Sharma shrugs off jibe by Canadian Senator Segal

kamlesh sharma     One of India’s most distinguished international civil servants has shrugged off a ferocious personal attack from a Canadian politician who described him as a “shill” or stooge of the Sri Lankan government.

Earlier this week, Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamlesh Sharma was accused by Canadian Senator Hugh Segal of acting as a shill for the Sri Lankan authorities “defending their every mistake.”

Segal’s bitter criticism comes only weeks before the next Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) meeting, which is being hosted in Colombo by Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The summit is being boycotted by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has been critical of alleged human rights abuses by the Rajapaksa government, including “reported disappearances and allegations of extra judicial killings” of the country’s Tamil minority. Harper is on record as complaining that the “Sri Lankan Government has failed to uphold the Commonwealth’s core values, which are cherished by Canadians.”

Harper’s views have been amplified by Senator Segal, Canada’s special envoy to the Commonwealth, who has been severely critical of both Sharma and the Sri Lankan authorities.

In comments to the British media, Segal claimed Sharma had hidden legal advice that indicated Rajapaksa’s decision to fire the country’s chief justice early in 2013 was “illegal, unconstitutional and a violation of international law.” A spokesman for the Secretary-General said the advice had been sought in confidence and “it was not necessary for him to discuss it in public.”

In separate comments made to the Canadian media, Segal told how during a visit to Sri Lanka last April he saw, “bullet holes above the sofa in the office of the editor of a Tamil language newspaper in Jaffna. Days after we visited the paper, its offices were trashed and employees beaten. I met with individuals in displacement camps who had been there for years with no hope of returning home because their land had been appropriated to build housing for military families.

“I saw soldiers walk in as we walked out to “chat” with those who spoke to us”, Segal added. “We were followed wherever we went and had to “lose” our escorts in order to speak to people who were afraid for their lives. Christian, Muslim and Tamil leaders all spoke of persecution and intimidation. There was scant if any evidence of any reconciliation or efforts of any accountability”.

In London, the Commonwealth Secretariat has been much more guarded in its comments about what has been going on in Sri Lanka. A Secretariat spokesman also said the Secretary-General had no intention of stepping down following critical comments of Canadian officials.

“I have no comment to offer you on the more personal remarks made by Senator Segal about Secretary-General Sharma”, the spokesman added.

“What I can tell you is that Sharma continues to use his good offices as Commonwealth Secretary-General to work with Sri Lanka across a broad range of issues, including human rights. I draw your attention to the latest commitment made by the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka further to work that the Commonwealth Secretariat has carried out with the commission.”(The Tribune)

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