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Last updateTue, 17 Mar 2015 2pm

#CHOGM2013: Sri Lanka, the Commonwealth and the Duplicity of the West

The biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting seldom makes the news.

This year’s meeting in sunny Sri Lanka has however, caused much uproar, particularly in certain segments of the media in Britain, Canada and Australia,with politicians and activists aghast that an organization dedicated to the “promotion of democracy and individual liberty” could enjoy the hospitality of an administration that has been accused of “widespread” repression of the country’s Tamil minority and suppression of the media.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper – perhaps fearful of losing more than 200,000 Tamil votes at the next general election – announced in September that he would boycott the meeting and send a lowly diplomat to represent his country.

In India, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh – fearful of alienating powerful Tamil coalition partners in the south – continues to dither about whether he would travel to Colombo.

And in Britain, although Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged to “engage” with Sri Lanka and travel to the meeting with Prince Charles, segments of the media and political establishment have kept up their campaign calling for “isolating” the Island nation.

Many ordinary Sri Lankans, including members of the Diaspora, are deeply angry, with many saying that the “propaganda” is not harming Sri Lanka but highlighting the hypocrisy of the West which is attempting to conceal its own failings - everything from the violation of individual liberties to economic inequality - by picking on a country attempting to rebuild after thirty years of war.

Here, veteran Sri Lankan journalist Neville de Silva argues that these kinds of duplicitous attempts to isolate nation states can only backfire in today’s multi-polar world.

Those who are still shouting themselves hoarse against the holding of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo do not seem to recognise a fait accompli even when it stares them in the face.

By continuing to do so, they not only expose their unwillingness to accept what is inevitable but also casts aspersions on the heads of governments of Commonwealth member-states who took the collective decision to hold the CHOGM in Sri Lanka.
It might be recalled that at the CHOGM held in Trinidad & Tobago in 2009, the leaders agreed that Sri Lanka would be the venue of the summit in 2013.

This decision was reconfirmed at the CHOGM in Perth, Australia in 2011, and so it was agreed that Sri Lanka would host the summit in 2013.

It is a decision of the collective leadership of the Commonwealth and this decision will be carried out despite the copious crocodile tears now being shed by some with agendas other than the upholding of "Commonwealth values" they publicly claim.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has publicly announced that he would attend the conference and the reasons for doing so.

Interestingly and significantly, Burmese Opposition Leader Aung San Suu Kyi was asked for her views immediately after Prime Minister Cameron stated his reasons for attending the summit.

Ms Suu Kyi who was in London and had just met the British prime minister, said that when she used to be asked whether foreign leaders should engage with the then ruling military regime in Burma she had always maintained that they should but they should also engage with the opposition.

As a political leader who had spent several years under house arrest and whose civil liberties were seriously curtailed, she was not driven by animus as some external elements display towards Sri Lanka but by a genuine desire to resolve issues by engagement and dialogue.

Are we to discard such a constructive and civilised approach by one who has every right to feel angry at the treatment she had had to undergo and listen to the advice of some disgruntled groups with time on their hands?

It is strange (or is it?) that those who level accusations at Sri Lanka appear to ignore the report of an important member of the Commonwealth family.

I refer to the report of the Royal Commonwealth Society "Commonwealth Compared 2013" quoted the other day by a former senior British diplomat and President of Friends of Sri Lanka.

He said that the report measured 168 countries on human rights criteria such as press freedom, democracy and inequality and ranked Sri Lanka 68th in the world and 14th in the Commonwealth.

If the critics of Sri Lanka were to have their say then CHOGM cannot be held in any of the 39 countries rated below Sri Lanka.

That would be a mockery of the claim that the Commonwealth is one organisation where the big and the small, the wealthy and not so wealthy, the advanced and the developing have equal say.

Those countries should take note that they may be targeted next time round.


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