CHOGM 2013: Challenge or Opportunity for Sri Lanka?
Image Credit: REUTERS/CHOGM - John Donegan

CHOGM 2013: Challenge or Opportunity for Sri Lanka?


The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) comes to Sri Lanka in November 2013 for the first time. The event is also historic for another reason: It is the second largest summit of world leaders to gather in Sri Lanka since the country gained independence, behind only the Non-Aligned Summit in 1976.

Yet even with preparations for this milestone underway, the challenges that Sri Lanka faces in the international arena continues.

It is beyond dispute that Sri Lanka’s three-decade conflict was externalized through the combination of factors that ranged from the presence of an active diaspora, the involvement of foreign facilitators in the peace process, and the presence of foreign peacekeeping forces in 1987. By the end of the war, Sri Lanka was very much on the international radar. This international attention has spilled over into the country’s postwar phase as well, but now has taken on new meaning.

Most of the country’s postwar bilateral and multilateral engagements are haunted by the specter of reconciliation and human rights concerns. Yet human rights and inter-communal harmony are not alien to Sri Lanka, the values of which are enshrined in its shared history, its cultures and its legal frameworks. But the country will need to capitalize and draw on these strengths to forge a robust system of governance that can function with independence and credibility. It must have the structures and norms in place to respond domestically to every allegation made. Acting on the outcomes of the two national processes – the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission and the National Human Rights Action Plan – would demonstrate that homegrown mechanisms can credibly provide solutions, while improving foreign relations and prospects.

It ought to be remembered that for all the flak Sri Lanka has attracted, CHOGM 2013 presents enormous opportunities, directly flowing from hosting the summit itself and deriving from the international credibility the event can restore to Sri Lanka more generally. The government must take seriously the opportunities that CHOGM brings to the country and its peoples, who have suffered brutally from the three-decade conflict that concluded in May 2009.

As is customary, Sri Lanka will take up the mantle of leadership of the Commonwealth for the two years following CHOGM 2013, until the next CHOGM in Mauritius in 2015. This opportunity, if embraced, could also reap enormous dividends for the country’s international relations and positioning.

Moreover, among the forums that will accompany CHOGM, the Commonwealth Business Forum (CBF) is a unique gathering of business leaders from developed and emerging markets that aims to promote trade and investment. CBF 2013 will focus on the theme, “Partnering for Wealth Creation and Social Development: The Commonwealth, Indian Ocean, Pacific and SAARC.” That presents a tremendous opportunity for Sri Lanka to look for new partnerships and opportunities. Typically, at every CBF the host country benefits most; for instance, $10 billion in deals were sealed for Australia at CBF 2011 in Perth. For Sri Lanka, a $2 billion opportunity is projected for CBF 2013.

The global private sector looks for certainty of policy and broad governance structures for enabling investment. Sri Lanka has demonstrated consistency in these two aspects, hence private sector investment ought to be forthcoming, notably from the country’s diaspora.

Another forum, the 9th Commonwealth Youth Forum (CYF9) will run from November 10 to 14, 2013 in Hambantota, bringing together over 200 young people from around the Commonwealth. The CYF9 forum will mark the formal beginning of the Commonwealth Youth Council as the official voice for young people in the Commonwealth and will host the first General Assembly of the Council. The forum will also be a stepping-stone for the World Conference on Youth to be held in Sri Lanka in May 2014. This is an exciting time to be a youth advocate in the Commonwealth.

In fact, Sri Lanka has a number of astute ideas on youth empowerment that could benefit other countries. One example is the model and structure of the Sri Lankan National Youth Parliament and the structure of the Federations of Youth Clubs. Currently, these are two of the best youth engagement, empowerment and leadership models in the world.

Sri Lanka also has the opportunity to use its role as Chair-in-Office of a body comprising 54 nations to actively charter a course of international engagement, building new friendships and alliances and reinforcing existing ones. More important, Sri Lanka can use its leadership to reach out to hostile countries and resolve concerns and misconceptions.

Closely related to this should be a strategy to project the giant strides that the country and its government have made in just four years since the conclusion of the debilitating armed struggle in 2009. The Sri Lankan government would be wise to see the projected presence of more than 3,000 journalists and media personnel not as a challenge, but rather as an opportunity to showcase the country’s strength and resilience.

CHOGM has provided an unprecedented opening for political forces within Sri Lanka to unite in the national interest: The main opposition party, the United National Party (UNP) supports the event. This agreement should be used as a platform for further constructive engagement between ideologically disparate political groups.

In four years, the government of Sri Lanka has embarked upon a massive demining and resettlement process. This was done with the support of international agencies and foreign governments. Today, the demining process is nearing completion and almost all internally displaced persons – around 300,000 people – have been resettled. Psychosocial programs have been established and vocational training centers opened in each welfare village, to fully reintegrate former combatants, among them 595 child soldiers. Loans and employments were also provided.

These efforts have paved the way for the successful holding of council elections in the Northern province for the first time since 1987. This historic political event, which took place in September 2013, saw an impressive voter turnout of 67.52 percent, rekindling hope for empowerment of the nation’s minority communities.

The economic progress and infrastructure development in the Northern part of the country – a previously barren region that was under siege by terrorist elements – has been widely hailed. Inadequate infrastructure had been a considerable bottleneck in the country’s economic progress over the past several decades, especially in the North. The recent development of infrastructure as a means to improve connectivity and reduce the disparities between the South and the North is thus praiseworthy. Since 2009, the country has seen rapid and widespread development within both rural and urban areas.

A recalibration of the power balance and relationships between the Northern and Southern regions is beginning to emerge. Perhaps the potential dividends from hosting CHOGM and its parallel forums will consolidate domestic stability for Sri Lanka once and for all, while boosting its international position.

Salma Yusuf is Human Rights Lawyer and development practitioner in Sri Lanka. She can be reached at

November 10, 2013 at 21:37

This is just an article giving credit for the History of Sri Lanka. Just good for the school students.  

November 10, 2013 at 21:31

This is an article just give credit for Sri Lanka, for its name. 
Further it is good for the School students who are going to sit for the school GCE O/L exam this year. 

The major political issue is forgotten in this article. So reading of this article is not that interest for the people who is interesting in Sri Lankan politics.

October 31, 2013 at 04:45

No genocide happened in Sri lanka. Only thing happened is that LTTE the world brutal terrorist organization has completely eradicated from the great island and the peace and harmony is being established by the superior government of Sri lanka among the people .

October 31, 2013 at 04:35

Sri lanka is geographically so significant in the region. Recent evidence proves that huge development of industriel as well as construction in Sri lanka. China has considered that Sri lanka would play a major role in their business expansion worldwide. They have already launched much remarkably. In this scenario, India, backed by the west is far behind. Present Sri Lankan government is politically very strong and no external interference can stop it’s movement towards the country’s development. On the other hand, Tamil people (12%) live in Sri lanka never ask for a separate state. Only they need to live harmonically with other communities. However, external, political and sentimental movements especially Indian and western are trying to get the benefits from some ordinary issues.

October 28, 2013 at 16:08


If Srilanka cannot trust the Tamils with Devolution within united island, HOW CAN ONE ASK THE TAMILS TO TRUST the Srilanka?? As soon as the British left the island, Srilanka started ETHNIC CLEANSING of minorities in the East in 48 and unleashed mass killing, raping and burning Tamils' properties with 100% IMPUNITY and IMMUNITY to those who did the Gross BARBARIC Human rights abuses against Tamils and Muslims since 1948, Like the TNA, Tamil leaders tried each and every PEACEFUL and DEMOCRATIC way to get a limited AUTONOMY to the North and East where Tamils( Muslims also Tamils) had been living even before the Sinhalese arrived by boats as refugees from Indian mainland but Srilanka unleashed mass violence, killing, raping and burning Tamils' own properties in 1956, 58, 67 and 77 until the Tamils frustrated and started armed struggle against the Srilannkan SIN-HELLa racist terrorism unleashed against them 30 years ago in 1948. 
In 2009, the Srilanka successfully HOODWINKED the willing victims such as India and USA and carried out GENOCIDE in 2009 against Tamils and eliminated the LTTE. 
Srilanka know the will of Tamils and that is why Srilanka very reluctant to hold election in the NORTH but now held the election due to international pressure and for the CHOGM conference not for Tamils. After the CHOGM conference and coming MARCH UNHCR meeting, Srilanka will resume atrocities against Tamils in as 300,000 SIN-HELLa racist military sill occupy Tamil areas — That is Every FOUR TAMILS are being threatened by a SIN-HELLa racist Military troop.

As per the powers for the ILL FATED Indian UNLUCKY 13 amendment, Srilanka already sabotaged the accord signed with India by dividing TAMILS of the North and East and also took the LAND and POLICE powers out of Provincial councils after just one week after the TNA victory.

Now TNA have a TALKING SHOP as the provincial council who cannot even raise TAXES in their province nor from the foreign countries as all money MUST COME THROUGH Srilankan state itself.

The JUDGE CV WIgneswaran and Sampanthan are SO GULIBLE in trusting the same Genocidal Srilanka and RACIST INDIA even after more than 65 years of BLOODY HISTORY of the SIN-HELLa racist Srilanka.

October 28, 2013 at 10:01

They have no people's mandate. All major political parties commanding over 96% of the vote want to CHOGM held in Sri Lanka. It is best for the disruptive elements without any following to work together for the common good of the nation and CHOGM.

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