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Global issue 12

This year’s annual Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference was the perfect platform for Sri Lanka, the host commonwealth networkColloquia Reconciliation and relevance country, to showcase its own parliamentary achievements and the positive steps it has made towards peace and reconciliation in a nation still divided after 25 years of civil war The Commonwealth Parliamentary Asso- Northern Ireland – have faced similar peace ciation (CPA) held its 58th Commonwealth and reconciliation challenges in their recent Parliamentary Conference (CPC) in Colom- history and are in a position to understand bo, Sri Lanka, from 8–15 September. This and sympathise with the processes Sri Lanka year’s theme for discussion was ‘Ensuring is currently undergoing. a Relevant Commonwealth for the Future’. While in Colombo, but outside the CPC Every CPC is, in fact, four conferences in programme, I was invited by the widow of one: there is also the Small Branches Con- the Sri Lankan politician and humanitarian, ference for parliamentarians from jurisdic- Lakshman Kadirgamar, to give the keynote tions with populations below 500,000 (now address at his Memorial Lecture. Here, I in its 32nd year); meetings held by the Com- drew parallels with the European Union’s monwealth Women Parliamentarians; the current quandary: although the leadership of Commonwealth’s Society of Clerks-at-the- Europe feels a desire for unity and coopera- Table seminar; and the main annual confer- tion, that desire is not always shared by the ence, which is the key event in the CPA cal- Peace returns to Sri Lanka citizens of all their countries. The message endar. This year, some 600 parliamentarians, I sought to convey was that the hearts and clerks and accompanying officials from over across a spectrum of views. minds of the people of Sri Lanka, whether 170 parliaments, legislatures and assemblies The CPC delegates welcomed the oppor- Singhalese and Tamil, whether living in Co- from across the Commonwealth attended. tunity to learn of the progress made by Sri lombo, Kandy, Jaffna or outside Sri Lanka, Considering the huge range of national, de- Lanka in the reconstruction of the war-rav- must be persuaded to live and work together velopmental and economic backgrounds of aged Northern Province and elsewhere since in peace and harmony. I suggested that par- delegates, the CPC is an ideal forum for par- the coming of peace in May 2009. While liament was the most potent institution to liamentary diplomacy, networking and the everyone recognises that bringing commu- drive the reconciliation process. exchange of ideas, which is at the very core nities together in peace and reconciliation I have always believed that actions speak of the CPA’s purpose. is a long-term and essential process and re- louder than words. When I was last in the The CPC is hosted by the speaker of the mains a work in progress, the reconstruction Northern Province, I met with members of host parliament, who also acts as president of work in Sri Lanka over the past three years, the Jaffna Chamber of Commerce. One of the the CPA for the preceding year. This year, the including infrastructure development and major concerns they had was the frequency Hon Chamal Rajapaksa, Speaker of the Sri mine-clearing, is remarkable. of power cuts, which impacted businesses Lankan Parliament, held this position, suc- and discouraged inward investment. I was ceeding the Rt Hon John Bercow, MP, and Rt Many Commonwealth pleased to hear from my CPC colleagues who Hon Baroness Hayman, speakers of the UK travelled north that while leaving Killinoch- Houses of Commons and Lords respectively. countries have faced chi, they passed a new electricity substation 2012 was an extremely well-run event, similar peace and the next day and would connect Jaffna andin Ananthapuram that was being switched onMy overall impression was that CPC with a staff of over 200 drawn from the reconciliation challenges Killinochchi to the rest of the national grid. Sri Lankan Parliament and government de- If this is indicative of the redevelopment that partments. The thematic workshops were a and are in a position to is going on throughout the north, I believe the highlight, with eight separate sessions run outlook for the future is positive. understand Sri Lanka’s during a single day that covered a range Sri Lanka is a beautiful country. Its eco- of challenges facing the contemporary current situation nomic growth is impressive, as is the expan- Commonwealth. One of the most absorb- sion of new industry sectors, and while more ing sessions considered whether or not the inward investment is needed, I am optimistic Commonwealth should establish a Com- Our Sri Lankan hosts emphasised the that by using the expertise and experience of missioner for Democracy, the Rule of Law achievements made and the positive steps Commonwealth parliamentary colleagues, and Human Rights, as recommended by the taken as a result of the report by the Les- the Sri Lankan Parliament and the CPA can Eminent Persons Group at the 2011 Com- sons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission work together to create a legacy of lasting monwealth Heads of Government Meeting (LLRC), set up in May 2010 to look into the peace, development and prosperity. (CHOGM) in Perth, Australia. The recom- conflict between the Sri Lankan government mendation had not been approved in Perth and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam Sir Alan Haselhurst, MP, Chairperson, and remains highly controversial with CPA (LTTE). Many Commonwealth countries, Commonwealth Parliamentary Association members. The session gave an opportu- including Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Executive Committee nity for exciting and well-informed debate Africa – and even the United Kingdom in globalfourth quarter 2012 www.global-briefing.org l83


Global issue 12
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