Commonwealth leaders refuse to publish key report’s findings

By Mark Kennedy, Postmedia News
Vancouver Sun

PERTH, Australia – Commonwealth leaders have ignored warnings that their decaying association will die without urgent reforms and have failed to reach significant agreement on how to ensure its member nations abide by human rights principles and the rule of law.

The development came Saturday, as the leaders spent the second day of their biennial gathering – known as the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) – debating the merits of a report delivered by an advisory group established two years ago.

But instead of endorsing the report, the leaders adopted a distrustful view about its contents – even deciding that it should be kept secret and not be published.

The report by a panel of “eminent persons” which includes Canadian senator Hugh Segal called for major reforms to ensure the Commonwealth – which is quickly losing its international credibility – becomes relevant and avoids a slow slide to death.

The advisory group made 106 recommendations, including the establishment of a charter of the Commonwealth and the appointment of a Commissioner for Democracy, the Rule of Law and Human Rights to keep track of whether member nations are persistently violating human rights, and who also would recommend “remedial action.”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who is attending the meeting, is a strong supporter of the report, as is his British counterpart, David Cameron.

But others within the association have strongly objected and dug in their heels to ensure its major recommendations go nowhere.

Among those said to be opposing the reforms are India, Nigeria, South Africa and Sri Lanka, which is facing accusations itself of war crimes and human rights violations in the final weeks of its civil war with the Tamil Tigers in 2009.

On Saturday, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, host of the meeting, acknowledged that some countries had blocked the proposal for a human rights commissioner.

“Australia and a number of delegations indicated that they were supportive of this proposal but there were a number of delegations concerned by it,” she told reporters.

“And the Commonwealth is an organization that involves consensus in decision-making.”

The leaders did agree to the creation next year of a Charter to “bring together the Commonwealth’s values, principles and aspirations in one clear and powerful statement,” said Gillard.

But the leaders have effectively decided to deep-six the proposal for a human rights commissioner.

That recommendation will be sent to a committee for review, a move that members of the eminent persons group had feared would mean the idea is shelved.

Even before the leaders held their closed door discussions, members of the advisory group acknowledged at a news conference Saturday that they saw a troubling development emerging.

Segal noted that his group’s 205-page report concluded that the Commonwealth had to be more proactive and acknowledge that “silence is not an option” when some countries are violating the human rights of their own citizens.

“Clearly there are some people at this meeting for whom silence is the best option,” said Segal. “Would silence have been a way to bring apartheid to an end?”

Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the British member of the group, said it was a “disgrace” that the leaders refused to publish the report.

“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.

Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the former prime minister of Malaysia who chaired the advisory group, warned that the leaders were in danger of making a big mistake if they left the summit without major progress.

“There is no doubt that this CHOGM is expected to deliver meaningful reforms of the Commonwealth,” he said.

“If this CHOGM does not deliver such reforms, it is our duty to sound the caution to you that this CHOGM will be remembered not as the triumph it should be, but as a failure.”

Even by the time this year’s summit began, it had become increasingly clear that the Commonwealth is losing its relevance.

Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh, whose country’s 1.2 billion people constitute half the population of the entire Commonwealth, chose not to attend the meeting.

Indeed, about one third of the countries chose not to send their head of government to the summit – opting instead to send a foreign affairs minister or senior diplomat.

At their last meeting in 2009, it appeared the Commonwealth leaders were aware of their own association’s deterioration when they appointed the 11-member eminent persons group to propose modernization reforms.

The result was a hard-hitting report that is filled with constructive recommendations but which pulls no punches.

It says the Commonwealth has a “proud record” in past times of responding to serious violations of human rights by its member countries – including apartheid in South Africa and Southern Rhodesia, the “excesses” of dictator Idi Amin in Uganda, and military coups in Nigeria, Fiji, Sierra Leone and Pakistan.

In each case, the Commonwealth intervened, through actions ranging from condemnation to sanctions, such as suspension from the organization.

But it concluded there has been a growing criticism in recent years that the Commonwealth does not take a stand, at least in public, on violations of its values by its member states, other than in the case of the unconstitutional removal of governments.

“This failure by the Commonwealth is seen as a decay that has set in to the body of the organization and one that will occasion the association’s irrelevance – if not its actual demise – unless it is promptly addressed.”

As the conference began on Friday, Segal met with reporters, warning that the Commonwealth is at a crossroads.

“The organization will either be seen as an instrument for modern co-operation between sovereign states with common values, or it will be seen as a vestige of history with no role to play in the future.”

  1. #1 by limkamput on Sunday, 30 October 2011 - 1:37 am

    Don’t blame anyone in particular, blame the whole commonwealth for being just a talk shop. By the way, since when are international conferences and forum achieve anything other than wasting more tax payers’ money.

  2. #2 by boh-liao on Sunday, 30 October 2011 - 1:48 am

    Dis is democracy mah, majority rule lor; so 3rd world outvote n rule over 1st world, fair1

  3. #3 by Jeffrey on Sunday, 30 October 2011 - 3:31 am

    No organisation like (eg Commonwealth) can be relevant when it mismatches aspirations (a common values and goals based on Human Rights) with realities (actually no common values) amongst its 54 members. Just because of common denominator of being colonized by Britain once and introduced their sports like cricket and rugby, driving on the left, the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy, common law, widespread use of the English language, designation of English as an official language does not mean the British value system take root amongst local populace or their political elites.

  4. #4 by Jeffrey on Sunday, 30 October 2011 - 3:33 am

    To say that Commonwealth operates on consensus means every one of the 54 members -that includes even Mozambique Zimbabwe & Malaysia- to agree (or eg) that human rights require homosexuality to be legalised! How can this happen when Malaysia is prosecuting sodomy??? On the other way around, Commonwealth’s human rights include non discrimination based on race. In 1961 South Africa was forced to leave Commonwealth by reason of apartheid. Today South Africa has dismantled apartheid but the Commonwealth has appointed a former PM of a country that is said to be the last remaining apartheid after South Africa to be chairman of its advisory group [Eminent Person Group’s] to preach Democracy, Rule of Law and Human Rights to its members. Isn’t this an irony!

  5. #5 by Jeffrey on Sunday, 30 October 2011 - 3:48 am

    Talking about values or common values on human rights, CHOGM host, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, heading Australian Labor Party that opposes gay marriage, herself appointed, as her Finance Minister, ex Malaysian Penny Wong, who is openly gay/lesbian, and presently expecting a child that gay partner conceived through IVF, something that Julia congratulated heartily. In UK they knighted Sir Elton John another in openly gay partnership. Malaysia prosecutes sodomy : not only ruling UMNO and Tun Dr Mahathir thought it an abomination but even our Opposition (PAS) even opposes Elton John from performing here. So what common values on human rights are we taking here within Common Wealth?

  6. #6 by yhsiew on Sunday, 30 October 2011 - 3:56 am

    ///“The Commonwealth faces a very significant problem,” he said.///

    The problem can solved if leaders like David Cameron and Stephen Harper would draw a dividing line urging countries which do not wish to be criticized for violation of human rights to leave the organization and countries which are willing to be criticized to stay put.

    I think such dividing line is fair. If you want to remain as member of a particular organization, you have to comply with its rules and regulations and agree with its goals and purposes. Otherwise you just have to leave the organization.

    The CHOGM must not allow “black sheep” to hamper its development and goal attainment, if it wishes to remain a credible, respectable world organization.

  7. #7 by yhsiew on Sunday, 30 October 2011 - 4:19 am


    “The CHOGM” should read “the Commonwealth”.

  8. #8 by yhsiew on Sunday, 30 October 2011 - 9:35 am

    Well, if they do not want to publish key report’s findings, the advisory group should at least approach, individually, each of the countries which have violated human rights and quietly tell them what they have done wrong and what they have do to put right the wrong.

    In this way, countries which have violated human rights will not be embarrassed publicly and the goals of the Commonwealth are also achieved. However, countries which have violated human rights must learn to be humble and willing to listen to the advisory group’s criticisms.

  9. #9 by -e- on Sunday, 30 October 2011 - 10:56 am

    if the chogm is too lame (just like the chair of he eminent persons group), then its existence should be re-evaluated.

    what commonwealth? malaysia should bring actions against the british for colonizing our land, exploiting our wealth and left us with dirty race based polity.

    if pr were to run the putrajaya, think about pulling out from this irrelevant organization.

  10. #10 by monsterball on Sunday, 30 October 2011 - 11:07 am

    It is always said the Government of the day has common interest to stay in power to be wealthy personally and for the party and for the country and people….least of all.
    Here we read and note how they perform their hypocritical acts.
    Influenced and educated like so by Britain…for decades in the past…the signs of the old school of thoughts reminds me of how Sir Thomas More died for dignity and principles in life….no more such politicians now.
    Here we see every country under British rule in the past…have become selfish and greedy.

  11. #11 by boh-liao on Sunday, 30 October 2011 - 11:14 am

    Veri impresif, our veri own sleepyhead chaired d Eminent Persons Group, don’t play2, man

  12. #12 by Jeffrey on Sunday, 30 October 2011 - 1:02 pm

    Sleepyhead considered eminent (not only because as foreign minister he has many friends in Commonwealth diplomatic circles) but also the distinction of releasing Anwar from prison! (Part of Commonwealth’s human rights campaign is to fight Homophobia and campaign for decriminalisation of homosexual acts). If not Tun Badawi then who else? Certainly not TDM who one time in 1999 skipped CHOGM in South Africa, and being unhappy with UK supporting US against Iraq suggested that maybe we should withdraw from Commonwealth. Present PM, susah abit since he reinstituted Sodomy II! Malaysia position in Commonwealth a bit dicy for we’re first Commonwealth nation to institute sodomy charge against Opposition (so wht human right?). Common wealth though a talkshop is still founded on historical & cultural links with Britain but here we marginalise English (can’t teach maths & science with it) and somemore want to continue to remain sole remaining country with institutionalised race discrimination and replace common law wit Shariah/Hudud for majority section of populace!

  13. #13 by k1980 on Sunday, 30 October 2011 - 1:06 pm

    //Veri impresif, our veri own sleepyhead chaired d Eminent Persons Group//

    But, but, but they did not even consider him for the post of Commonwealth Secretary General!

  14. #14 by Jeffrey on Sunday, 30 October 2011 - 1:27 pm

    We have a Commonwealth that has neither common values/policies, institutions nor wealth (I think its more profitable to associate with (say) China. Not to mention also no common institutions (eg CommonWealth Constitutional Charter Court or laws compared to EU or UN). Symbolic hub of Commonwealth is Britain, which is also a problem because it resembles some kind of neocolonialism by countries of Anglo-Saxon stock under the spirit of human rights. Besides Britain is a “has been” in power terms. And it preferred to be committed more to the European Union. It is like striking lottery if the 205-page report ever get published. The Commonwealth works on the basis of consensus, meaning that any single member country can block the publication of the report! You have 54 members without common values: so what can one realistically expect?? Commonwealth may be an international inter-govt organisation, a mere grouping of states, but not sure if it has an independent legal personality like say UN, EU or ASEAN (capable of entering into legal agreements & treaties with any member country or other international organisations).

  15. #15 by boh-liao on Sunday, 30 October 2011 - 4:08 pm

    C’wealth Sec General post not meant 4 Zzzzz log but 4 our dynamic real PM, short FLOM

  16. #16 by Jeffrey on Sunday, 30 October 2011 - 4:30 pm

    He was not rejected as candidate because zzzz. He was not a candidate. He was then (2007) PM and Rais Yatim was put up as candidate to contest with 2 others- India’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Kamalesh Sharma, and Foreign Minister of Malta, Michael Frendo. Rais last minute withdrew from race on excuse that he had competing commitments to organise Merdeka Day celebrations as committee’s chairman. Anyway, unlike Kamalesh could not make bold statement to decriminalise homosexuality, as was Commwealth’s position. Once Rais withdrew there could be no substitute for him cos it was considered country withdrawing from contest, not just person. No one can say that had Pak Lah been nominated he wouldn’t have got elected that time when post given to Asia. His zzz problem is due to sleep disorder (Sleep apnea/insomnia) by which some famous men like Napoleon, styuart Mill, Issac Newton, Wiston churchill equally afflicted, to name a few. Don’t think we should hold it against them by reason its a medical condition.

  17. #17 by Jeffrey on Sunday, 30 October 2011 - 4:34 pm

    tion was by country – not commonwealth. As PM nominated Rais to represent country. Pak Lah did not offer himself. Its not he offered and got rejected. This didn’t happen that way. This for the record.

  18. #18 by Jeffrey on Sunday, 30 October 2011 - 4:34 pm

    nomination – not tion

  19. #19 by GOD on Tuesday, 1 November 2011 - 10:07 am

    What use is this Commonwealth?? It has no purpose except the excuse it provides for its members to travel the width and length of the globe, and sit around tables looking important, wasting taxpayer money?

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