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A Black Mark in the Commonwealth's History

A Black Mark in the Commonwealth's History

30 October, 2011

The Commonwealth has decided not to reassess Sri Lanka’s suitability to host the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 2013. This decision runs contrary to the association’s fundamental values of human rights and democracy, and has pushed the Commonwealth to the lowest point in its history.

In 2009, Commonwealth Heads of Governments deferred Sri Lanka’s proposal to host CHOGM 2011 for two years. Little has changed since then. Instead, human rights concerns have increased significantly and the Sri Lankan regime’s response has been denial and defiance rather than genuine efforts at accountability and recompense.

An Expert Panel appointed by the UN Secretary-General in June 2009 called for independent international investigations after it found credible allegations of humanitarian law violations and egregious war crimes - domestic efforts to investigate them were considered weak and inadequate.

The Commonwealth, however, has chosen to turn a blind eye to the widely publicised allegations. The few Commonwealth member states that have expressed some concern have been resolutely opposed by strong voices that prefer to paper over the serious situation. By allowing Sri Lanka to confidently go on to host CHOGM 2013, and subsequently become chair of the association, the Commonwealth has clearly indicated its future direction, squandering the Perth CHOGM which once held so much potential. It has now openly proclaimed that it is no longer capable of landmark human rights stances, as demonstrated by its historic activism against Apartheid.

A Commonwealth position that legitimises the human rights situation in Sri Lanka may in the very near future delegitimise the Commonwealth fatally and forever.

Without a strong commitment to human rights, the Commonwealth cannot be of any relevance to its two billion people. The Commonwealth’s stance on Sri Lanka in the run up to CHOGM 2013 will indicate whether there is any chance that the organisation can salvage itself from this substantial tear in its moral fabric. If CHOGM 2013 takes place in Sri Lanka without credible justice and accountability, it will do irretrievable damage to the Commonwealth’s raison d’etre its fundamental values.

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