SRI LANKA: Why Sri Lanka should not be allowed to host the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting

CIJL Newsletter

N°3 – April 2013


Every two years, the leaders of the Commonwealth of Nations assemble at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), the association’s principal policy and decision-making forum. This year, the meeting is set to take place in Colombo from 15 to 17 November, where the Sri Lankan Government will host the illustrious gathering.

The International Commission of Jurists considers that allowing the Government of Sri Lanka this privilege sends a deplorable signal to the international community at large and in particular to the governments of the member states of the Commonwealth: that they can disrespect its fundamental values on the rule of law and human rights without fear of censure. In the absence of a credible commitment based on action, not just words, from the Government of Sri Lanka to these core principles, the members of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group – the body that deals with serious or persistent violations of the 1991 Harare Commonwealth Declaration – should place the issue on the agenda of their next meeting, with a view to ensuring that the CHOGM is held outside Sri Lanka.

Last January, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa ordered the removal of Chief Justice Dr Shirani Bandaranayake, following deeply flawed proceedings that wholly disregarded international standards of due process and fair trial. Dr Bandaranayake’s impeachment marked a further serious deterioration in judicial independence and the rule of law in the country. Indeed, this episode is only the latest in a long story of politicization of the judiciary and lack of respect for its independence, set against a backdrop of chronic impunity for gross human rights violations, as documented inter alia in the recent ICJ report Authority without Accountability.

In January 1971, at the conclusion of the first CHOGM, the assembled heads of government committed to the principles of human dignity and equality in the Singapore Declaration of Commonwealth Principles. Since then, Commonwealth Member States have recommitted numerous times to democracy, rule of law and the independence of the judiciary, placing them front and centre as shared, fundamental values of their association. Will they live up to their ideals? The time to do so is now, when those ideals are put in such jeopardy by one of its members.

Document Type : Forwarded Press Release
Document ID : AHRC-FPR-023-2013
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : Democracy, Human rights defenders, Judicial system, Rule of law,