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'Sri Lanka concerns put Commonwealth’s credibility on the line' - Tissainayagam

In an opinion on the Asian Correspondent, Tamil journalist JS Tissainayagam, calls on the Commonwealth to act to restore its credibility.

See extracts below:

Sri Lanka, whose leaders are accused of committing war crimes against Tamils in the civil war that ended May 2009, and subverting democracy, is to host the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in November.

In the past the Commonwealth, the 54-member intergovernmental grouping of mostly Britain’s former colonies, has emphasised human rights and democracy as core principles and chastised member countries that violated them. Sri Lanka however has not been censured but rewarded: named as CHOGM’s next venue, it will automatically lead the organisation for the coming two years.

The Sri Lankan government may posture, but the truth is that they need the Commonwealth more than the Commonwealth needs them. Even more so given the tremendous damage Sri Lanka is doing to the valuable Commonwealth “brand” of stability and good governance. Sri Lanka is not treating Commonwealth values with disdain because it is in a position of strength; it is doing so because the track record of the Commonwealth suggests that there will be no consequences.

Yet there remains a slim chance that the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), following its meeting later today, could call for a change of venue. If not, the only alternative for Commonwealth leaders to protest Sri Lanka’s behaviour is to boycott the summit in Colombo.

By principle and practice the Commonwealth should take Sri Lanka to task. The 60-year history of this organisation reveals almost a preoccupation with its core values. The Singapore Declaration (1971), the Harare Principles (1991) and the Charter of the Commonwealth signed in March this year point to democratically elected government, equality, human rights and rule of law as the body’s core tenets.

Violation of these principles has exacted punishment, the most extreme being suspension from the Commonwealth. Pakistan and Fiji have been thrown out twice and Nigeria once. Zimbabwe, once suspended, withdrew from the organisation.

Despite similar offences, the Rajapakse regime is not administered a reproof. Instead the Commonwealth now faces the ignominy of having at its helm a country that has violated at least nine of its own core principles that the Queen signed into its new Charter last month. Such double standards clearly call into question the Commonwealth’s credibility.

Canada has taken a firm stand on the matter, Prime Minister Stephen Harper stating that the summit should be moved, and that he personally will not attend if it is not. The UK does not have a seat on CMAG but it is thought many people looking to the UK for some indication as to whether it shares Canada’s concerns. Yet Prime Minister David Cameron has not shown anywhere like the same leadership as his friend.

If the Commonwealth wishes to demonstrate it is worthy of calling itself an international organisation, it must act to restore its credibility. The CMAG has a chance to do this by moving the venue or postponing the meeting. If the CMAG refuses to uphold its own core principles however, all that remains for those who believe in the integrity of the Commonwealth is to refuse attending the Colombo Summit.

For full opinion please see here.

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