Holding the Commonwealth summit in Colombo, without proven commitment from the Sri Lankan Government to the values and principles of democracy, would grant the Commonwealth seal of approval to an emerging dictatorship in Asia, warns Mangala Samaraweera, former Foreign Minister and United National Party (UNP) Parliamentarian.
Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma was quoted in the Daily Mirror last week as saying the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) report was a homegrown map for achieving peace within a multi-ethnic nation. He has said the Commonwealth was active in Sri Lanka, in advancing Commonwealth values including human rights, the media, judiciary and building mutual respect and understanding within communities.
“The Commonwealth wanting to make a practical difference in Sri Lanka is indeed most welcome,” Mr. Samaraweera says, in response to Mr. Sharma. “However, for many of us who are living not afar, but in Sri Lanka, we find it rather difficult to share your optimism, as Sri Lanka seems to be moving away from the values which you claim that the Commonwealth is advancing even now.”
“The day-to-day practical reality is that, Sri Lanka continues to violate with impunity, all 16 values of the Commonwealth Charter in varying degrees, and we, in Sri Lanka, experience firsthand, the present Sri Lankan government’s contempt for democratic values, the rule of law and the sanctity of life,” Mr. Samaraweera says in a letter to Mr. Sharma.
The human rights situation in Sri Lanka shows no signs of improvement, he says. “The casual manner in which the death of persons in police custody is being treated by the authorities, is an insult to our system of administration of justice,” he asserts. Complaints gather dust at the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL), for which staff the Commonwealth Secretariat recently conducted a training workshop. All commissioners of the current HRCSL have been appointed by the President.
All judicial transfers and appointments are decided at Temple Trees, the official residence of the executive, in violation of the Latimer House principle which states that judicial appointments should be made on the basis of clearly defined criteria and by a declared process.
The Committee to Protect Journalists ranks Sri Lanka as the 4th most dangerous place in the world for journalists to work in. The Criminal Investigation Department continues to raid newspapers which highlight corruption linked to the first family, Mr. Samaraweera continues.
“Also, the government which purportedly claims that it values Commonwealth principles, has sought and received Chinese expertise to monitor, hack and block websites which expose human rights violations and corruption,” he warns.
“While the government is reluctantly preparing to hold Northern Provincial Council (NPC) Elections, thanks to intense international pressure, there are reports that members of this squad are intimidating and threatening candidates hoping to seek nomination from opposition parties,” Mr. Samaraweera said. “Even other religious minorities are now being persecuted with impunity. There have been over 15 incidents during this year, where mosques as well as Muslim owned businesses have been attacked in broad daylight, while the police looked on.”
“Many Christian places of worship have also been attacked in recent months,” he added. “The fact that these fanatical groups can take the law into their hands with total impunity, is proof enough of the unholy alliance between these purveyors of terror and the powers that be.”
“It is certainly true that certain recommendations of the LLRC report need a longer period to implement, but, if the Government of Sri Lanka is sincere and genuine in its commitment to the Commonwealth Charter, there are some changes which could be implemented immediately, prior to the summit in November, and in time for the NPC Elections,” Mr. Samaraweera observes.