BULLETIN FROM SANDERS: Queen Singles Out Eminent Persons Report

Special to HuntingtonNews.Net
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II
HNN Contributor Sir Ronald Sanders, reporting from Perth Australia, said Queen Elizabeth II, opening the Commonweath Heads of Government Meeting Thursday, Oct. 27 has singled out the report by the Eminent Persons group -- of which Sir Ronald Sanders is a member -- which recommended the creation of a Commonwealth commissioner for democracy, the rule of law and human rights. The measure is being considered by the 54 Commonwealth leaders attending the three-day conference. See the Sanders column on the HNN site now....and here is a link to Sydney Morning Herald story: http://www.smh.com.au/national/queen-lines-up-with-her-people-20111028-1moaq.html  

Editor's Note: here is an excerpt from Sanders' column; for the full column, see the HNN site:  

The Conference has before it two seminal documents: a report from an Eminent Persons Group (EPG) which sets out a road map of urgent reform for the association if it is to remain relevant to its time and its people now and in the future; and another report from the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) which is the body charged with ensuring that Commonwealth member governments behave in a manner consistent with Commonwealth values and principles related to democracy, the rule of law and human rights.  CMAG, too, is recommending reform of itself to make it more effective.  

The EPG has submitted a 200 page report to the Commonwealth leaders with 106 recommendations.  The Report entitled. “A Commonwealth of the People: Time for Urgent Reform is the centrepiece of the Conference and it warns that the Commonwealth is in danger of losing its relevance unless significant changes are made.

The report speaks directly to Heads of Government, and declares: “Now is the time for the Perth CHOGM to authorise the urgent reform this report recommends and to mandate a concrete implementation plan”. Among those reforms is the appointment of a Commissioner for Democracy, the Rule of Law and Human Rights that would investigate and verify claims of violations by governments of Commonwealth values set out in several declarations between 1971 and 2009. 

The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative and the Royal Commonwealth Society united to call on leaders to back the EPG reforms.  So, too, has the Commonwealth Civil Society, which, in a statement issued at the People’s Forum, called on Heads of Government to “build on the recommendation from the EPG to convene a Commonwealth Ministers of Foreign Trade Meeting and mandate the Commonwealth Secretariat to convene a joint meeting with Commonwealth Ministers of Finance to develop a joint approach to engagement in international trade and finance processes underpinned by consultation with civil society and a rights based approach to economic development”.

The Civil Society statement was issued by more than 250 civil society representatives from every region of the Commonwealth.   In an encounter with Commonwealth Foreign Ministers on the eve of CHOGM, the Civil Society leaders criticised a decision not to publish the EPG report ahead of the Commonwealth Summit even though the EPG had requested that it be released to allow for the “broadest consultation and responses”.

Prior to the meeting several governments had indicated their objection to the creation of the post of Commissioner, believing that it would be “intrusive” and “punitive”.   Among the governments that indicated this unease publicly were India and Sri Lanka.   The latter country has been fingered by human rights groups, the UN Secretary-General, and even some Commonwealth governments over human rights abuses.

The EPG has argued that countries accused of violating Commonwealth values should embrace the Commissioner and utilise the expertise of the office to remedy situations quickly and in their own interest. The Group has said that “a country that works with the Commissioner would be in a good position to ward off criticism and demonstrate in a credible way that it is working to maintain Commonwealth values”.   It has also been pointed out that false or exaggerated allegations against a government could be exposed and dismissed by the Commissioner who would work as a link between the Commonwealth Secretary-General and CMAG.

However, some governments have maintained opposition to the creation of the post, even though it is obvious that it is a missing link between CMAG, which has censorial powers, and the Secretary-General who must try his best, by diplomatic means, to ensure that governments rectify violations quickly.       

Having received over 330 written submissions from organisations all over the Commonwealth that point to the need for the Commonwealth to act in defence of the values for which it says its stands, or lose it moral authority and global influence, the EPG report stresses that the creation of the post by whatever appropriate name - Commissioner or Special Representative – will be a litmus test for the Commonwealth’s future.

By focussing on this one issue over which fears are expressed, some governments have stopped discussion and acceptance of the EPG’s 105 other recommendations which include urgent action on the harmful effects of global warming; securing a voice for small and vulnerable countries in the world’s decision-making bodies; improving inter-Commonwealth trade and investment; job creation; providing funds for youth entrepreneurial schemes; ending discrimination against women; and improving knowledge of the Commonwealth.
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