South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) 2011, which ended Sunday, was hailed by Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard as a “major contribution” towards building “a more purposeful, relevant and valuable Commonwealth.”

However, critics argue that steps taken failed to herald bold progress.

Speaking after the closing ceremony in Perth, Gillard told media, “I believe we have made a major contribution to ensuring the Commonwealth is an institution that is well positioned for the future. We have set the direction for a more purposeful, relevant and valuable Commonwealth.”

An official conference communique shows resolutions to develop climate change policies and support related innovative technologies.

In 2010, Gillard was heavily criticised by her own electorate for a proposed carbon tax. President Mohamed Nasheed expressed his support for her “brave steps”, and recommended that other countries follow her example.

Leaders also agreed to promote universal health care, equality in gender and education, and to address security issues including piracy, human trafficking, arms trade and cyber crime.

British Prime Minister David Cameron also announced a proposal to reform the rules of succession to the monarchy, allowing the first child of the royal family to assume the throne regardless of gender.

However, CHOGM has been criticised for avoiding significant human rights reforms.

A proposal submitted by the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) panel, which was appointed at the last CHOGM to propose modernisation measures, criticised the association for losing relevancy with modern global trends.

The proposal criticised the Commonwealth’s inability to censure member countries that violate human rights or democratic norms. This oversight has been widely criticised as CHOGM members did not reconsider the earlier decision to hold CHOGM 2013 in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka is currently facing war crimes allegations for acts committed by its military during the 2009 civil war with the Tamil Tigers. Sri Lanka’s own internal investigation has been rejected by numerous international human rights groups including Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) on the grounds that it does not meet international standards.

Previously, a Commonwealth member would be expelled or suspended for such violations after the event.

Sri Lankan representatives were reported as being “incensed” when the matter was raised by Canadian and Australian officials.

In 106 “urgent” recommendations, the EPG advocated for the adoption of a Charter of the Commonwealth; the creation of a new commissioner on the rule of law, democracy and human rights to track persistent human rights abuses and allegations of political repression by Commonwealth member states; recommendations for the repeal of laws against homosexuality, currently existing in 41 Commonwealth states, and a ban on forced marriage.

EPG proposals were neither endorsed nor published by the Commonwealth member states. Pressure to publish the proposals from the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada was resisted by India, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, South Africa and Namibia.

CHOGM’s failure to act on the EPG proposal was considered a “disgrace” by former British Foreign Secretary Sir Malcom Rifkind.

“The Commonwealth faces a very significant problem,” he said. “It’s not a problem of hostility or antagonism, it’s more of a problem of indifference. Its purpose is being questioned, its relevance is being questioned and part of that is because its commitment to enforce the values for which it stands is becoming ambiguous in the eyes of many member states.”

EPG Chair and former Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi allegedly told delegates at the start of the summit that the meeting would be considered a “failure” if the reforms were not adopted.

Two-thirds of the 106 recommendations have been sent to “study groups” for review.

The Commonwealth includes 54 nations, the largest block being formed by Africa with 19 regional states.

Before concluding this year’s meeting, CHOGM welcomed Malaysia’s offer to host the 2019 session.

Officials at the Presidents Office and the Human Rights Commission were unavailable at time of press.

Source: Minivan News – 31/10/2011