C’wealth Secretariat joins the chorus

Channel 4 Documentary
By Our Diplomatic Editor

The Commonwealth Secretariat in London has expressed concern over the contents of the recent British Channel 4 television programme that showed alleged Sri Lankan soldiers killing suspected terrorists in the final stages of the military campaign against the LTTE in May 2009 – despite a member-nation of the Commonwealth (Sri Lanka) challenging the authenticity of the footage in the programme.

The spokesperson for the Commonwealth Secretary General in a statement issued on Thursday, said the Secretariat had received expressions of concern about the contents of a recent television programme concerning what they have chosen to term “the civil war in Sri Lanka”.

“There is understandable widespread abhorrence at what the programme purports to show. These concerns have been conveyed to the Sri Lankan government,” the spokesperson said. The Secretary General of the 54-nation Commonwealth is Kamalesh Sharma and its Political Affairs Adviser is Amitav Banerji, both former Indian diplomats. The credibility given to the Channel 4 programme and the comments made by Sharma’s spokesperson coincidentally reflect those made by Britain’s Deputy Foreign Minister Alastair Burt a week a go.

What was surprising was that the Commonwealth Secretariat had given credibility to the controversial television programme when the Sri Lanka government, a member-nation of the Commonwealth was strenuously challenging the contents and denying the allegations made in the same programme.

Equally of concern would be the timing of the statement. The Commonwealth Secretariat chose to make it not only in the midst of the row over the credibility of the TV programme but knowing well that the next Commonwealth Summit is to be held in Sri Lanka next year. Sri Lanka is also making a bid to host the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Hambantota.

The Commonwealth SG’s statement refers to “Commonwealth values and principles” and refers to human rights, the rule of law, access to justice and an independent judiciary being fundamental.

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