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Global 13

commonwealth network Opinion Time to shape up Chair of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee,Richard Ottaway, calls for the Commonwealth to reassert its place at the forefront of the global community by speaking out in defence of its key principles – ensuring the organisation’s bright future as well as its proud past In an uncertain world, no one can doubt the implemented. In particular, we believe importance of the Commonwealth’s core that it is important that the mechanism that values, especially belief in the promotion of emerges from the negotiations should re- human and political rights. The Common- flect the EPG’s recommendation that the wealth enjoys a huge global reach, with Commissioner should provide “well-re- member states including some of the fast- searched and reliable information” on “se- est-growing countries in the world as well rious or persistent violations of democracy, as some of the poorest. In the past, the as- the rule of law and human rights in member sociation was influential in the international states”, and should “indicate approaches for community, taking its place at the forefront remedial action”. of diplomatic action on major international The Committee welcomed the fact that issues, such as the fight against racism. the Commonwealth continues to attract in- But today, the Commonwealth is at a crit- terest from potential new members; there ical point because it is failing to realise its are clear advantages in greater diversity and great potential. In recent years it has been an extended global reach for the Common- too often both silent and invisible: silent on wealth. However, it is crucial that the appli- occasions when members flout its princi- cation process is rigorous and that any new ples, and invisible to its people. It needs a members are appropriate additions to the higher and more active profile. The recent Commonwealth ‘family’, closely adhering report by the House of Commons Foreign Ottaway: a stout defender of the Commonwealth’s at all times to its principles and values. Affairs Committee contains worrying evi- ability to uphold shared values and standards The economic dynamism of many Com- dence that the Commonwealth has recently throughout the world monwealth countries, such as India and missed opportunities to influence key in- South Africa, cannot be doubted. Howev- ternational issues such as climate change quickly along the road to radical institution- er, we were far from convinced that mem- and the economic crisis. We call on the al reform if it is to overcome these prob- ber states are making the most of the eco- Commonwealth Secretariat to sharpen and lems. If the Commonwealth takes the right nomic and trading opportunities offered strengthen its diplomatic performance. decisions in the next few months, we are by the Commonwealth’s rapidly emerg- We were also disturbed to note the in- confident that it can protect and promote its ing markets. Governments should give a effectiveness of some of the mechanisms values and benefit the interests of all of its higher priority to making the most of those for upholding the organisation’s values. members. But it needs to act quickly and opportunities. We concluded that continuing evidence of decisively. Public understanding of the work of the serious human rights abuses in Sri Lanka Central to the prospects for reform are the Commonwealth is limited in many member shows that the Commonwealth’s decision recommendations of the Eminent Persons states, so we welcomed ideas for a more ac- to hold the 2013 Commonwealth Heads Group (EPG), which reported to the 2011 tive programme of education and engage- of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Co- CHOGM. Two of the EPG’s recommenda- ment – for example, more medical, teacher lombo was wrong. We call for convincing tions were seen as especially significant by and youth exchanges and greater attention and independently verified evidence of the UK and others: a proposal for a Com- to the Commonwealth in school curricula substantial and sustainable improvements monwealth Charter, which was accepted in the UK. The British government should in human and political rights in Sri Lanka. and is now the subject of a public consulta- expand the programme of Commonwealth More broadly, the Commonwealth Min- tion; and a proposal for a Commonwealth scholarships, which can strengthen ties isterial Action Group (CMAG) needs to Commissioner for Democracy, the Rule of between future leaders in Commonwealth make full use of its new mandate to pro- Law and Human Rights. countries. mote Commonwealth values in member We recognise that the proposal for the The Commonwealth could have a bright states. Above all, CMAG must respond ro- latter has not found favour right across the future as well as a proud past: but that will bustly to cases of repression or abuse. Commonwealth. Yet the Committee was require change. The UK can and should There are also concerns on development. clear that the intention behind the recom- play a prominent part in that process, but The Commonwealth’s performance as a mendation for a Commissioner for Democ- the Commonwealth itself will need to lead provider of aid has been disappointing in racy, the Rule of Law and Human Rights is the way in renewal. recent years, and needs to improve substan- an important one, and goes to the heart of tially if its reputation is to be restored. what the Commonwealth is about. Richard Ottaway MP, Chairman of the House The Foreign Affairs Committee con- The key elements of the EPG’s recom- of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee cluded that the Commonwealth must move mendation for a Commissioner must be 92 lwww.global-briefing.org first quarter 2013global


Global 13
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