Commonwealth Standards

Unlike the legal conventions and standards of the United Nations, the Declarations and Statements of the Commonwealth offer only broad objectives and promises for the creation of a more equitable and democratic society. Commonwealth governments have committed themselves to strive for many ideals - including accountability and good governance - but these commitments are not legal obligations. Collective action by the Commonwealth does not take legal form, but relies on peer review and consensus-building.

Human rights form the bedrock of all Commonwealth declarations, communiqués and statements and provide a common thread through its diverse agendas. As far back as 1971, the Singapore Declaration of Commonwealth Principles recognised the importance of liberty of the individual and equal rights for all citizens, and committed member states "to foster human equality and dignity everywhere, and to further the principles of self-determination and non-racism." The Harare Commonwealth Declaration 1991, the most significant of the Commonwealth statements (membership of the Commonwealth requires countries to abide by this declaration), included promises to work for "...fundamental human rights, including equal rights and opportunities for all citizens...[and]...entrench the practices of democracy, accountable administration and the rule of law". The Commonwealth is committed to the development of democratic institutions which respect the rule of law. A democratic police organisation is one such institution.

In 1995 the Commonwealth Heads of Government adopted The Millbrook Commonwealth Action Programme to fulfill more effectively the commitments contained in the Harare Commonwealth Declaration by providing an operating structure. It also established The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG). CMAG is made up of a rotating group of Foreign Ministers who look into "serious or persistent violations of the principles" contained in the Harare Commonwealth Declaration and that includes human rights violations. This is usually in the form of fact-finding missions and negotiations with the government and if changes do not occur, CMAG can recommend to the Heads of Government that the country should be suspended or expelled from the Commonwealth. CMAG does accept submissions about serious and persistent violations of the Commonwealth principles and at times will take representations from NGOs.

With noteworthy focus on policing, the 2002 Commonwealth Law Ministers meeting in St. Vincent and the Grenadines requested the Commonwealth Secretariat to develop human rights training programmes for police officers, to encourage better policing and greater respect for human rights. The initiative was taken because the Ministers recognised that protection of fundamental human rights is crucially dependent upon policing; and the importance of reforming policing in line with the Commonwealth's human rights philosophy. The Commonwealth Secretariat proceeded to develop a human rights manual for training police; West Africa was selected as the pilot site. For further information click here.