Sri Lanka, Nov. 13 -- In 2011, the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) accepted the offer made by the Government of Sri Lanka to host the 2013 CHOGM in Colombo. This is the first time that Sri Lanka is hosting CHOGM even though on an earlier occasion, in 1980, Sir Shridath Ramphal requested President J.R. Jayewardene to host the 1983 meeting in Colombo. President Jayewardene politely turned down the offer saying that he could not justify the excessive expenditure to host the meeting in Colombo.
Today this policy was reversed by the Rajapaksa Government.
While the Commonwealth Heads of Government have the power to decide on the venue for their meetings, the UNP's concern is the massive expenditure incurred by the Government to host the summit.
While the Government purports to host a summit on behalf of an organization that is committed to the values of Democracy, Human Rights and Good Governance, there has been no transparency regarding the expenditure incurred by the state for this purpose. The Rajapaksa regime has not only far exceeded the original expenditure estimates, but has been tight lipped about the numerous contracts and favours granted to its cronies.
Without using the opportunity to restore the democratic values impaired by the Rajapaksa government and renew its commitment to the values of the Commonwealth, the Sri Lankan Government has turned CHOGM 2013 into an extravaganza to showcase the Rajapaksa regime. As a responsible Opposition deeply dedicated to the values of democracy, liberty and inclusive development, the UNP opposes the wasteful preparation that goes far beyond hosting a summit. It is our people who will feel the burden of this wastefulness in the coming months.
The Commonwealth of Nations is a value-based organization. The Charter of the Commonwealth is based on Democracy, Human Rights and the Rule of Law. Hence the decision to select Colombo as a venue for such a value-based organization has been opposed by a number of nations and organizations - given the deficits in democracy under the Rajapaksa regime. The perversion of free and fair elections by the Rajapaksa regime, the systematic de-valuing of Parliament over the years, the restriction of freedom of expression and association through terror and intimidation, the suppression of the media including the disappearance and presumed killing of media personnel, the abolition of the Independent Commissions relating to the Public Service, Judiciary, Elections and the Police, the illegal removal of Chief Justice Bandaranayake, are among some of the key outstanding issues. This has been re-enforced by the recent actions of the government in: a. refusing visas for a delegation from the International Bar Association
, b. cancelling the visas of the representatives of international media organizations, and c. the expulsion of a Senator from Australia and a Member of Parliament of New Zealand. These visits to Sri Lanka were in direct relation to CHOGM and Human Rights. The Government's despotic actions have only reaffirmed that the Rajapaksa regime has no intention of adhering now or in the future to Commonwealth Values.
Nevertheless, there is one valid reason for holding CHOGM in Colombo. As Chair in Office, President Rajapaksa and the Government of Sri Lanka are now under obligation to enforce the Commonwealth Charter. The values enshrined in this Charter include the following: "Democracy - We recognize the inalienable right of individuals to participate in democratic processes, in particular through free and fair elections in shaping the society in which they live". "Human Rights - We are committed to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other relevant human rights covenants and international instruments." "Freedom of Expression" "Separation of Powers - We recognize the importance of maintaining the integrity of the roles of the Legislature, Executive and Judiciary."
"Rule of Law - We believe in the rule of law as an essential protection for the people of the Commonwealth and as an assurance of limited and accountable government." "Good Governance" "Access to Health, Education, Food and Shelter" "Gender Equality" "Role of Civil Society" The Government has so far not made the Charter of the Commonwealth available in the three languages of the country - Sinhala, Tamil and English. It has, nevertheless, spent millions, if not, billions of rupees on beautifying the capital for the summit at a hectic pace. Awareness about the Charter will help to inform the people of this country - the people who will host the Heads of Government in the Commonwealth this week, of the rights they are entitled to under the Charter ratified by their country, under this President. It is therefore our legitimate and stringent demand that the Government act immediately to make the public aware of the contents of the Commonwealth Charter.
The UNP is also surprised by the Commonwealth Secretariat's ostrich-like attitude towards some of the fundamental issues raised in Commonwealth observations regarding Sri Lanka. Firstly, the decision not to disclose vital reports on the flawed impeachment of Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake. Secondly, the recommendation of the Commonwealth Election Observer Mission on the Northern Provincial Council election calling for independent commissions to ensure future free and fair elections in the country. The Secretary-General has not demanded that the government implement the LLRC report. Instead, he has now referred to a Commission on Torture, which is only a means of buying time for the regime. It is unclear as to how this attitude will help further the cause of democracy, rule of law and human rights in Sri Lanka.
Given the past history of this regime we do not expect it to implement the Charter voluntarily. However, once Sri Lanka assumes the Chair of CHOGM, we, in the UNP and other political parties and organizations have an opportunity to commence a campaign to compel the Government to uphold these rights. We will carry out this campaign till we achieve that goal. It is with this in mind that Ranil Wickremesinghe, the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the United National Party has decided to attend the opening of CHOGM in Colombo on 15th November 2013.
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