The Commonwealth Secretary General arrives in Colombo today with the sword of Damocles, so to say, hanging over the head of Sri Lanka; both in terms of hosting the Commonwealth Summit (CHOGM) later this year and even more importantly, our very existence as a member of the 54-member grouping of former British colonies. The fact [...]


Commonwealth rope hangs over Lanka


The Commonwealth Secretary General arrives in Colombo today with the sword of Damocles, so to say, hanging over the head of Sri Lanka; both in terms of hosting the Commonwealth Summit (CHOGM) later this year and even more importantly, our very existence as a member of the 54-member grouping of former British colonies.

The fact that the Minister of External Affairs had to rush to London to meet the Secretary General just a few days before the SG emplaned for Colombo speaks volumes for the gravity of the matter which Sri Lanka faces– a push led by Canada to place this country on the agenda of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) which has the mandate to report to CHOGM whether a particular member-state is conducting its internal affairs according to ‘Commonwealth values” – a term Sri Lanka has also concurred with. The Government has tried to hide the seriousness of the threat it now faces.

Pakistan and Fiji have been expelled from the Commonwealth for violating these ‘Commonwealth values’but were later reinstated while the Maldives remains suspended. This originated where military coups ousted elected governments, but now has been expanded to a wider spectrum, entrenched in what is known as the ‘Latimer House principles’.

These are all one-sided affairs. Not that ‘Commonwealth values’ or the ‘Latimer House principles’ are bad; in fact, they are good principles of how modern nations and their leaders must govern their citizens. The implementation of these values and principles is, however, wholly partisan and like in the case of the United Nations, aimed at neo-colonialism. The economically more powerful nations can get away with blue murder flouting these very values and principles but they gang up on recalcitrant nations that drift away from their orbit of influence.

Sri Lanka’s problem is self-inflicted. Just when the country was seemingly overcoming moves for an independent international tribunal to go into allegations of violations of International Humanitarian Law — also a part of this duplicitous neo-colonial agenda — during the last stages of the military campaign against the LTTE, there was another instance of political blundering with the blatantly flawed impeachment of the incumbent Chief Justice, that cowed down and emasculated the Judiciary in the process. That provided all the ammunition for countries like Canada (which has a significantly hostile Sri Lankan Diaspora lobby having some clout in the electoral politics of that country) to reopen old wounds under a new guise.

The fact that Sri Lanka’s judiciary is barely limping back to its feet, almost mortally felled by the Government, and that irreparable damage has been caused to its independence and integrity is a fact. That the appointment of Chief Justice 44 was from among its ranks of chosen advisers, his personal integrity challenged, does not make the hopeless situation any better.

The External Affairs Minister who too threw in his lot with the impeachment crisis, trying to avoid Presidential wrath for having recommended Chief Justice 43, made a drastic statement suggesting that the court order on the issue was “not worth the paper it was written on”. How far his own credibility reaches, or doesn’t, to those nations breathing fire on Sri Lanka is an open secret.

Make no mistake, the ‘white Commonwealth’ is out to derail CHOGM in Sri Lanka. Typically, it is being done subtly. The ‘white Commonwealth’ uses the rapier, not the bludgeon. This is an art, nay a science, it has been perfected over several decades and that is exactly what this Administration lacks. In whatever it seems to do, there is a mess left behind at the crime scene for others to pick up on.

Sri Lanka offered to host this summit at a time the country was craving the indulgence of an otherwise hostile world community, especially Western nations and India during its own ‘war on terror’ at home. Often Western powers give the rope for nations to hang themselves. CHOGM 2013 is now a rope dangling over the heads of the host Government.
The Commonwealth itself is a dead-duck organisation in the world scene.

Its titular head is the Queen of England, but even her successor and its future are uncertain. She is the thread that holds it together, and one can say that it hangs together by a thread. Britain, as primus inter pares (first among equals) has long dumped the Commonwealth, and is obsessed by Europe. Britain is now not sure whether to dump Europe as well. Even the century- old London based Commonwealth Press Union had to wind up due to the lack of financial support, and interest from Britain.

The Commonwealth does not vote en bloc atinternational agendas nor speak en voce. They are left to their own devices, Britain more often than not listening to the United States, or Europe, is least bothered about the sentiments of the Commonwealth. At best it is a club for nostalgic fuddy-duddies; not all of them who even play cricket.

The ‘Commonwealth values’ and the ‘Latimer House principles’ are worthy guidelines, a code of ethics and conduct, for self-government among nations emerging from centuries of oppressive colonial rule. There is a propensity for some of these nations to move to military juntas and autocratic rule and they must be reined in.

Sri Lanka, and Sri Lankans have largely embraced universal adult franchise, the Rule of Law, an independent Judiciary and Police and a free media even before Independence 65 years ago, but all of these ‘values’ are under severe threat and slowly ebbing away from the reach of the common citizen. There is what we can see as a more Chinese-style authoritarian regime in the making.

The Government will have to decide if it is then to abandon these ‘Commonwealth values’ that have been ingrained in the people of this country, and take a different road. Hosting a summit for Commonwealth leaders alone will seem as if the Government is trying to eat the cake – and have it. Some radical course-correction seems imperative.

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