With her trademark solemnity, Queen Elizabeth read and signed a new 16-point charter in March this year affirming Commonwealth principles that included democracy, human rights, freedom of expression and separation of powers.
Her next move was to announce that she would not be attending the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting for the first time in 40 years.
Her age was cited as a reason why she’s sending Prince Charles to represent her. It’s convenient diplomatic cover for a decision that has more to do with host country Sri Lanka than the health and well-being of an 87-year-old monarch, one of the more active octogenarians in public life.
Throughout her reign, the Queen has been a staunch advocate of the Commonwealth in the face of increasing questions about its relevance. She has demonstrated this position, most notably, through her unceasing support for CHOGM. She missed the first meeting in 1971 in Singapore, but opened the second in 1973 in Ottawa, Canada. At 85, she was in Perth two years ago, maintaining an unbroken run of 21 appearances.
The Queen can be as diplomatic, as polite (or as wilfully blind), as any other head of state or realm when required, but the gulf between those words she proclaimed in the charter in Marlborough House in London and the reality in Sri Lanka is too wide, and too obvious.
Her decision shows she does not have the stomach for the blatant hypocrisy now afoot among Commonwealth countries who are gathering in Colombo to help legitimise a brutal regime that brazenly defies every one of those values in the charter.
The major powers are divided, with the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Canadian counterpart Stephen Harper both boycotting the meeting. Canada is unapologetic, with its Foreign Minister, John Baird, describing the decision to hold CHOGM in Colombo as “accommodating evil”.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron is going, but he has made concessions, saying he would be visiting the north to assess the conditions under which Tamils are forced to live, including military occupation. He also recently watched the chilling documentary, No Fire Zone, which details the massacre of at least 40,000 Tamil civilians at the end of the civil war in 2009. He later tweeted that he would be putting “serious questions” to the Sri Lankan president, Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Tony Abbott, on the other hand, is heading there no questions asked. He said he was “not inclined to go overseas and give other countries lectures”. The agreement he has with Sri Lankan President to help stop asylum seekers from fleeing to our shores trumps all else in the world of our new PM.
Abbott and the rest who go will being paying homage to a government which has been cited by the UN for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The UN Human Rights commissioner, Navi Pillay, on a visit there only two months ago, said the country had become “increasingly authoritarian”, adding that “democracy had been undermined” and “the rule of law eroded”.
Sri Lanka now takes over the chairmanship of the Commonwealth for the next two years. One of its tasks is to sit on the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, which is responsible for upholding the fundamental values of the Commonwealth.
It means a group of accused war criminals now have the esteemed duty of assessing the human rights and democratic freedoms in Australia, the UK, Canada and every other Commonwealth nation. Little wonder the Queen is staying home with the corgis.
Donate To New Matilda
New Matilda is a small, independent media outlet. We survive through reader contributions, and never losing a lawsuit. If you got something from this article, giving something back helps us to continue speaking truth to power. Every little bit counts.