Criticism of the Commonwealth’s role and Sharma’s leadership peaked in the lead-up to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) 2013 in Sri Lanka. Human rights groups and pro-Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam organisations in Britain accused him of soft-pedalling the human rights abuses of the Rajapaksa regime, which in turn led to some heads of government boycotting the meeting.
Sharma dismissed this criticism. “The most important point about the Commonwealth is that it engages with member states to advance the values template,” he told The Hindu newspaper. “I made five visits to Sri Lanka, but you can’t keep on talking about it in public for the reason that work has to be done below the radar to carry political conviction. The results become visible at the end.” He started the practice of issuing departure statements so that citizens were clear about why he had come and what he had achieved.
Sharma pointed to the present Sri Lankan Government’s appreciation of the role the Commonwealth played, and the practical steps taken in the form of round tables on reconciliation, and in training observers for the elections: “In the case of appointments to senior judicial offices, I spelt my disappointment very clearly, and we gave a compendium to the Rajapaksa Government of best practices in the Commonwealth.”
Sharma is of the view that the Commonwealth is more relevant than ever before, with “its face turned firmly to the future”, despite what doomsters say. With a charter crafted under his guidance and accepted by the 53 members of the Commonwealth in 2012, the organisation has become an incubator for big-ticket ideas such as the Multilateral Debt Swap for Climate Action adopted at the last Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Malta.
“The Commonwealth is not a boutique organisation; it is a great global good. And because of its composition, if the Commonwealth can agree on something important, it is already a prototype of a global idea,” said Sharma in the interview with The Hindu in his office in Marlborough House, the grand 300-year-old building that houses the Commonwealth Secretariat in London. (Colombo Gazette)