Commonwealth summit ends in Australia, modest progress made

Updated On: Oct 31, 2011

A 3 day meeting of Commonwealth leaders ended on Sunday, with Australian Prime Minister and host Julia Gillard insisting the meeting had been a success, despite its failure to agree on key human rights reforms, recommended to keep the grouping relevant.

During the forum, a number of heads of state told the meeting that it must work harder to uphold basic values, if it was to remain relevant for the 21st Century.

The Eminent Persons Group, appointed to examine the challenges of the Commonwealth, which submitted over 100 recommendations ahead of the forum, was highly critical of the forums effectiveness, and reiterated its concerns that it risked sliding into irrelevancy, after the event had concluded.

Report: Commonwealth leader summit ends in Australia [AP, 30 October 2011]

In a compromise, the forum decided to give one of its internal groups more power to intervene earlier when Commonwealth nations are accused of human rights abuses or undemocratic behaviour and establish a charter of common values. Previously, the bloc could only expel or suspend a rogue nation, a measure that only punishes the country after the dramatic event, rather than prevent it. However it failed to appoint a human rights commissioner for the rule of law and human rights, a move opposed by  several leaders including South Africa, India and Sri Lanka. It also faced disagreement over calls for member states to repeal laws banning homosexuality, including those that exist in Singapore and Malaysia, which health advocates say hinder the fight against HIV/AIDs. Instead it decided that further work was needed on the new position of commissioner, handing that responsibility to Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma until the next meeting.

Leaders did make some progressive decisions during the summit, including agreeing to lift a ban on monarchs marrying Roman Catholics. The meeting also changed royal succession rules to allow the British monarch's first-born child — whether a girl or a boy — to ascend the throne, reversing centuries of tradition.

Leaders of Britain, Canada, Australia and Nigeria, along with billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates, pledged tens of millions of dollars in extra funding toward the World Health Organization's campaign to wipe out polio from the four countries where it remains endemic — India, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria.

In its final communique, the grouping committed to helping small island states, which make up more than half its membership, cope with the effects of climate change, agreeing there was a need to work towards legally binding measures such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The Commonwealth, made up of 54 member states, comprises of over 1/3 of nations, and meets biannually. The next CHOGM is scheduled to take place in Sri Lanka in 2013, a summit which several leaders have already said they may boycott, unless there are major reforms in the country. Sri Lanka's army has been accused of war crimes during the civil war with the Tamil Tigers, and has rebutted international pressure to conduct and independent inquiry in the aftermath of the conflict.

Report: David Cameron human rights plea at Commonwealth meeting
[BBC News, 29 October 2011]
Report: CHOGM ducks two-thirds of agenda [Sydney Morning Herald, 30 October 2011]

Related Article