Sri Lanka: Making Sense beyond theatricalsUpdate No.

240

Dated 24-Nov-20 ! By Col R Hariharan Sri Lanka President Rajapaksa had spent around SL Rs 14.8 billion (as stated in parliament by pposition!" imported #4 $er%edes Ben& %ars 'or (uests use" lot o' time and ener(y to make a su%%ess o' the Common)ealth Heads o' *o+ernment $eet (CH *$! ,-1. hosted in Colombo. /he ,-1. Summit had all the ra&&mata&& that (oes )ith su%h o%%asions. /he main summit )as held at the Bandaranaike $emorial 0nternational Con'eren%e Hall (i'ted by China. /he leaders1 retreat )as or(anised at 2aters 3d(e in the Sri 4aya)ardanapura 5otte in Colombo. ther +enues in%luded Hambantota and Hikkadu)a. Colombo )as spru%ed up6 Common)ealth Business 7orum met and an international trade 'air 8Re'le%tions1 )as or(ani&ed on the o%%asion. President Rajapaksa must be a happy man 'or ha+in( seen the end o' the presti(ious e+ent that threatened to (et out o' hand a'ter Channel 4 released another +ideo sho)in( more +isuals on Sri Lanka alle(ed human ri(hts +iolations that raised the pit%h o' international protests %allin( 'or boy%ott o' the CH *$. Sri Lanka must be unhappy )ith the +irulen%e o' the /amil 9adu protests and near unanimous support 'or it 'rom both national and lo%al politi%al parties 'or the boy%ott %all. /he 0ndian Prime $inister1s de%ision to meet their demand hal' )ay by de%idin( to stay a)ay 'rom the Colombo meet distra%ted international media attention 'rom the presti(ious e+ent to the %ontro+ersial side sho). 0n keepin( )ith the Summit theme 8*ro)th )ith e:uity6 0n%lusi+e de+elopment"1 the 'inal de%laration issued o' the CH *$ %alled 'or 8e:uitable1 (ro)th" better edu%ation and in%lusi+ity 'or )omen" youth and the disabled. 0t )as a(reed that a%hie+in( (ro)th )ith e:uity and in%lusi+ity must be one o' the main poli%y priorities 'or the Common)ealth" in keepin( )ith its Charter adopted in ;e%ember ,-1,. But it )as the Sri Lanka human ri(hts issue that loomed lar(e on the Summit thou(h it )as not on the main a(enda. 0n his )el%ome spee%h at the inau(ural President Rajapaksa keepin( in mind the %ontro+ersy o+er Sri Lanka1s human ri(hts re%ord said" asked the members to <%olle%ti+ely (uard a(ainst bilateral a(endas bein( introdu%ed into the r(anisation" distortin( Common)ealth traditions and %onsensus. /he stren(th o' the r(anisation lies in keepin( the member %ountries to(ether" helpin( one another in a spirit o' partnership" makin(

the Common)ealth truly uni:ue.= /he President )ent on to :uote Buddha1s )ords" <Let not one take noti%e o' 'aults o' others or )hat they ha+e done or not done. Let one be %on%erned only about )hat one has done and le't undone= to underline his unhappiness at the %ontro+ersy o+er the Colombo meet. Human ri(hts and Sri Lanka ri(hts abuses issues are not ne) to the CH *$. 3+en in the CH *$ ,-11 summit at Perth" the same issue had pro+oked Canadian Prime $inister Stephen Harper to )alk out )hen President Rajapaksa )as in+ited to speak on the last day o' the summit. /he Canadian Prime $inister had threatened to boy%ott the ,-1. CH *$ at Colombo i' the alle(ations o' Sri Lanka1s human ri(hts abuses )ere not in+esti(ated. 0n keepin( )ith his threat the Canadian Prime $inister %hose to boy%ott the Colombo meet. But the bi((est )eakness o' the CH *$ is its inability to a%t upon any %onstru%ti+e su((estions. 0n 'a%t di+ersity o' the Common)ealth members ensures that serious su((estions ne+er (o beyond the talkin( sta(e. 7or instan%e the report o' the 3minent Persons *roup (3P*! panel appointed at the CH *$ ,--> 'ound that the Common)ealth1s rele+an%e )as lost due to the la%k o' a me%hanism to %ensure member %ountries )ho +iolate human ri(hts or demo%rati% norms. /he 3P* made 1-? re%ommendations in%ludin( the adoption o' a Charter 'or the Common)ealth" the %reation o' a ne) %ommissioner on the rule o' la)" demo%ra%y and human ri(hts to keep tra%k o' ri(hts abuses and politi%al repression by Common)ealth member states. Ho)e+er" )hen the report %ame up 'or %onsideration at the ,-11 Summit no real pro(ress )as made. ne 'rustrated member o' the 3P* Sir $al%om Ri'kind" 'ormer British 7orei(n Se%retary" %alled it a dis(ra%e. He said the problem o' the Common)ealth )as <not a problem o' hostility or anta(onism" it1s more o' a problem o' indi''eren%e.= /hou(h a Common)ealth Charter based upon the 3P*1s obser+ations )as 'inally adopted ;e%ember ,-1," it )as a )atered do)n +ersion lea+in( the proposal 'or %reatin( a %ommissioner to <keep tra%k= o' human ri(hts abuses o' Common)ealth members by the )ayside. n human ri(hts it merely reiterated its %ommitment to the @ni+ersal ;e%laration o' Human Ri(hts and other international %o+enants on the subje%t. /hou(h it a''irmed the %ommitment to e:uality and prote%tion and promotion o' %i+il" politi%al" e%onomi%" so%ial and %ultural ri(hts A aspe%ts +ery rele+ant to Sri Lanka human ri(hts abuses issue A it )ent no 'urther than ora%ular )ords. $auritius Prime $inister Ram(oolam1s de%ision not to attend the Colombo summit be%ause <there )as total la%k o' a%%ountability durin( the Sri Lanka ethni% %on'li%t= is a si(ni'i%ant one. He said as a result o' the boy%ott" $auritius )ould no lon(er host the neBt CH *$. 0n +ie) o' this the CH *$ de%ided to hold the neBt summit in $alta. /his mo+e )ould ensure the issue li+es on to 'i(ure in the neBt CH *$ as )ell. /he 0ndian Prime $inister1s reasons 'or stayin( a)ay 'rom the CH *$ ha+e not been made publi%. Ho)e+er" President Rajapaksa" )ho re%ei+ed a letter 'rom ;r $anmohan Sin(h in'ormin( o' his de%ision" made li(ht o' the absen%e sayin( he )as satis'ied )ith 0ndian representation. Cns)erin( a spe%i'i% :uestion )hether the 0ndian Prime $inister1s absen%e )as in response to /amil sentiments" the President )as %lear. <He did not say that to me6 the letter said somethin( di''erent"= he said. ;espite Rajapaksa1s apparent e:uanimity in a%%eptin( 0ndia1s representation" he must be a disappointed man. 0t is sure to impa%t his de%ision makin( on 0ndiaDrelated issues. Ho)e+er" despite his (rie+an%es a(ainst 0ndia" he needs its (ood)ill to (i+e a hand in shorin( up the

pre%arious e%onomi% situation as )ell as to stand by Sri Lanka )hen it 'i(ures a(ain in the @9 Human Ri(hts Coun%il (@9HRC! session in *ene+a in $ar%h ,-14. Both @5 and the @.S. are no) members o' the @9HRC and a resolution on Sri Lanka is probably on the %ards. British Prime $inister ;a+id Cameron has already (i+en noti%e that unless Sri Lanka %arries out a proper in+esti(ation o' the alle(ations Britain )ould be seekin( an in:uiry by the Ri(hts Commissioner at the @9HRC meetin(. /he major stakeholders o' the CH *$ ha+e all (ained both %redits and debits on their per'orman%e at the summit. President Rajapaksa as the prin%ipal stakeholder has probably not%hed up 'e) bro)nie points in his lo%al popularity 'or be%omin( the %hairperson o' the CH *$ till ,-14. Beyond that" the %ountry 'a%in( serious e%onomi% %run%h )ould probably be ponderin( )hether the meet )as really )orth all the money and e''ort. /his is more so )hen some o' the (uests like ;a+id Cameron lambasted Sri Lanka 'or its poor human ri(hts re%ord and hi(hli(hted un%om'ortable issues /amils ha+e been %omplainin( about 'or :uite some time. But the CH *$ has sho)n that Sri Lanka %ould ha+e a+oided all the unpleasantness had it truly and transparently or(anised an in+esti(ation to dispro+e the alle(ations. 0' that lesson has been learnt" it )ould ha+e been )orth all the e''ort and money that had (one into the CH *$. ;a+id Cameron )as probably the most +o%al %riti% o' Sri Lanka and this should please his eBpatriate /amil 8+ote banks1 at home. But realisti%ally" he had done )hat any leader )ith a %ons%ien%e should ha+e done to set ri(ht human ri(hts de'i%ien%ies. But Common)ealth has ne+er been a +ehi%le 'or takin( major remedial a%tion dire%ted at indi+idual member. Ct best a member %an be kept out o' it. Cnd that option is unlikely to %ome up 'or Sri Lanka be%ause )hether one likes Rajapaksa1s authoritarian style or not" he has been ele%ted by the people. So lo(i%ally )e %an eBpe%t Britain to brin( up the issue at the @9HRC meet" thou(h ho) 'ar it )ould politi%ally in+est in the issue is to be seen. 0ndia has unresol+ed internal issues on ho) to handle Sri Lanka at the lo%al le+el than it has )ith Sri Lanka at the international le+el. $anmohan Sin(h (o+ernment )ill 'a%e this leadership %hallen(e on%e a(ain in $ar%h ,-14 )hen the Con(ress )ill be in the thi%k o' the %ampai(nin( 'or (eneral ele%tions ,-14. Cnd that %ould make it tri%ky thanks to Sri Lanka issue1s linka(es to /amil 9adu politi%s. /he sin(le learnin( 'rom CH *$ 'or the Con(ress )ould be to strate(ise mana(ement o' re(ional politi%s better and sti%k to +alue based de%ision makin( in time. But there may be neither time nor in%lination to take it up at this late hour. So )e %an see another %risis bre)in( in /amil 9adu 'rom 4anuary ,-14 on)ard )hen protests %ome up in in%reasin( de%ibels. /he (o+ernment has no %hoi%e but to see throu(h it su%%ess'ully to retain its international %redibility. Lastly" 'or /amils it is not enou(h to pillory Sri Lanka (o+ernment be%ause the 9orthern Pro+in%ial Coun%il has to pro(ress its di''i%ult politi%al and de+elopment a(enda )ith the Rajapaksa (o+ernment. Ho)e+er" )e ha+e seen durin( the CH *$" the /amil 9ational Cllian%e and Chie' $inister 2i(nes)aran did not allo) the situation to o+ertake them. /hey put a%ross their points soberly and that should allo) them some politi%al spa%e. But /amil 9adu politi%s has a kna%k o' :ueerin( their pit%h6 hope'ully" they )ould be %autious to ensure that neither /amil 9adu nor the proD3elam ;iaspora inter'ere )ith their politi%al responsibilities to the people )ho ele%ted them. (Col R Hariharan, a retired Military Intelligence specialist on South Asia, served with the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri an!a as Head o" Intelligence# He is associated with the

Chennai Centre "or China Studies and the South Asia Analysis $roup# %& Mail'colhari(yahoo#co) *log' www#colhariharan#org+

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