| by Victor Cherubim

What he can do?

( November 6, 2013, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) When a nation hosts the CHOGM summit and more importantly tipped to be its leader for the next two years, prior to Mauritius 2015, a “greater compliance” to the core values as outlined by the Commonwealth’s New Charter is called for. “We can do it, but you can’t “is the underlying message to Sri Lanka and other small nations.

David Cameron can discuss already agreed items on the agenda for the Colombo summit. As far as the Commonwealth Secretariat is concerned, it is undisclosed. It may very well include:
1. Succession of the Head of the Commonwealth
2. Member States concerns
(a) Australia and other independent states becoming Republics.
(b) Great Britain’s position, if and when it decides to leave the European Union.
(c) Pakistan’s concern on drone attacks
(d) Climate Change and sustainability issues
(e) Terrorism and Sanctions
(f) Trade relations
(g) The binding values of democracy, civil liberties and human rights-universally accepted.
3. The increasing costs of holding CHOGM summits.

Important matters ironed out

Cameron may willingly bring up issues of mutual interest at the sidelines of the CHOGM. It all depends on the mood of the summit, the reconcilable and irreconcilable. In diplomacy, even irreconcilable issues are thrashed out privately and settled mutually.

Acceptability issues may be aired not precluding chairing of CHOGM conditional on meeting the Commonwealth Code of Conduct criteria in the future.

He can also bring in investment in the host country. As is known, investments worth US$10 billion were pledged after the Perth CHOGM in 2011. Sri Lanka targets US$ 2 billion of investment. The “pledge provision” and “grants with strings,” conditional on Sri Lanka’s fulfilling reconciliation, rule of law, good governance and transparency, is perhaps as a win/win option.

What he cannot do?

David Cameron as leader of United Kingdom and a member of one among 53 member states of the Commonwealth cannot change many things at the Colombo summit.

1. He cannot change the venue or agenda or chair in Colombo for the present CHOGM.
2. He cannot change or bring in an item for resolution, unless previously agreed.

Tamils living in UK, the Foreign Affairs Committee in UK, Amnesty International (AI) Human Rights Watch (HRW) and others have vociferously urged the Coalition government to block Sri Lanka chairing the Commonwealth until it properly investigates alleged war crimes. This we are reliably informed is not for discussion.
3. He cannot dictate to Sri Lanka or any member nation of the Commonwealth what
is the right of self determination. Britain may be small country, but undeniably a country with a proud history.

Raj Gonsalkorale states:

“CHOGM has to be about deliberations on the strengths and weakness, the threats the member states face from many quarters, in particular the smaller, more vulnerable members from the larger more affluent members as well as others who are not members and the opportunities that the collective occurs to each other to do their best, to live up to the Charter of the Commonwealth of Nations. Fifty Four countries are members of the Commonwealth. They are amongst the world’s largest, smallest, richest and poorest countries. Thirty two members are classified as small states – countries with a population size of 1.5 million people or less and larger member states that share similar characteristics with them. It is a collective of 2 billion people.”

This means an opportunity for small nations to mend, re-build broken relationships or challenge
“double standards.”

The possible outcome of Colombo CHOGM

Like all summits of world leaders, CHOGM notwithstanding, three days of talks on talks will not resolve any issues, other than understanding issues among nations.

Although comparisons might not be watertight, it is well known fact that both the Uganda hosted CHOGM in 2007 and the previous one hosted by Nigeria in 2003 were overshadowed by rights and accountability issues. The immediate impact of media exposure/hype of rights violations, accountability and governance in these countries, in the wake of the summit, was as we now know, a short term solution, for long term improvement.

Prof. Nalapat states: “In every part of the world, the (ruling) elite is being challenged by others, which is a healthy phenomenon. The advice to countries is the exact opposite of what they do in their countries.” Britain has made it clear that the Colombo CHOGM is not just about Sri Lanka but about the Commonwealth.

David Cameron has said that he will deliver “a tough message.” No one will deny that, not
even, the diehards who will be mindful of the various marginal seats - there are as much as 20 at last count. Yet Britain has always had a British centred policy toward Sri Lanka.

There will be as usual positive developments on some fronts and not on others. The charm offensive of the paradise isle will tip the balance. Sri Lanka will without doubt promote business. Britain needs Sri Lanka to do deals, with India and China.

“The right kind of doubt” it is said, “is better than the wrong kind of certainty.” The history of Commonwealth Summits perhaps always, begins and ends in diplomacy.