Sharma says appointment of the new Chief Justice a positive step taken by the Government

kamlesh sharmaIssuing a statement today 03 February, on the conclusion of his official visit to Sri Lanka, Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma said “Sri Lanka’s people have strongly validated their country’s democratic credentials and this is a matter of pride as much for the Commonwealth as it is for Sri Lanka. We look forward to a continued and strong partnership over the remainder of Sri Lanka’s term as Commonwealth Chair-in-Office and in the years beyond.”

We were pleased to learn that the Government is currently considering the necessary steps to address Sri Lanka’s accountability and reconciliation needs, including fuller implementation of the recommendations of the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC).

We note the positive steps taken by the Government since 09 January and the further measures contemplated. These include a commitment to fundamental governance reforms and strengthening the independence of national institutions; the appointment of civilian governors in the Northern Province and Eastern Province amongst other changes in the provincial administrations; and, the appointment of the new Chief Justice.

Full Statement:

Today I concluded a brief visit to Sri Lanka. The purpose of my visit was primarily to reiterate and renew the Commonwealth’s commitment to work in partnership with Sri Lanka to advance its own national plans. We have successfully identified areas where the Commonwealth will provide practical assistance as the country turns a new and transformative page in its history.

My visit was also an opportunity to provide an update on Commonwealth priorities given Sri Lanka’s continuing two-year role as Commonwealth Chair-in-Office, which commenced at the 2013 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo and will conclude at the next summit of Commonwealth leaders in Malta in November this year.

Sri Lanka is one of the oldest democracies in Asia and is a founding member of the modern Commonwealth. Voters, who last month turned out in impressively large numbers to exercise their democratic right, have once again confirmed this standing. The Commonwealth’s contribution to the 8 January election included the presence of our international observer team and the agreement secured to have domestic observers present at counting centres. I am pleased that the Commonwealth played a part in facilitating a successful electoral process and that this has been highly valued.

We note the positive steps taken by the Government since 9 January and the further measures contemplated. These include a commitment to fundamental governance reforms and strengthening the independence of national institutions; the appointment of civilian governors in the Northern Province and Eastern Province amongst other changes in the provincial administrations; and, the appointment of the new Chief Justice.

I called on President Maithripala Sirisena. I also met with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Minister of Foreign Affairs Mangala Samaraweera, Minister of Public Administration Karu Jayasuriya, and Minister of Finance Ravi Karunanayake. I was also pleased to meet Provincial Governors and Chief Ministers.

My meetings offered the opportunity to explore ways in which we could support priority areas in the Government’s ambitious 100-Day Work Programme. These will build on our ongoing assistance to advance the fundamental values and principles of the Commonwealth as set out in the Commonwealth Charter.

The Commonwealth will focus its technical assistance in a number of areas, which include:

· Expertise and information on best pan-Commonwealth practice to build a fully independent national human rights commission, electoral commission, judicial services commission, media commission, and an anti-corruption institution;

· Expertise to strengthen Parliament and its oversight committee structure in consultation with the Hon Speaker; and,

· Expertise and advice to strengthen the independence of the judiciary in line with the Commonwealth’s Latimer House Principles on the separation of powers, on which the Commonwealth’s best practice compendium has been submitted.

We also remain ready to extend Commonwealth support by:

· Providing technical assistance to help implement the Right to Information Act;

· Extending the Commonwealth’s programme to strengthen the quality and professionalism of the Public Service;

· Supporting transparency and good governance in public finance management;

· Offering experience from other Commonwealth countries on electoral reform that may usefully inform Sri Lanka’s own consideration in this area;

· Strengthening of the Attorney-General’s Office; and,

· Promoting youth entrepreneurship in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, including through the Commonwealth Alliance of Asian Young Entrepreneurs (CAAYE).

The Commonwealth is also developing:

· A comparative compendium of practice across the Commonwealth concerning the appointment procedures for human rights commissioners and which enhances the independence of national human rights institutions; and,

· A compendium of practice from across the Commonwealth concerning the establishment and independence of Election Management Bodies. These will be shared with Sri Lanka.

Many of these areas will involve the Commonwealth Secretariat working in partnership with other Commonwealth bodies with specialist expertise.

We were pleased to learn that the Government is currently considering the necessary steps to address Sri Lanka’s accountability and reconciliation needs, including fuller implementation of the recommendations of the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC). We have discussed options for practical Commonwealth support for these vital domestic processes, and welcome the intent to establish a credible domestic investigation mechanism that respects international humanitarian law.

We are particularly pleased, in this context, that memorialisation will be part of Sri Lanka’s Independence Day observance on 4 February.

My visit was also an opportunity to brief the President on his role as Commonwealth Chair-in-Office. We discussed progress in implementing CHOGM mandates set by leaders when they met in Sri Lanka in November 2013. These include the development of a trade finance facility and also strengthened access to climate finance for small and developing states; a new ICT-based platform for sharing technical assistance between Commonwealth countries; increasing the opportunity for Commonwealth citizens to visit each other’s countries; and, Commonwealth high-level political advocacy in the development of the new Post-2015 Global Development Agenda.

In my meeting with Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, we discussed the mandate of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) to work with member countries in a proactive and positive way in advancing the Commonwealth’s political values. We look forward to the Minister’s participation at CMAG’s next meeting in March in London. The Sri Lankan Foreign Minister will also be chairing the annual Commonwealth Foreign Affairs Ministers Meeting in New York in September.

Sri Lanka’s people have strongly validated their country’s democratic credentials and this is a matter of pride as much for the Commonwealth as it is for Sri Lanka. We look forward to a continued and strong partnership over the remainder of Sri Lanka’s term as Commonwealth Chair-in-Office and in the years beyond.

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