From the TUC

CHOGM concludes: not much to cheer about on human rights

30 Oct 2011, by in International

Report from Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2011

The 2011 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) concluded today with a final communique that contains many warm words on climate change, trade, women and youth, but which, on the key issue for discussion at this event – human rights – there is only limited progress, and no mention of a particular human rights scar on the Commonwealth record: equality for LGBT communities. And the warm words on all the other issues may be just that: the major change that women may get out of CHOGM was the agreement behind the scenes to make it more likely that women will succeed to the throne!

The Eminent Persons Group report – disgracefully still a secret – was filleted by CHOGM, which reported drily that only 30 of its recommendations had been accepted outright, 12 might be adopted subject to cost, 43 would be parked for further consideration at the Commonwealth Foreign Ministers’ meeting next September, and 11 were deemed “inappropriate for adoption”. But there’s no indication of which these recommendations were! 

There are some areas where progress was made, and which Commonwealth organisations like the Commonwealth Trade Union Group (CTUG) will need to pursue. A Charter of the Commonwealth will be drawn up and agreed by Foreign Ministers; and the proposal for an independent Commissioner for Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law was one of the 43 recommendations that were left pending, so the idea was not killed off. The secrecy that surrounds the entire report is still an outstanding blot on the Commonwealth’s approach to openness: as EPG member Senator Hugh Segal of Canada said: “We said that silence was not an option. Clearly there are some people at this meeting for whom silence is the best option. Would silence have been a way to bring apartheid to an end?” (Actually, the EPG members have provided more entertainment here in Perth than anyone else, with their caustic, sarcastic and indiscreet outbursts. These, after all, were eminent people, and they are outraged at their treatment!)

On some of the trouble spots around the Commonwealth, CHOGM maintained its criticisms and suspension of Fiji (“urging the interim government of Fiji to restore democracy without further delay, to respect human rights, and to uphold the rule of law, and reaffirming that the Commonwealth should continue to remain engaged with Fiji and support efforts towards that end;”) although without the references to recent attacks on trade unions that we wanted; expressed the desire to welcome Zimbabwe back when it has completed the change process it needs; and indicated its willingness to accept an application to join the Commonwealth from South Sudan. But there will be concern from some about the decision to confirm Sri Lanka as the venue for the 2013 CHOGM (with Mauritius in 2015), and there was continuing silence over Swaziland, although the trade unions certainly put the issue on the Commonwealth agenda.

Another step which we need to pursue was the declaration that Commonwealth countries “consider becoming parties to all major international human rights instruments” which would include core ILO conventions. CTUG research shows that 14 Commonwealth countries need to endorse one or more of the conventions for the Commonwealth to have the perfect record already achieved by the EU.

So, overall, there was not much to cheer about after CHOGM. But there is a lot of work still to be done. Has anyone got a copy of the EPG report they’d like to leak, along with a scorecard of the recommendations accepted, deferred or rejected?