CHOGM 2013 is done and dusted. The event has been proclaimed as a resounding success; the re-launch of Sri Lanka and the rebirth of the Commonwealth; but let us get down to a realistic post-mortem examination, not so much of the organisation of the event but of the organisation itself, and Sri Lanka’s foreign policy [...]


CHOGM: Where do we go from here?


CHOGM 2013 is done and dusted. The event has been proclaimed as a resounding success; the re-launch of Sri Lanka and the rebirth of the Commonwealth; but let us get down to a realistic post-mortem examination, not so much of the organisation of the event but of the organisation itself, and Sri Lanka’s foreign policy direction in the light of the side show that took place.

The mega event was obscured for the major part by the participation, or the lack of it, by some of the group’s main players. Quite ironically, the Canadian and Indian Prime Ministers were criticised by domestic commentators in their own countries for boycotting the summit, while the British and Australian PMs were lampooned for taking part. It was a ‘damned if you do; damned if you don’t’ situation for these leaders.

The British PM turned his visit into a circus which generated media hype back home mixed with barbs ridiculing his imperialistic behaviour in seemingly forgetting that Sri Lanka no longer takes orders from Whitehall. The coverage for his visit centred on Sri Lanka’s human rights record with little attention on the summit – a clear indicator that the Commonwealth is already passé-history as far as they were concerned.

In Sri Lanka, criticism on excessive expenditure was largely exaggerated. While it could be argued that elephants, dancers, city clean ups and tables groaning under the weight of food and drink were unavoidable once the decision was taken to host the summit, at least dozens less Mercedes Benz S-400s could have been ordered.

That only 26 Heads of State or Government attended the parley – the lowest in CHOGM history is something the Government must reflect on. The issue was compounded by the fact the Minister of External Affairs misled the public of Sri Lanka, and possibly those importing the Mercs that 37 Heads had confirmed their attendance three weeks before the summit. He has given no explanation for the shortfall.

Then again, what happened to the Government’s much-vaunted ‘Look Africa’ foreign policy? There has been no proper explanation for this new approach by the Government and the only logic one can surmise is that the Government is looking for votes at international fora when it is being persecuted by Western powers. It is also as if the Ministry of External Affairs, sidelined from dealing with India, the UN in Geneva and New York and Europe was looking for some turf to practise its foreign policy. The fact that only seven of the 19 African Commonwealth Heads of Government turned up in Colombo is a vote of no confidence on this new, thoroughly illogical and financially wasteful strategy of the Government.

Despite the Sri Lankan Government spending on water supply projects in Uganda, its President ducked coming saying a relative was ill. The Kenyan President is afraid to leave his country because he is wanted for crimes against humanity — the Commonwealth has not raised a whimper to defend him. Our Political Editor put it succinctly last week when he said “the problem with Sri Lanka’s ‘Look Africa’ foreign policy is that Africa is not looking at Sri Lanka”.

The twin factors, i.e. that the Commonwealth is a spent force in world affairs, its only use being as a platform for neo-colonialists to pretend they are liberal conservatives – and Sri Lanka’s hara-kiri foreign policy in its anti-West approach resulting in resolution after resolution, setback after setback, diplomatic and economic are well worth considering.

We hear that the British PM, during his talks with the Sri Lankan President had mentioned Winston Churchill as an example of someone who won the war and magnanimously promoted reconciliation thereafter. It was not the best example to quote however much David Cameron seemed to deify him; Churchill was known to have opposed independence to the colonies in this part of the world. He prosecuted the defeated Germans at Nuremburg and in one of the latest books released in Britain; The Bombing War: Europe 1939-1945, the WWII British PM is referred to as someone who “had no conscientious or legal obligations” to bombing civilians; and British military policy was to strategically bomb countries like Bulgaria to make them switch allegiance. The acclaimed book dismissed the widely held belief “firmly rooted in the British public mind” that Hitler initiated the trend for indiscriminate bombing. The decision to take the gloves off was Churchill’s — not because of German air raids but because of the crisis in the Battle of France.

The incumbent British PM does not realise what a joke he is when he talks of war. But, that said, Britain will be a sitting member of the UN Human Rights Council from January and the threat to set its sights on Sri Lanka’s human rights record come March, 2014 cannot be idly dismissed.

For the Sri Lankan President the headache will be if his Government’s foreign policy direction is going to meet this challenge, and if he is going to put his own house in order before he sets about giving some life to a dormant Commonwealth.
The final communiqué of the Commonwealth issued last Sunday in Colombo had a gigantic 98 clauses. It covered issues ranging from Sustainable Land Management to the Rule of Law to Tax Policy to Youth, the entirety of human activity. Pretty on paper how much of these noble goals will ever be achieved? The Colombo Declaration on Sustainable, Inclusive and Equitable Development was part of this communiqué placing emphasis on accelerating economic growth as central to policy efforts globally.

Insofar as the new Chairman is concerned, viz., President Mahinda Rajapaksa, work begins at home on implementing these provisions. Some are exactly what the country has been accused in Geneva and elsewhere of not implementing for years. These have come up over and again both domestically and internationally as proof of a democratically deficient Government in Sri Lanka. CHOGM 2013 attracted more unwanted attention on this front. Obviously there needs to be a change in mind-set among the very hierarchy of the Government.

That Western nations are waiting to embarrass President Rajapaksa even further in the coming months is evident. If one saw a clip of the debate in the British House of Commons on their Prime Minister’s statement on Sri Lanka and the Opposition leader’s reply, one would think it was like the Tamil Nadu State Assembly and the DMK and AIADMK vying for the hand of the voters.

The oft-quoted ‘Commonwealth Values’ envisage the full flowering of democracy in each of the 53 member-states, Sri Lanka included. A separate Secretariat will be required for President Rajapaksa to ensure these objectives are met, at least partially. Unless of course the entire exercise of CHOGM 2013 was merely to mark time warming the Chair-in-Office until the next instalment in two years’ time in Malta.

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