The Commonwealth in troubling times

by Sir Ronald Sanders KCMG AM

In this Inaugural Lecture marking the 100th Anniversary of the Charter of the Bristol  Commonwealth Society, Sir Ronald Sanders [1] argues that the inter-governmental Commonwealth is a diverse group that is now plagued by mistrust and loss of confidence.  If the Summit in Sri Lanka is to be meaningful, Heads of Government must set up machinery to address this issue urgently and credibly.   It will call for careful diplomatic stage-managing by the Secretary-General, and transparent and open chairmanship by the Sri Lankan President.  Whether this can be achieved is left to be seen.  But, if this matter is not tackled with urgency and credibility, the Commonwealth may well go over the cliff to disintegration on which it is now dangerously perched.  Continue reading

Time to listen to the Commonwealth’s First Nations

By Richard Bourne and Helena Whall

The Commonwealth’s First Nations: Rights, Status and Struggles in the run up to the UN World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, 2014 – Conference Programme

Photo: Toronto Sun

Not since Idi Amin’s threat to attend the London Commonwealth summit in 1977, which led to the first statement by leaders denouncing human rights abuse in a member state, has there been such a focus on rights issues in advance of a meeting of Commonwealth heads of government. But the forthcoming Sri Lankan summit will also be a chance for governments to comment on the human rights of an often invisible group of Commonwealth citizens – its indigenous peoples.

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Sri Lanka CHOGM 2013: With Whom Does the Decision Lie?

By Professor Philip Murphy, Director, Institute of Commonwealth Studies

Well in advance of today’s meeting of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), the Commonwealth Secretariat was attempting to dampen expectations that the Group would act decisively in response to growing concerns about the internal situation in Sri Lanka, which is due to host the 2013 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). On 26 March, Richard Uku, a spokesman for the Commonwealth Secretary General, confirmed that the CHOGM would be held in Sri Lanka, and that the country would not be on the CMAG agenda. He claimed, ‘It was the Commonwealth Heads of Government that made the decision to hold the 2013 meetings in Sri Lanka. Such decisions are made at the Commonwealth Heads of Government level and not by CMAG’.[i] The clear implication of his remarks was that, having been made at heads of government level, the decision to hold the CHOGM in Colombo could only be revoked by heads of government. This line seems to have been accepted even by those critics of the Sri Lankan government who claim that its record on democracy and human rights makes it an unsuitable host for the next CHOGM. Speaking at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies on 18 April, Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, Executive Director of the Sri Lanka-based Centre for Policy Alternatives argued powerfully that recent developments in the country should result in the 2013 CHOGM being moved to another location. Yet even he appeared to accept that this decision could only be made by heads of government.

What, however, is the basis for this doctrine?

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