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Spokesperson’s statement on CHOGM 2013

24 September 2012
Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma visited Sri Lanka earlier this month. At the conclusion of the visit, a Departure Statement was issued.

The Departure Statement outlines a number of areas where the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Government of Sri Lanka have agreed to collaborate. This includes support for the strengthening of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka; support for the implementation of the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission report, including sharing Commonwealth experience of reconciliation; and the implementation of projects in the north and east of the country, aimed at peace, reconciliation, development and the advancement of the culture of democracy.

It has also been agreed that the Secretariat will help with the training of journalists.

The Secretary-General welcomes the commitment of the Sri Lankan Government to work practically and constructively with the Commonwealth Secretariat in these ways, on the basis of respect and trust.

The Commonwealth Secretariat remains committed to assisting Sri Lanka to strengthen its culture of democracy and pluralism, and to advancing the Affirmation of Commonwealth Values and Principles, as is the case with all Commonwealth member countries.

The Secretary-General continues actively to promote a successful Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Sri Lanka next year – a venue agreed by Commonwealth leaders collectively. Mr Sharma also remains clear that attendance at that summit meeting is a sovereign decision of each Commonwealth member government.

The Secretary-General has received an open letter from the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative and others regarding the human rights situation in Sri Lanka. Contrary to what is erroneously asserted in this open letter, Mr Sharma did not at any time state that Canada or any other Commonwealth member country should, “…forego its human rights related objections and fully participate in the 2013 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Sri Lanka…”

The open letter also erroneously suggests that the Secretary-General was not categorical about the importance of democracy in Sri Lanka. The Secretary-General in fact stated the following in his speech to the 58th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference in Colombo:

"In the 2009 Affirmation of Commonwealth Values and Principles, adopted by our Heads of Government, they reiterated their commitment to democracy as a core value. And they reaffirmed their commitment to '… the inalienable right of the individual to participate by means of free and democratic political processes in shaping the society in which they live'.

"The promotion of democratic values, alongside development and diversity, thus remains a principal focus of the Commonwealth. It is our ‘USP’, our brand strength, a fount of our continued relevance."

In this regard, the Departure Statement records that the Commonwealth Secretariat will also provide practical support to develop local government, to support legislative drafting, and to strengthen the Office of the Elections Commissioner.

The Secretary-General has regularly discussed constructively with the political leadership of Sri Lanka the shared goals of advancement of democratic culture and other core aspects of the Affirmation of Commonwealth Values and Principles, and spoken publicly in particular about accountability, transparency, the rigorous application of the law, and the importance of a harmonious sustainable peace in underpinning the future of Sri Lanka.