This is a crucial moment in the ongoing campaign for truth and justice in Sri Lanka.
Tomorrow, Friday 26th April, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group will collect in London. There they will go over developing 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 concept 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 ought to be a force for great – a neighborhood of nations functioning towards human rights and justice.
That the Sri Lankan government would then become the chair of the Commonwealth for the subsequent two years is even a lot 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 function of the Commonwealth Secretary Basic, Kamalesh Sharma.
Several will be looking to him to give the type of leadership which can strengthen the Commonwealth’s part in encouraging human rights, justice and an end to impunity.
He can make certain that this issue is confronted. Indeed many would argue he has a clear duty to do that. If the Commonwealth drifts blindly into enabling 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 taking place. I hope I am wrong.
There is a curious Commonwealth process which offers for the Secretary Basic to exercising his “good offices” to resolve this sort of scenario ahead of severe action is taken. It is suggested that a two month period be permitted for that. Mr Sharma has been formally working out his “good offices” for significantly far more than two months now. And in that time items in Sri Lanka have got worse, not far better. Repression of Tamils in the north has enhanced. 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 intense 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 quickly sinking into a despotic morass – it is increasingly seen as a pariah state.
On Friday Secretary-Common 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…
…we – the citizens of the commonwealth – are invited to place a comment or a query to Mr Sharma, by sending a message, with ‘Ask Sharma’ in the subject line, to this address:
I recommend that as a lot of of us as achievable do that over the next 24 hours. Let’s make certain 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 probably to be embroiled ever far more seriously in such allegations more than the next two years – is truly match to lead the Commonwealth.
The calls from around the world are growing. Final week 900 Commonwealth lawyers meeting in South Africa named 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 contact 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 increasing. The Commonwealth need to not be left behind.
*Callum Macrae – director, “No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka.”