Kamalesh Sharma is no Shridath Ramphal

Make way for someone with chutzh-pah

| by Pearl Thevanayagam

(November 16, 2013, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) An undisclosed memo to Commonwealth Office from its secretary general Kamalesh Sharma, the Indian diplomat in 2010, is not to address human rights in their meetings. Ergo, CHOGM is deemed not to be the platform to dig up unsavoury truths such as war crimes, curtailment of press freedom, erosion of democracy and suppression of the independence of the Judiciary.

This is in stark contrast to Sir Shridath Ramphal who led an unremitting Commonwealth struggle against racism in South Africa and in particular against apartheid. He led that struggle with political acumen – often appealing to people over the heads of reluctant leaders – and bound together the Commonwealth’s values of democracy and development, and of human rights and human advancement.

At the Commonwealth Secretariat, he focused on change and renewal – constantly ensuring that the Commonwealth was relevant not only to the people of its own member states but also to the global community.

His tireless endeavours and creative statesmanship was rewarded by the 2013 Commonwealth Life Time Achievement Award. Sharma pales by comparison.

Sri Lanka is second only to Iraq in the largest number of disappearances throughout the world but it is hosting the 23rd summit of Commonwealth government leaders and Sri Lanka’s President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, will be ensconced as its Head for the next two years.

That the alleged war criminal is to head 53 member states for the next two years is most frightening to say the least. One can only hope CHOGM would unravel and substantiate the already existing evidence of war crimes with first-hand investigations by the international media and human rights groups now in Sri Lanka and the President successfully despatched to Hague to face war crimes.

While the President is gloating over holding the CHOGM following his assumed victory over Tamil Tigers, CHOGM delegates and international media are already experiencing his ham fist in controlling their movements and access to areas he sees as threatening. In hosting the CHOGM he has unwittingly exposed himself to international scrutiny.

Then there is the President’s brother and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa who has insider knowledge of Iraq and its oil which caused the Iraqi invasion supported by UK since he worked in a petrol shed in the US. He is an expert we cannot scoff at. The Rajapaksas sincerely and truly believe Tamils are living a peaceful existence in this resplendent isle post LTTE.

It is but an aberration that white van abductions, disappearances and killing of journalists and human rights activists, sacking of the Chief Justice Shirani Bandanayake on planted accusations of not disclosing financial deals by relatives of the CJ and suppression of peaceful demonstrations against the government’s tyranny which should not impede the authoritarian rule of the government.

This country is in the good hands of the Rajapaksas who swear by all deities they would protect its people from marauding foreigners such as Commonwealth Heads, United Nations, pesky international media and human rights activists.

If there is anyone who cannot get his English grammar correctly then it is Basil Rajapaksa. He will argue that speaking in pidgin English is ok as long as he can convey a message. He is after all a Sinhala speaking Buddhist and now that his brother is to head the Commonwealth all members should familiarise themselves with Sinhala; the future Commonwealth Head’s native tongue.

The relationship between Commonwealth Secretariat and the United Nations is blurred. While the UN emerged from the debris of WW11 Commonwealth is still mired in its colonial past.

To this effect Prince Charles - forever waiting to be king - hemmed and hawed and shook hands with the incumbent Commonwealth Head and war criminal, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa. All he could muster with his customary prevarication is that Commonwealth should soldier on despite war crimes and congratulate the President on his efforts to hold the values of Commonwealth. Read keep the monarchy away from probes into violations of human rights which the ageing prince cannot be arsed with.

He is here in sunny Sri Lanka when England is in for a stark winter and what better place to be rather than be with his erstwhile girlfriend while he was still wedded to Diana and conveniently married her and brought her here for his ageing honeymoon soiree.

Then PM David Cameron did a volte face and skipped off to Jaffna within hours of the C’weath summit and was bombarded with Tamils telling it all with arms flailing and photographs of those disappeared in the last stages of war in 2009 and he was shocked beyond belief what the government had actually done ; its showcase exhibition in the South notwithstanding.

CHOGM turned out be to the final nail in the coffin although Mahinda Rajapaksa thought he would be hailed as the saviour of Sri Lankans from Tamil terrorism.

The international media including BBC and Channel 4 experienced firsthand the ham-fisted techniques of the government.

Have there been any victors in war? Tamils commemorate their departed freedom fighters. Sinhalese celebrate their victory over the vanquished.

It was John Donne who famously proclaimed, “any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee”.
He lived almost a century before that English bard William Shakespeare in the 16th century. War is dirty to say the least; rejoicing in the victory of war is vile beyond comprehension and it brings us to the nadir of human civilisation.

Sri Lanka with its history of 2,500 years of civilisation and the import of that Noble Lord Buddha who preached non-violence to the point of not even treading on ants, chose the path of unprecedented violence; all in the name of carving out a Sinhala Buddhist nation while outwardly proclaiming they are the true followers of Lord Buddha.

How did Buddhist precepts transmogrified this isle of Serendib into a barbaric nation which condones torture, rape and wanton killings? And it celebrates its killing of the ethnic Tamils who only wanted parity in their own homeland. 

It also wreaked vengeance on Sinhala youth with the 1971 JVP insurrection in April 05, 1971 and then revitalised in `89/’90 following the break-up of Indo Lanka Peace Accord between Rajiv Gandhi and J.R Jayewardene in 1987. The disgruntled Sinhala youth who were forced to adopt Sinhala for their higher education and who could not be found employment in white collar jobs were cheated by Sirimavo Bandaranaike who nurtured them to overthrow the UNP and subsequently let them down.
The JVP, embracing Marxist ideology, with its leader Rohana Wijeweera educated at Lumumba University in Russia and inspired by Che Guevara, was gunned down by the UNP government led by Ranasinghe Premadasa circa 1990. Subsequently, some JVPers such as Wimal Weerawansa embraced the current UPFA government and sold their Marxist beliefs for perks which they never enjoyed under JVP.

Methinks the days of the Rajapaksa are numbered since C’weath delegates are leaving with more authentic evidence of the terror the government leashed on the Tamils first-hand.

(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