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Volume 13 Number 1
New Delhi, Spring 2006

CHOGM 2005: Words of Wisdom or Feeble Reiterations?

Clare Doube
Co-ordinator, Strategic Planning & Programmes, CHRI

Every two years leaders meet at CHOGM and release policy documents that guide the association and its members over the coming years. In November, Heads of Government released the following:

  • CHOGM 2005 communiqué;
  • Valletta Statement on Multilateral Trade;
  • Malta Declaration on Networking the Commonwealth for Development; and
  • Gozo Statement on Vulnerable Small States.

In the past, civil society has been cynical about the implementation of these policies, but they remain an important guide for the Commonwealth Secretariat. Also, by stating the position of Commonwealth governments on crucial issues, they reflect what, in theory, should be implemented in-country. As such, it is useful for civil society to analyse these documents and remind governments of their commitments.

In 2005, the points of the communiqué most relevant to civil society groups promoting human rights include: “Heads of Government… reaffirmed that respect for and protection of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development, is the foundation of peaceful, just and stable societies and that these rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and inter-related” (Para 45). While this is positive, no firm commitment was made to actually realise these rights in-country. Practical commitments would add significant substance to such valuable words.

The points specific to civil society are similar: “Heads of Government acknowledged the contribution of civil society, including supporting democracy, human rights, peace and development. They also acknowledged that governments and civil society share a common objective in addressing development and governance challenges and acknowledged the importance of partnership underpinned by sound institutional, legal and policy frameworks. They urged civil society to be pro-active in the local and national environment with well-defined priorities and governance arrangements” (Para 91), and “Heads of Government noted the steps being taken by the Commonwealth and its institutions to mainstream civil society in all activities and called for these efforts to be increased” (Para 92). Neither of these statements reflects progress on past commitments to increase partnership between the Commonwealth and civil society.

Other points worth noting include:

  • A recognition of the importance of “measures to build effective and accountable security and justice sectors” (Para 27).
  • “States must ensure that measures taken to combat terrorism comply with their obligations under international law (Para 32).
  • Heads of Government “welcomed the universal acceptance at the UN 2005 World Summit that each individual state has the responsibility to protect its population from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity” (Para 36).
  • They expressed “commitment to root out, both at national and international levels, systemic corruption, including extortion and bribery, which undermine good governance, respect for human rights and economic development” (Para 47) and to “strengthen the fight against corruption by the adoption of principles and policies, as appropriate, that emphasise good governance, accountability and transparency” (Para 48).
  • Recognition of the human rights of migrants (Para 50), human trafficking (Para 51) and gender rights (Para 85 and 86).

While organisations expressed disappointment in the lack of progress in the communiqué, one positive feature of this CHOGM was the active interest of the Secretary-General in civil society’s human rights activities - one of his major speeches in Malta was Raising the Bar on Human Rights at the Commonwealth Human Rights Forum. It is hoped that with his leadership, sentiments expressed in the communiqué and those of civil society will be implemented. After all, Heads of Government did note civil society submissions (Para 99) and “requested the Secretary-General to take their recommendations into account, where possible, while implementing CHOGM mandates” (Para 100). May this be the hallmark of the Commonwealth’s future direction.

CHRI Newsletter, Spring 2006

Editors: Mary Rendell & Clare Doube , CHRI;
Print: Chenthil Paramasivam ,
Web Developer: Swayam Mohanty, CHRI.
Acknowledgement: Many thanks to all contributors

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The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) is an independent international NGO mandated to ensure the practical realisation of human rights in the Commonwealth.