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Convincing Sharma

Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma is currently on a visit to the island. One could assume this is a 'first hand reconnaissance' mission as Sri Lanka is expected to feature in the agenda of the next round of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) meeting, following the sacking of the Chief Justice, Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake, by the government in what is considered a politicized and deeply flawed process.

Ceylontoday, 2013-02-12 02:00:00

Convincing Sharma

Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma is currently on a visit to the island. One could assume this is a 'first hand reconnaissance' mission as Sri Lanka is expected to feature in the agenda of the next round of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) meeting, following the sacking of the Chief Justice, Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake, by the government in what is considered a politicized and deeply flawed process.

It will take a great deal of convincing by the government authorities to make Sharma believe that this paradise isle, one of the founding members of the Commonwealth, is still adhering to the shared values of the Commonwealth: Democracy, separation of power, human rights and the rule of law.

Sadly, the behaviour of the government is shifting towards the polar opposite of those hallowed principles, which have been enshrined in the Commonwealth Declaration of 1949, and reaffirmed in subsequent declarations in Singapore in 1971 and Harare in 1991. The violation of those core values resulted in Zimbabwe, where the 1991 declaration was adopted, being suspended from the Commonwealth in 2002, after the Government of President Mugabe rigged the presidential election.

Sharma's engagements in Colombo will include meetings with the President, the Speaker of Parliament and the Minister of External Affairs. He is expected to discuss among other issues, options for advancing Commonwealth values and principles, including the Independence of the Judiciary and the separation of powers, according to a statement issued by the Commonwealth.

When the Secretary-General meets government members, he would most likely to be bombarded with the lessons of sovereignty and non interference of internal affairs, which the interlocutors of this government have excelled in recent times. Such arrogant protestations against an international scrutiny have been made, while every accepted norm of democratic and accountable governance is violated at home.

The impeachment of the Chief Justice,
Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake, epitomized the erosion of the Independence of the Judiciary. The 18th Amendment removed the internationally accepted term limits, paving way for an elected monarch and politicized the appointments of commissioners to the independent commissions.

The controversial Code of Criminal Procedure (Special Provisions) Bill that was passed in Parliament last month, vested the police with powers to detain suspects for 48 hours. The Bill, needless to say, gave a carte blanche for the custodial torture of suspects.

There is a climate of impunity in the country and the dissenting voices of the regime are regularly targeted, both through covert and overt means. Hundreds, if not thousands of families are kept in the dark about the plight of their loved ones, those who perished and those whodisappeared during the final phase of the war.

It is this callous disregard for human rights, and the ever increasing democratic deficit on its part that this government should address before it hosts the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), later this year.

It is imperative that the government acknowledges the mishandling of the key issues of democracy and human rights, instead of invoking a self serving thesis on internal sovereignty and sovereign equality. Such protestations would only perpetuate the current ills which would lead to the gradual international isolation of the government.

The current regime which prefers to invoke the glory of the Sinhalese kingdom as part of its regime legitimization exercise, should not disregard the much recent democratic legacy of one of the oldest democracies in Asia. In their pursuit of absolute power, the President and the government should not dismantle this democratic heritage, which millions of Sri Lankans cherish.

As Sri Lanka is preparing to host the leaders of 54 democracies in the world, it is imperative that the government in Colombo showcases, in no uncertain terms, that Sri Lanka is capable of reforming itself, and that it is a credible member of that esteemed club of 54 nations.

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