Chairing the Commonwealth is a mockery, writes Asia Sentinel’s Taylor Dibbert

It is disappointing that Sri Lanka, a country with such a serious democratic deficit, is chairing the Commonwealth for the next two years. All signs indicate Sri Lanka is descending into authoritarianism, and much work is needed if democracy is to be saved.

Given Sri Lanka’s chairmanship, it is not clear what the values and principles of the Commonwealth actually are. At November’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo, many heads of state chose not to attend. Mauritius has even given up its right to host CHOGM in 2015, and the event is now slated to be held in Malta. Of those who did participate, British Prime Minister David Cameron made the most noise.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa gestures as he answers a question during a media briefing a day ahead of Commonwealth Heads of Governments Meeting in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Thursday. Pic: AP.

Sri Lanka continues to face a human rights crisis of epic proportions. The continued erosion of the rule of law, impunity, the government’s blatant unwillingness to implement the most meaningful recommendations from the final report of its own reconciliation commission (the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission), and the recent unconstitutional impeachment of the chief justice underscore this.

Sri Lanka is no longer a semi-democratic country — it is a dying ‘democracy on life-support’.

The Sri Lankan government chose to hold CHOGM in Colombo, principally because of the prestige associated with the event and desire to show the world that Sri Lanka has moved on from three decades of brutal war.

The event, however, did not go that smoothly. The regime consistently limited access for international journalists, especially to the North, and revealed its deep unease with being questioned. With the way CHOGM was handled, the current regime has yet again reminded domestic and international observers that it is far from untouchable. That being said, the regime remains the only game in town.

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