By Pete Hodson
The appointment of the high-flying Indian diplomat Kamalesh Sharma as QUB Chancellor in 2009 following the departure of Senator George Mitchell stoked considerable controversy.
Mr Sharma, also Secretary General of the Commonwealth since 2008, stands accused of holding an apathetic stance towards human rights abuses in Sri Lanka.
After five years as Chancellor, Mr Sharma is stepping down from the high profile position in December 2014.
Sri Lanka, a former British colony, has been scarred in recent times by a turbulent civil war, with the Colombo Government suspected of human rights violations against the Tamil community by a plethora of humanitarian groups.
Questions surrounding Sharma’s past have not gone unnoticed during his tenure at Queen’s.
The Gown reported (October 2013 issue) the public condemnation of Mr Sharma’s stance by the Canadian Commonwealth envoy ahead of the annual Commonwealth conference held in Sri Lanka that year.
Canadian representatives mounted a scathing attack on Mr Sharma, branding him “a shill [a stooge] for the Sri Lankan leadership, defending their every mistake.”
The Student Council passed a motion in 2010 seeking the removal of Sharma from his position as QUB Chancellor. The Gown understands that the Students Union will have influence in the forthcoming appointment of Sharma’s successor.
Karma’s five year stint is the shortest of Chancellorships in the history of QUB, leading to some speculation that university management may have proffered minimum encouragement for his continuance in the job.
Mr Sharma’s reluctance to permit the international community investigatory powers into allegations of state-sponsored political violence in Sri Lanka inflicted damage to – and undermined the credibility of – the Commonwealth, with Amnesty International branding it a “gross violation” of the charter.
Queen’s selected Mr Sharma due to his role in cementing relations between Northern Ireland and India, which led to the country’s investment in Northern Irish business.
A Special Committee has been set up to appoint a new Chancellor of which the President of the SU is sitting on.
The Committee is seeking nominations for “individuals of international standing and recognition with personal nominations including integrity, sound judgement, charisma and presence.”
Though largely a ceremonial position, the Chancellor fulfils three main roles – a ceremonial one which involves presiding at degree congregations, an ambassadorial role, where the office holder may “open doors” for the University as it seeks to fulfil its mission and as an advisor, where they are available to the Vice-Chancellor and a small number of other senior University figures.
Students are able to make nominations by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, and they should arrive no later than Monday 20 October 2014.
Further information on how to put forward a nomination can be found at www.qub.ac.uk/home/Chancellor
When pressed to comment by the Gown on the reasons surrounding the departure of Sharma, the QUB Communications Office failed to respond.