For the first time in 40 years, the Queen will not attend the Commonwealth Heads of Governments Meeting (CHOGM), to be held in Colombo in November, and will instead be represented by Prince Charles, Buckingham Palace announced on Tuesday.
The announcement came amid growing calls for the venue of the summit to be moved out of Sri Lanka following protests over its human rights record, but the Palace insisted that the Queen’s decision was not related to it and cited her advanced age as the reason.
“The reason is that we are reviewing the amount of long-haul travel that is taken by the Queen…The key point here is that the Queen will be represented, although she is not there in person, by the Prince of Wales," a spokesman said.
The 87-year-old monarch, who is the symbolic head of the Commonwealth, has never missed a CHOGM since the 1973 summit in Ottawa, Canada. Her decision not to travel to Colombo effectively downgrading British representation was seen in some quarters as a nod to the campaign for a boycott of the summit unless Sri Lanka agreed to an independent international investigation into allegations of human rights abuses by its forces the last stages of the conflict against the LTTE in 2009.
The Commonwealth Secretary- General, Kamalesh Sharma, said the "family of nations completely understands and respects" the Queen's decision. He has ruled out any change in venue confirming recently that the summit would go ahead as planned.
The Queen’s decision, he said, reflected her wish “at this time in her reign to limit her long distance travel’’.
“The presence of the Prince of Wales at our pre-eminent Commonwealth gathering will carry forward Her Majesty’s outstanding record of enduring commitment and diligent service as Head of the Commonwealth and symbol of the free association of our nations and our peoples,’’ he said in a statement pointing that it was not unusual for the Queen to be represented by other members of the royal family on long-haul visits to Commonwealth countries.
The Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has threatened to boycott the summit unless Sri Lanka makes progress on human rights and judicial independence, and a petition urging the Australian Government to stay away has been signed, among others, by the country’s former prime Minister Malcolm Fraser.
Sri Lanka has rejected the allegations as politically motivated propaganda by pro-LTTE groups in the west.