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CHOGM: To Come or Not To Come

C’wealth heads wring their hands

| by Pearl Thevanayagam

(October 25, 2013, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) Government forces under Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa annihilated well over 40,000 Tamils by May 19, 2009 in the last eight months of war (if one goes by Bishop of Mannar Rt Rev. Rayappu Joesph another 100,000 and we will never know) which began with a ferocity fuelled by the generous gifts of war machinery from several Commonwealth countries.

India and US provided aerial surveillance to enable the forces to make a three pronged attack on Tamils. US, Ukraine, Russia, India, Pakistan and China provided or rather sold arms and ammunition to the government. Remember Hicorp and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the President’s brother’s private deal to supply weapons?

Hence Commonwealth countries are in a quandary. They are wringing their hands whether to maintain trade relations aka providing weaponry to member states during internecine warfare or to listen to their conscience on their abysmal record on human rights. Thanks to their munificence a good proportion of Tamils were annihilated. Money talks and it continues to talk. You can cry till you are blue in the face; what dictates superpowers is money be it through fair means or foul.

Demonstrations held by the Tamil diaspora across the world finally brought Sri Lankan government’s conduct of the ethnic war to world attention. The government reacted to LTTE resistance by unleashing terror on hapless Tamil civilians who fled for their lives leaving loved ones and watching them dying from aerial bombardment including cluster bomb attacks inflicting burns the survivors of which are still trying to recuperate.

Use of chemical weapons is a subject so far kept away from both the LLRC and Ms Navi Pillai. Rape, torture, point-blank shootings close range are well documented in The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka video by Callum Mcrae which will once again be shown with fresh eye-witness accounts of war atrocities at Frontline Club in London on November 05, 2013.

A Town like Alice is a novel by Nevil Shute in 1950 made into an award winning movie based on World War 11 in which women prisoners of war had to sell their bodies to Japanese soldiers to obtain baby food and milk for their emaciated children. The location is Australia when Japanese invaded. Just as POWs in A Town like Alice were marched across vast tracts of land, Tamil civilians who were displaced several times over since the war began well over 35 years ago kept on fleeing for their lives only to be entrapped in an enclave close to Nanthikadal and end up as fodder for the government forces and human shields for the LTTE.

That Ms Navi Pillai, former Supreme Court Judge and Harvard educated South African of Tamil descent, was elevated to the position of UNHRC was her integrity and lessons learnt as a minority in South Africa. She saw first-hand what it was to be a minority and humiliated in a White dominant and later Black rule South Africa. Her arrival in Sri Lanka was met with trepidation and she was pilloried in the Colombo press for probing into business the government felt was not her mandate.

As UNHRC commissioner it was her very mandate and purpose and she brooks no nonsense; she still holds a most important office at the UNHRC and she will leave no stone unturned until war crimes perpetrators are hauled up before the ICC. She has succeeded in bringing to trial world leaders who thought they were undefeated.

What follows now is the focus on CHOGM in Colombo next month and the Harare principles of 1991 Commonwealth declaration which states:
  • We believe that international peace and order, global economic development and the rule of international law are essential to the security and prosperity of mankind;
  • We believe in the liberty of the individual under the law, in equal rights for all citizens regardless of gender, race, colour, creed or political belief, and in the individual's inalienable right to participate by means of free and democratic political processes in framing the society in which he or she lives;
  • We recognise racial prejudice and intolerance as a dangerous sickness and a threat to healthy development, and racial discrimination as an unmitigated evil;
  • We oppose all forms of racial oppression, and we are committed to the principles of human dignity and equality;
  • We recognise the importance and urgency of economic and social development to satisfy the basic needs and aspirations of the vast majority of the peoples of the world, and seek the progressive removal of the wide disparities in living standards amongst our members.
Critical to the document is the removal of a reference to the opposition to international coercion, which had been included in the Singapore Declaration. The implication at Singapore was that not even the Commonwealth itself had any right to enforce its other core values, as they could only be enforced by using coercive powers. This apparent conflict was resolved at Harare, and further clarified by the Millbrook Commonwealth Action Programme, which clearly mandated the Commonwealth to concern itself with its members' internal situations.

In recent years, the Commonwealth has been accused of not being vocal enough on its core values. Allegations of a leaked memo from the Secretary General instructing staff not to speak out on human rights were published in October 2010. Sri Lank has violated and continues to violate the very core principles of Harare declaration with impunity.

While reparations are nearing completion to present the country as the very embodiment of democracy, a fast developing economic miracle and a champion of human rights, the government has given death sentence to the murderer of British tourist Khuram Shaikh in Tangalle and killers of journalists and aid workers were set free or not probed.

Commonwealth Heads are arriving not to concern themselves with the government’s war crimes. This writer desists from qualifying the word alleged before war crimes. They are here for a damn good holiday all paid for by the government and God forbid what the cost of living would be like after all the CHOGM tamashas.

(The writer has been a journalist for 24 years and worked in national newspapers as sub-editor, news reporter and news editor. She was Colombo Correspondent for Times of India and has contributed to Wall Street Journal where she was on work experience from The Graduate School of Journalism, UC Berkeley, California. Currently residing in UK she is also co-founder of EJN (Exiled Journalists Network) UK in 2005 the membership of which is 200 from 40 countries. She can be reached at pearltheva@hotmail.com)
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