The Commonwealth Secretariat - On Thin Ice

 by Neville Chinivasagam


Today the Commonwealth Secretariat's historic and glorious prestige has been put on thin ice by Sri Lanka. Hopefully it will quickly melt with British acumen and foresight. The embarrassment facing the people of the Commonwealth is Mr. Lakshman Kadirgamar's application, sponsored by Ms. Kumaratunge President of Sri Lanka, for election as Secretary General of the Commonwealth Secretariat. He is quite conspicuously identifiable in Sri Lanka's politics, in straight and plain language, as her "political henchman." Regardless of whatever high political office he claims to have held under her political patronage, he cannot deny that it was for his henchman services to her. He is a Tamil, but without Tamil political support and recognition. In holding high political offices for Ms. Kumaratunge he has, for his self aggrandizement, been neither a friend, mediator or representative of the Tamils and the Tamil Cause. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) in the Sri Lanka parliament has unequivocally condemned his audacity to apply for the dignified post of Secretary General to the Commonwealth Secretariat.

The dignity of the Commonwealth Secretariat itself traces its organizational roots to the beginnings of the grant of independence to the former British colonies when it was necessitated by the UN Charter. The UN Charter was founded upon the democratic principle of freedom for the people of the world. The concept of freedom for the people of the world applies to their belonging to an independent country as a sovereign nation. The term "sovereign" when reduced to its basic simplicity gives a country, with all its different races unified into one entity, management of its own affairs; similar to recognizing the maturity of an adult person to manage his or her own affairs. International law treats a country similar to a person with rights and duties. A sovereign country does not expect in any way its Head of State to govern its people like an idiot. The rules governing the rights of the people in a country since World War II is first by the UN Charter, then by international law and thirdly by universally acclaimed constitutional precepts appertaining to democratic principles. These provisions, as the rule of law, presupposes the intelligence and wisdom of the people of a country to elect the right type of Head of State. The political integrity and success of a country reflects its maturity as a sovereign nation, decided by the overall standard of its peoples' intelligence and wisdom to govern themselves democratically. Even the communist and/or the Leninist-Marxist countries, as the world has experienced, begged to be called democratic countries by labeling themselves as such.

Since human intelligence and wisdom vary, some countries are more equal than some others. This is, unfortunately, very true of the Commonwealth. Some are destructive with the innate yearnings of barbarism by harassment, torture, massacre and genocide--all of which are outlawed by the UN Charter--while the others are civilized in keeping with the homogeneity of the human race as equals. The English perceived the innate barbarian instinct for a national despotic ruler which had also existed in Western Europe. Assumably warned by observing the psychological inadequacy of humanity, Britain ruled a vast imperial empire with constitutional caution. England's constitutional monarchy exercised its imperial rule through the Privy Council. All the Commonwealth Secretariat members are politically considered matured as independent countries that had been colonies under the aegis, tutelage and blessings of the Privy Council. This distinguished organ of British government was the principal advisor to a reigning Monarch on the imperial governance of His/Her colony. It was on the advice of the Privy Council to the monarch that each colony was granted independence. The British grant of independence to become a Sovereign Nation was exercised by the Privy Council with great caution and forethought. A colonial country's emancipation to self-government was through the constitutionally cautionary stage that first granted dominion status for internal self rule as preparatory to independence as a sovereign nation. The Commonwealth Secretariat is the upshot of the Privy Council's cautious constitutional macro-management not to abandon the former colonies on becoming sovereign nations. As sovereign nations they became members of the Commonwealth Secretariat.

Sri Lanka, when it was known as Ceylon, got its independence as a sovereign nation in 1948. Once again, the Privy Council's constitutional caution is clearly exhibited in Section 29 sub-clause 2 of the British Grant of Independence as the country's First Constitution. Section 29 (2) commands as a Royal Command from the King of England and of the British Empire and secures as a legislative pre-condition for Independence as a Sovereign Nation, the absolute legal and political adherence to racial and religious equality. Whatever political condemnation some Sri Lankan political parties may heap on the British rule, it cannot be denied in the history of Sri Lanka, even by the invocation of Sri Lankan-type Buddhist mantras and chants, that the British had foreseen the likelihood portending the blood-bath by Sri Lanka's armed forces against the Tamils as depicted in the recent international award winning film "In The Name of Buddha." The British grant of independence fully accorded with the UN Charter and Human Rights. Section 29 (2) has been totally discarded by later Sinhala Governments, beginning in 1972, by promulgating new Constitutions that pretend democracy.

It is in the light of the dignity of the Secretary General's office that the people of the Commonwealth, represented by their Heads of State, have to decide Mr.Kadirgamar's eligibility. No one knows Mr. Kadirgamar's political reputation better than his own people, the Sri Lankan Tamils in Sri Lanka; and abroad as political exiles. It is not necessary for this article to go into details when far superior and direct information is readily available. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) parliamentarians in their condemnation of his application say, "Kadirgamar's misrepresentation," concerning the severe racial conflict between the Sinhala and Tamils "....constituted a flagrant violation of human rights, and a severe indictment on his capacity to be impartial and truthful." The TNA statement further says that "he has lacked the integrity and courage to speak honestly about the root causes of the conflict." The book The Will to Freedom by Adele Balasingham cites Mr. Kadirgamar's refusal, as Ms. Kumaratunge's Foreign Minister, to allow International Red Cross medical help when the Sri Lanka Air Force bombed a Catholic church while Tamils were in prayer and Holy worship; killing and wounding adult civilians and children. The book also cites Mr. Kadirgamar as Foreign Minister "denying the existence of any humanitarian tragedy" to Mr. Boutros-Ghali, the U.N.Secretary General, committed by the inhuman brutality by the Sri Lanka armed forces. The book also cites his successful international fund-raising from countries by convincing them of the need for a war against the Tamils to secure peace for Sri Lanka. This talk of "war for peace" has very recently shown its ugly head, but made politically seductive in Ms. Kumaratunge's circle, and synchronizes with the on-going attempts to destroy the International Peace Process.

In summary, the embarrassment that faces the people of the Commonwealth is what type of person is fit for the office of Secretary-General. This responsibility has been cryptically passed on to the "people" of the Commonwealth by the Privy Council as a democratic right for them to exercise on their behalf by their Heads of State. The Privy Council Judicial Committee was the highest judicial tribunal for a colony, and after a colony achieved independence as a sovereign nation it had the choice to have the Privy Council Judicial Committee as its final appellate court. One of the fundamental contributions of the Privy Council Judicial Committee was the harmonization of the constitutional rights of the people and the harmonization of the duties and responsibilities of the various governments in the Commonwealth of Nations. Initially, and for some years Sri Lanka retained that appellate right, but subsequently an ultra-Sinhala government abolished it. It has left the Sri Lankan Tamils without legal recourse for impartial justice. One would assume that the ideal person for the post of Secretary General would be a person of the highest ethical and moral standard; integrity, honesty and above all a conscience to distinguish right from wrong and to be compassionate and able to share in sentiment with the oppressed minorities for legal and political redress that would result from the abuse and criminal violation of the UN Charter's Human Rights by psychologically inadequate and power hungry Heads of State. Heads of State who, unlike in the English constitutional system, are like itinerants; they come and go. It is the people in the state who are constant - with their political values. The people who compose the Commonwealth are of different races, religion and skin color. The equality of the Commonwealth Nations underlines the equality of races; hence the post of Secretary-General does not beg for political affirmative action as a pre-emptive qualification. It is not the color of a person's skin, religion or gender that is required. What is required is a dignified character previously displayed by the applicant while in national or international public office. It personifies the unity of the Commonwealth to live above disgrace and political vulnerability. This is what the old institution of the Privy Council would have hoped for as the political independence of the former colonies as sovereign nations under the UN Charter.

"A free state is formed and is maintained by the voluntary union of the whole people joined together under the same body of laws for the common welfare and the sharing of benefits justly apportioned." ---Plato's Republic

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Posted December 9, 2003