LONDON, England, Friday November 16, 2012 – A member of the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) has expressed disappointment that the Commonwealth has failed to implement the recommendations a year after they were discussed at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference (CHOGM) in Australia.
Sir Ronald Sanders, who is also a Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies and a member of the Round Table advisory board, said “it is a sad commentary on the Commonwealth that, a year after the EPG report was discussed at Perth, even the recommendations that were accepted there are still to be implemented.
“We should not mistake adoption for implementation – that is motion, not movement,” he told a conference on Thursday discussing “The Commonwealth in crisis – is reform possible?”
Sir Ronald said for him, it is a travesty that while climate change and global warming manifest themselves everyday with worrying consequences particularly for small island states, the EPG’s specific recommendation that “immediately after Perth”, an expert group should be convened to produce a study that would identify the most vulnerable countries; identify and cost their urgent adaptation needs; and suggest ways for financing and implementation, remain to be addressed.
“It is also an inexplicable curiosity that while the Doha Round of trade negotiations at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) remain stalled and in urgent need of advancement, it is claimed that the EPG recommendation to convene a meeting of Commonwealth Trade Ministers to explore ways in which a Commonwealth consensus might remove the log-jam, has been ‘overtaken by events’”.
Sir Ronald asked “precisely what events have overtaken this recommendation” noting it has not been not been explained and that the Commonwealth has lost an opportunity “to utilise the uniqueness of its membership to at least try to make a difference to a global situation that cries out for the kind of common approach that the Commonwealth’s diverse membership can bring”.
Sir Ronald said that the facts speak for itself as to whether or not the Commonwealth, a grouping of 54 independent sovereign states that were former British colonies, is facing a crisis.
He told the conference that 70 per cent of the Commonwealth’s Secretariat budget is funded by only three of its members while the other 50 or so are reluctant to increase their contributions.
He said more than 30 of the 54 member states are in arrears of their contributions and that the Secretariat needs at least another two million pounds (One Pound = US$1.58) annually if it is to carry out the mandates it now has.
“Good staff are leaving the Secretariat, and it cannot attract better personnel; a kind of North-South divide has developed in decision-making that has led to an unease in relations; there are governments that are reluctant to attend a CHOGM because of concerns over violations of Commonwealth values by the proposed host country”.
Sir Ronald said there is also a general lack of knowledge about the Commonwealth in it members states and the majority of its governments are doing little or nothing to explain and promote it; the media consider it to be of such little relevance that it gets little coverage.
“That sounds like a crisis to me – and one that it is important to confront, not deny,” he said, noting that the conference here coincided with the release the Report of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the British House of Commons on “The Role and Future of the Commonwealth”.
He said the report speaks of a firm belief in the potential of the Commonwealth as well as “considerable anguish over its present situation and a strong conviction that it urgently needs reform before it can fulfil its potential as a unique multi-national association of governments and people capable of making a difference to their own circumstances and contributing to the resolution of problems faced by the global community”.
Regarding the functions of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) and the Secretary-General’s Good Offices, Sir Ronald said that there is no doubt that “the expanded mandate that CMAG itself recommended is a long overdue step in the right direction.
“But, in its self-reform process, CMAG showed itself to be more concerned that it should protect itself from being seen as “a punitive body”, than with refining its system and capacity for dealing with serious or persistent violations of Commonwealth values.”
Sir Ronald said while he welcomed also the enhanced role of the Secretary-General in addressing serious or persistent violations of Commonwealth values “a line has to be drawn between giving a country time to institute restorative measures that can be gauged, and simply biding time to keep countries in the Commonwealth at all costs.
“It also has to be said that this new mandate to CMAG and the Secretary-General’s good offices could quickly become a point of greater criticism of them both, unless they are seen and heard to be addressing clear violations.”
Sir Ronald said that the Secretariat, led by the Secretary-General, should be actively shaping the consensus of Commonwealth member states and raising the bar around upholding the values of the Commonwealth.
“That is why in the EPG report, we stated clearly that “silence is not an option”, and we recommended that “the Secretary-General, as the voice of the commonwealth, and as a leader on behalf of the organisation, should have the freedom, autonomy and responsibility to speak out publicly in defence of Commonwealth values..
“What is certain is that there is no effective system in place to give early warning of problems in member states on the basis of “well researched and reliable information” on “serious or persistent violations” of democracy, the rule of law and human rights in member states.”
He said filling that gap was one of the reasons that the EPG recommended a Commissioner for Democracy, the Rule of Law and Human Rights.
“We all know that the EPG recommendation for a Commissioner was rejected by a number of governments,” Sir Ronald said, noting that he is heartened by the discussion here that “that still sees value in the recommendation”.
And, I am glad of the observation in the Foreign Affairs Committee Report that “the intention behind the recommendation for a Commissioner is an important one, and goes to the heart of what the Commonwealth is about”.
We all had continued to hope that a mechanism would emerges that in the words of the Committee report reflects “the EPG’s recommendation that the Commissioner should provide “well researched and reliable information” on “serious or persistent violations of democracy, the rule of law and human rights in member states,” and “indicate approaches for remedial action.”
I was saddened to hear from the Secretariat representative today that “the examination of possible options by CMAG and the Secretary-General had not produced consensus on any such mechanism and, to be honest, such consensus is not in sight”.
Sir Ronald said despite the problems facing the “unique” international grouping of former colonies, the Commonwealth represents “so many and so much that in a world of rapidly changing economic circumstances, religious suspicion and intolerance, unprecedented threats to peace and security, a surge for democracy and human rights, it is needed vitally.
“Reform and renewal are both necessary and possible, particularly to re-establish trust among Commonwealth governments and to rebuild confidence in the delivery mechanisms of the Secretariat.