Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma says Sri Lanka would be hosting the 2013 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in November, as planned, and that no member government had indicated that it wishes to change the venue.
The decision made by leaders in 2009 and confirmed in 2011 still stands. “It is a collective decision that it [CHOGM] will take place in Colombo and the date of it is in November,” he said.
Sharma stressed the Commonwealth’s pivotal role in assisting Sri Lanka in practical ways through his Good Offices engagement. This includes the provision of technical support to enhance the independence of the Human Rights Commission; and the Electoral Commission.
The Commonwealth operates in a different way to other organisations, by co-operating with member countries, in partnership. “As the Commonwealth, we try to be practical in offering our assistance, and have embedded action for beneficial changes as far as the members are concerned,” the Secretary-General said.
“In the spirit of a helping hand, which we give to all members, we have been engaging across a wide front in Sri Lanka with my Good Offices, and this will continue in the months to come. I am sure it will yield very good results in all the areas of human rights, of rule of law, of governance, and institution building and strengthening.”
We help member countries affect change in accordance with the values and principles of the Commonwealth to which they have all subscribed, Sharma emphasised.
“All member states subscribe to the same principles and values equally. Interacting with them on many fronts – as I have been doing at all levels – I am fully persuaded that they are sincere in subscribing and following those values.”
Sharma further highlighted next week’s Commonwealth workshop on reconciliation, in which Sri Lanka will participate. At the workshop, countries will share their own historical experience of reconciliation, which will give further impetus to what the Commonwealth can do in partnership with Sri Lanka, to help them in all the other very deep, ingrained issues, he said.
The credibility of the Commonwealth is increasing right now, the Secretary-General told the media. “We are the one organisation that is working with them [Sri Lanka] on institution-building in the way that I have described. I do not see many other institutions doing such a comprehensive exercise with Sri Lanka. I think the way in which we are acting and the way in which we are trying to make real progress on the ground, is actually a sign of this institution’s relevance to the difficulties which are faced by member states,” he said.
Asked about the Commonwealth’s position with regard to the international community, the Secretary-General responded: “The concerns that are all around us are concerns that are appreciated by the Commonwealth. We have no difference in the concerns shown by so many people as they are the values and principles that the Commonwealth represents.
“In fact, if anything, the Commonwealth is making a contribution to the international community because, if you look at who is making statements and who is doing the real work on the ground, you will be able to tell the difference. It is the Commonwealth who is on the ground and making a difference on those issues which most people are talking about.”
Sharma spoke about the road map that the Commonwealth had developed and agreed upon by Sri Lanka. This includes technical support to Sri Lanka in respect of the appointment and dismissal of senior judges, based on examples of good practice across the Commonwealth.
“From this exercise, we will be able to make recommendations as to what needs to be done moving forward in order to have those immediate measures, whether systemic of legislative, so that the kind of constitutional crisis which arose earlier and the polarity and the excuse for confrontation never arises again,” he said.
The Secretary-General expressed satisfaction that the progress that he is making will continue. He stressed that he is not working against a deadline, but against success and progress.
The Secretary-General was joined at the press conference by CMAG Chair Dr Dipu Moni, Foreign Minister of Bangladesh, and the Vice-Chair of CMAG, Senator Bob Carr, Foreign Minister of Australia.