadelivered this condemnation on behalf of 54 countries. Canada is also leading the charge onIran’s dismal Human Rights record, leading, for the past 10 years, the now annual UNresolution on "the Situation of Human Rights in Iran" which typically receives significantsupport. Canada’s Philippe Kirsch chaired negotiations to launch the International CriminalCourt (ICC). He later served as the ICC's first president. Canada has regularly been chosen tosit on the United Nations Security Council.Minister Pieris’ curt dismissal of the decision of a country with such a reputation hardly holdswater. The Minister’s position is made even more weak in light of the fact that Canada’sconcern for Sri Lanka’s Human Rights situation is one that has been expressed consistently by

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