The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) 2013 will be the most publicised Sri Lankan event with live coverage to all five continents. CHOGM Secretariat said activities of the meeting will begin today with the opening of the Commonwealth People’s Forum (CPF) in Galle, and will continue till the 14th at Hikkaduwa, and the Commonwealth Youth [...]


On our toes, ready and all set for CHOGM 2013


The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) 2013 will be the most publicised Sri Lankan event with live coverage to all five continents. CHOGM Secretariat said activities of the meeting will begin today with the opening of the Commonwealth People’s Forum (CPF) in Galle, and will continue till the 14th at Hikkaduwa, and the Commonwealth Youth Forum (CYF) in Hambantota also from November 10 to 14.

The CYF that meets every two years, will bring young leaders of National Youth Councils from across the Commonwealth, to address challenges and opportunities of present day youth. The CYF to be held at the International Convention Centre in Hambantota, will comprise a variety of events, from policy debates and panel discussions to field visits and community service.

Held every two years in the run up to the CHOGM, the CPF allows civil society representatives to discuss key issues facing the Commonwealth, with Commonwealth leaders. The opening ceremony is in Galle while panel discussions will be held in Chaaya Tranz, Hikkaduwa.

The Commonwealth Business Forum (CBF) will take place at the Cinnamon Grand Colombo, bringing together Heads of Government and top business leaders from around the world. Over a thousand delegates are expected at this Forum that will be held from November 12 to 14.

Last minute touches: Soldiers polishing the main entrance of Nelum Pokuna on Friday. Pic by Hasitha Kulasekera

Foreign Ministers’ Spouses Programme will take place from November 13 to 16 in Colombo, Galle and Kandy. The Heads of Governments’ Spouses Programme is on November 15 and 16, in Colombo and Kandy. The Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, the Royal Botanical Gardens, Peradeniya, the Temple of the Tooth, Kandy, Dutch Fort, Galle and the Viharamahadevi Park (formerly Victoria Park) are some of the places the spouses are scheduled to visit during their stay in the country, The CHOGM 2013 opening ceremony will be held at the Nelum Pokuna (Lotus Pond) Mahinda Rajapaksa Theatre with HRH Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, as the guest of honour.

According to the Ministry of External Affairs, 37 countries have confirmed the participation of their Heads of Government.

Waters Edge, Battaramulla, will be the venue for the Heads of Government retreat. There will be three retreat sessions, and President Rajapaksa will also host a lunch for the Heads of Government at Waters Edge. Commonwealth Games Federation Sports Breakfast will also take place on November 16.

Police will deploy 20,000 officers for the CHOGM, with 5,000 involved in traffic control. “Our police and military will be handling security and will also coordinate with Foreign Security Officers (FSO). Even in Galle, Hambantota, Kandy and wherever the delegates are visiting, the police and military are well equipped to provide maximum security to the VVIPs,” said Police Spokesman Senior Superintendent of Police Ajith Rohana.

With hundreds of foreign media personnel coming to the country, the Sub Committee on Media and Publicity is preparing facilities for 350-400 foreign and 550 local media personnel representing print, electronic and new media.  A pre-CHOGM news Conference will be held on November 14, by President Rajapaksa and Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma at the BMICH.

Colombo medically prepared: New helipad on rooftop of the National Hospital for air ambulances.

Education Ministry’s Director (School Development), W.K. Wijethuge said that 35 government schools in Colombo will be closed from November 6 to 19, to provide lodging for police and military personnel. “If security concerns and traffic inconveniences arise, holidays for public and government-approved private schools will be declared on November 14 and 15. Private schools and International school administrations will also be informed of the Education Ministry’s decision,” he said.
The University Grants Commission announced that all universities in the country, except Medical faculties, will be closed from November 9 to 17.

Colombo Municipal Council’s (CMC) Commissioner Badrani Jayawardena said that all road beautification and construction work is to be completed last night with tar carpeting along Maitland Place. “Saturday and early Sunday (today) will be for road brushing. However, a team of CMC officers will continuously inspect all areas early every morning for four days,” she added.

Sri Lanka to set up National Inquiry on Torture, says Kamalesh Sharma

By Parvathi Menon

The Commonwealth Secretariat will assist Sri Lanka in setting up a National Inquiry on Torture, its Secretary-General Mr. Kamalesh Sharma said in an interview to The Hindu at the Secretariat headquarters at Marlborough House on the eve of his departure to Colombo to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. 

Away they go:Test run for VVIP vehicles on Saturday

To be set up under the aegis of the Sri Lanka National Human Rights Commission and to be assisted and monitored by the Commonwealth Secretariat, the inquiry will investigate all allegations of torture committed by government agencies or arms of the state from 2009 (the final stages of the civil war) to the present, he said.

The Secretariat has come under harsh criticism from international human rights groups, the media, and some member-countries who accuse it of sweeping human rights concerns under the carpet in respect of Sri Lanka, which is to become chair of the Commonwealth for the next two years. 

Mr. Sharma said the Commonwealth Secretariat had in fact initiated the process that would bring the issue of torture and national reconciliation under Commonwealth scrutiny and compliance. “We are also putting in place a scheme… that will assist Sri Lanka progress towards national reconciliation,” Mr. Sharma said.

The inquiry would take 18 months to complete its work, Mr. Sharma said.  Asked why it would take so long, he said complex processes took time. “Progress does not happen in a vacuum; it can only be secured if national institutions such as the Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission (SLHRC) are strengthened and given muscle and spine to do their work, with an advisory group from the Commonwealth.”

Advocate Karen McKenzie, Acting Head, Human Rights in the Commonwealth Secretariat, told The Hindu: “The SLHRC must be part of the national protection system for human rights in Sri Lanka if this is not to be a window-dressing but a sustainable institutional reform.” 

The Commonwealth Secretariat’s role in the torture inquiry, Ms. McKenzie said, would be to build institutional capacity through its own set of best practices on the conduct of national inquiries in compliance with international human rights standards, drawing from the experiences of South Africa, Namibia and Northern Ireland. “We will support Sri Lanka every step of the way to ensure that best practices are complied with, and will be on the ground during critical phases of the inquiry — the information gathering phase, for example. Finally, we will have a Commonwealth Advisory Group to ensure compliance.”

Cream of local talent for opening ceremony

By Raj Moorthy

The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) opening ceremony at the Nelum Pokuna Mahinda Rajapaksa Theatre in Colombo on November 13 will feature an array of Sri Lanka’s contemporary artistes. The artistes were contracted for the performance about six to eight weeks ago.

When the Sunday Times asked leading artistes Bathiya and Santhush about the event, they said that the main concept or the theme of the song for the CHOGM is ‘We are the World’. The title of the song is ‘Paradise Calling’. Lyrics direction is by Kelum Srimal, while the music is by Ken of Saregama Productions (Pvt) Ltd. The song is based on western and oriental music, the artistes said.

They noted that a number of Sri Lanka’s contemporary artistes have got the opportunity to be a part of this mega event to be held next week. All together 17 Sri Lankan artistes will perform, namely, Bathiya and Santhush, Nirosha Virajini, Ashanthi de Alwis, Randhir Witana, Roshan Fernando, Bachi Susan, Sangeeth Wijesuriya, Dushyanth Weeraman, Umariya, Junior Artiste Himasha Manupriya, Shanika Madhumali, Jananath Warakagoda, Sivakumar, Lahiru Perera, Sahan Ranwala and Kasun Kalhara.

“Each artiste will be paid a nominal amount as it is a national event. It is the song’s production cost that will be paid for,” one of the B&S duo said. All artistes will focus on how Sri Lanka has evolved.

Generations of decorators from the time of last King of Kandy

Dias Wijesinghe

The weaving of the traditional red and white draped decorations is a practice handed down from the time of the last Kandyan King Sri Wickrama Raja Singhe through several generations to the Dias Wijesinghe Malwawa family of Harispattu in Kandy. For the upcoming CHOGM too they have been given the honour of doing the decorations.

For the past two weeks, members of the family and those hired by them have been engaged in making decorations at the Nelum Pokuna Mahinda Rajapaksa Theatre where the opening ceremony of CHOGM will be held on Friday. 

“Our family has decorated the “Magula Maduwa” of the Dalada Maligawa’ from the time of King Rajasinghe. There was an edict by the King that only red and white is used for decorating the Maligawa,” he said.

He said being chosen to do the decorations for CHOGM is a great privilege for them. Dias Wijesinghe said it was a great privilege to be chosen to do the decorations for CHOGM, adding that he was concerned that the present generations in his family were not keen to follow family traditions.

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