Sri Lankan President Rajapakse as Head of CHOGM must establish an International Claims Tribunal seeking compensation for British Colonial Crimes

 President Mahinda Rajapaksa at CHOGM 2013

Mahinda Rajapakse, President of Sri Lanka, took over as Chairperson-in-Office of the Commonwealth of Nations at a Meeting (CHOGM) held in Colombo, Sri Lanka in November 2013. He presides over 53 nations with an estimated population of 2.245 billion covering a landmass of more than 29,958,050 km2 (11,566,870 sq mi) – a third of world population.

There are some pertinent questions that the Chair of the Commonwealth of Nations may like to consider answering:

  • What can the Chair of the CHOGM do about British Prime Ministers calling for international investigations against sovereign countries when Britain continues to dodge apologizing or compensating for its war crimes and genocide committed in the nations it invaded and occupied for over several centuries?
  • What type of shared ‘culture’ and ‘heritage’ is the Commonwealth actually promoting when the British imperial policy during colonial rule was to completely destroy and annihilate the indigenous culture and heritage and the rationale for the introduction of English education was to create a class of people who in the  words of Lord Macaulay, contained in his Minutes on Education may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect’. In other words, a class of craven natives submissive at all times to the British Raj, lacking national pride and patriotism, and sense of self worth and eternally dreaming of being accepted by the white man.How many sovereign nations desire to continue as clones of Great Britain’s white supremacist ideology?
  • As Chair, what is the assurance of ‘racial equality’ by Britain towards fellow Commonwealth nations when the UN special envoy has herself declared Britain as being ruled by ‘sexist culture’?
  • As Chair, what policy initiatives can be taken to realize the declared objectives of the Commonwealth: Democracy, Economics, Education, Gender, Governance, Human Rights, Law, Small States, Sport, Sustainability, and Youth and on whose terms these objectives are set – Is it the values of Great Britain or do the Commonwealth of Nations offer a shared value system that encompasses the values of the East that had been flushed out by the British occupational rule? If Eastern values are not taken to account or accommodated adequately who can raise objections before the Commonwealth?
  • Commonwealth Shared Culture – Is this not a great opportunity for President Rajapakse to propose that the ancient cultures, value systems and ancient legal systems of the former British colonies are revived so that the world would see in its true sense the civilizational merits of the East (without only looking at the world from the lens of the West)
  • The Commonwealth has a War Graves Commission. The CWGC is responsible for maintaining war graves of 1.7million service personnel that died in the First and Second World Wars fighting for the British Empire and succeeded the Imperial War Graves Commission set up in 1917. There are 2500 war cemeteries. As Chair, should President Rajapakse not insist that the service personnel of national armies should be included in a Commonwealth War Memorial especially those who fought heroic battles and fell to save commonwealth countries e.g. Sri Lanka, from the brutal menace of terrorism? Should similar memorials not be set up for all the fallen heroes that fought for freedom and independence of their countries from colonial yoke e.g. members of the Indian National Army under Subhas Chandra Bose, not receive similar status as the British Imperial Army?
  • Is this not a great opportunity for the Sri Lankan President as Head of CHOGM to propose a National Heroes Museum under the auspices of the Commonwealth so that all the national heroes of the Commonwealth Nations gain international recognition and their heroism displayed for all to see.
  • Under the Commonwealth of Learning program should President Rajapakse not take a lead in insisting that the indigenous history, culture and achievements of the Asian, African and Latin American countries that were ruled by UK be included in the school curriculum fulfilling the objective of shared learning?
  • Commonwealth Symbols – Is it also not opportune for President Rajapakse as Chair to propose an exchange program to ensure indigenous languages are protected.
  • Question Britain & Hold Britain Accountable – As Head of CHOGM, President Rajapakse must also lead the way by enabling Sri Lanka and other members of the Commonwealth to question Britain’s contemporary involvements that include : British war crimes committed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, Kosovo, Libya and champion the case of the Chagossians of Diego Garcia, a case that deserves world attention and Britain requiring to take accountability. Also question British policies on the commonwealth nations themselves at political and economic levels and the treatment of the citizens of the Commonwealth nations by Britain. /

As Chair of CHOGM, President Rajapakse must take steps to ensure that he is on the right side of history. President Rajapakse is well placed to create history by taking the lead in drawing attention to the crimes that Britain has committed over 250 years of colonial rule in many parts of the world. Within his tenure as Head, President Rajapakse must take the side of the oppressed and use his position to champion their cause and the world will follow him.

Instead of being at the receiving end of an Inquisition at UNHRC he can turn the circus around by asking the very nations that are bellowing for his neck to subject themselves to a process of accountability and catharsis and come clean on horrendous crimes committed in the past under deceptive jingles and catchphrases such as ‘white man’s burden’ and ‘civilizing the heathens’.

The oppressed of former British colonies are entitled to an apology and reparations. If Israel can put a price tag on atrocities committed in the past there is no reason why former colonies should be denied this chance.

An International Claims Tribunal must be established without delay to inquire into crimes against humanity committed by Britain and other European nations in their colonies during the last 500 years with a mandate within a limited time frame to spell out recommendations on payment of adequate compensation and other relief measures. This measure is long overdue.

President Rajapakse will enter history books if he were to take a stand on behalf of all the oppressed nations that were once victim of cruel and inhuman British colonial rule and demand on their behalf apology, compensation and justice for the victims.

If President Rajapakse decides to belong to the right side of history he  will stake his claim to be placed alongside other heroes of the oppressed world such as Patrice Lumumba, Kwame Nkrumah, Ho Chi Minh, Sukarno, Aung San, Nethaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Mao Tse Tung and our own Sri Lankan national hero Anagarika Dharmapala.

– by Shenali D Waduge