Sharma rejects soft-pedalling HR abuses by MR regime

Outgoing Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma has rejected allegations of having soft-pedalled human rights abuses during the Rajapaksa regime, the Hindu reported on Tuesday.

Criticism of the Commonwealth’s role and Mr. Sharma’s leadership peaked in the lead-up to CHOGM 2013 in Sri Lanka.

Human rights groups and pro-LTTE 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.

In an interview with the Hindu newspaper, Mr. Sharma had dismissed this criticism. “The most important point about the Commonwealth is that it engages with member states to advance the values template,” he said. “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.

Mr. 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.” Challenges remain.

There is still widespread resistence within several Commonwealth countries to the legalisation of gay rights and to correcting gender and religious inequalities. “The terrain is very uneven,” Mr. Sharma said. “We can only urge that countries travel in the direction of our values.”

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