Perth: CHOGM – Charter of Values?

The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) was on when I arrived in Perth. I would have loved to have gone and listened, but it is not open to the public. I think this would be a good idea. Interestingly the Queen was advocating that governments listen to the people. I also advocate that. I see that as true democracy. The people have commonsense as I found when I did research and I am certain problems will be solved when you invite the collective intelligence of the community. The Eminent Persons Group recommend a Charter of Values (see Peace is Our True Nature for more), that of course indicates the absence of values, human rights abuses, corruption etc. That would be my reading. Moreover in the article below the mining industry is mentioned, my radar goes up when govenrments are representing industries and I wonder about Africa being used as a quarry. Many countries in Africa are resource rich but the people are not benefiting as we see by widespread poverty where it need not be occuring. That is a values free situation with values free trade. So my feeling would be to talk more about values as real wealth rather than mining. However, the political state of play may well favour the latter given the dominance of economic interests as the mainstay of national economic growth as distinct from actual wellbeing.

Interestingly CHOGM started on the 28th October, this was the day I sent in my application for a grant to UNESCO to fund a Children’s Circle Parliament. This Parliament is non adversarial, conflict resolving and ideas generating. Of course the World Peace Clown is the symbol of this Parliament, to en-lighten up and have fun and create a new future. So if anyone is called a clown, it will be an honoured place (haha). Maybe there is an omen there for me. I hope so. I liked the queen’s comment of women as agents for change. I do agree with this. As a woman I do not feel taken seriously and I feel harder to get ideas up unless you are well connected. However, the card up my sleeve is I never give up, for peace is who I am, it is not what I do. So you never know what the future holds, perhaps desperation opens the doors to women. It is time. Values is central to change and emotions take you there. If you shutdown your emotional guidance, you shutdown emotional intelligence, intuition and solutions. Men tend to do this as they are taught as boys, women can be emotional as they are only girls, I see emotions as a strength and they bring in authenticity. Moreover, if you feel upset you don’t suppress you just say what you think. Women do tend to be outspoken. My research on Women in Local Government revealed that they are indeed the communicators and are interested in the strategic outcomes and relationships, rather than the goal alone. They are looking at implications. They run families which is not a small task, it requires much sensitivity and an awareness of others needs, this is the core of government to fulfill the needs and represent the people. So they are well placed. I say this with sensitivity to men also, there are many with merit and this is not to sideline them at all, it is to enhance our community by accepting women as equals. It is important to understand women do face structural barriers with stereotype, gender and traditional beliefs of what women are capable of. In third world countries this is most pronounced. Most of the stereotypes are erroneous, women can do whatever men can do, however in a social context they are indeed well equipped. If the load with children is more evenly shared, that frees women to get involved, which is deeply needed across the planet. All egos aside.

Here is some interesting quotes from the Queen in her introductory speech…

She urged leaders not to forget the Commonwealth was a body not just of governments but of people.

She also reflected on the summit’s theme of “women as agents of change”.

She too urged leaders to listen to the “voice of the people” and embrace reform.

She said she hoped the institution would have a bright future for all.

“But hope without action is useless, my friends,” she said.

“And so today I say let us recommit and pledge to translate hope into action.”

Below is a report from The Age newspaper in Melbourne.

The Queens is the head of the Commonwealth and there are assertions that it is no longer relevant today. However, any meeting of Prime Ministers or groups can make significant impacts. The key issue reported in the press is about interventions in countries that veer from Democracy. There were suggestions for policing of democracy, the rule of law and human rights. Of course shared values that uphold integrity, honesty, accountability and responsibility may well prevent corruption. However, training would be needed for this as values vary and corruption comes with money being seen as the ‘god’.

THE Queen has urged leaders to act boldly in reforming the Commonwealth, but the signs are that they will not follow her advice.

In strong remarks opening the heads of government meeting, the Queen said she wished the leaders well in agreeing to reforms ”that respond boldly to the aspirations of today and keep the Commonwealth fresh and fit for tomorrow”.

But leaders are preparing tomorrow to reject the centrepiece of a blueprint for reform – a commissioner to police democracy, the rule of law and human rights – recommended by the Eminent Persons Group.

They did, however, yesterday agree to extra powers that open the way to intervene when a country is going off the rails, rather than waiting for a coup to happen before being able to act.

If such pre-emptive powers had been available, this would have meant there could have been strong diplomatic intervention before the coup in Fiji, now suspended from the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth also might have been able to exert more pressure on the Mugabe government..

The future of the Eminent Persons Group’s proposal for a charter of values for the Commonwealth was in the balance, before the leaders consider the group’s report today.

Revitalising the Commonwealth is a prime task being considered by this meeting but a number of countries are suspicious of setting up a commissioner on democracy and human rights, a proposal supported by Britain and Australia. Critics have included India and African countries.

The Queen thanked the Eminent Persons Group for their work and said she looked forward to hearing the outcome of the discussion.

”In these deliberations, we should not forget that this is an association not only of governments but also of peoples,” she said.

Former prime minister Malcolm Fraser, addressing a Commonwealth function, called for major reform, including a vigorous active secretariat that was strongly led, and the establishment of an independent watchdog body ”to examine practices throughout the Commonwealth”.

Mr Fraser said the Commonwealth had ”missed opportunities” in recent years and he was implicitly critical of its present administration by strongly praising a former secretary-general, Sir Shridath Ramphal, who was ”not frightened of confronting heads of government if he had to”. He also suggested the Commonwealth could play a significant role on the issue of refugees.

Ms Gillard announced after the first working session that leaders had agreed to all the 35 reform proposals put forward in a Ministerial Action Group report to strengthen the role of that group.

”The purpose of these reform proposals is to enable the Commonwealth to act when a country is veering off course, in terms of democratic values and the rule of law, rather than waiting until a country has gone to a grossly unacceptable stage,” she said. When that happened, Commonwealth leaders only had the options of suspension or expulsion.

But the pre-emptive powers, to be exercised by the Commonwealth Secretary-General and the head of the Ministerial Action Group, will be strictly limited.

They will not include military intervention or imposing sanctions, but will be confined to diplomacy, of either the quiet or megaphone variety. One option would be to send envoys to look at the situation.

Read more:

The biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) has concluded for 2011 in Perth.

The customary communique to accompany the end of the conference has been released and is available here.

Where does the document sit between motherhood statements and something with bite? What is the worth of CHOGM? Here are a range of views:

David Mickler, Lecturer in International Relations, University of Melbourne

Despite recognition in the CHOGM 2011 communique that the organisation needs to remain vigilant against the persistent threat of its own irrelevance, the communique on paper does reflect important elements of the international agenda, particularly some key priorities of African states — which at 19 members comprise the largest regional bloc within the Commonwealth.

This is also partly a product of Australia — as CHOGM 2011 host and an increasingly activist middle power under Kevin Rudd’s approach to foreign policy — taking seriously these issues on its own agenda and recognizing how multilateral fora like CHOGM can further facilitate Australia’s own international engagements.

The Rudd/Gillard Labor governments have been particularly interested in promoting and pursuing ‘new engagement’ with Africa as part of their general desire for Australia to play a more significant role on the global stage. This translates into seeking the votes of African states for Canberra’s UN Security Council bid and allocating increasing amounts of Australian ODA to Africa in line with Labor’s commitment to enhance global Official Development Assistance (ODA) spending to 0.5 per cent of Gross National Income (GNI) by 2015-16.

But the Australian government is also interested in using its own expertise and position to help African countries develop their emerging resource sectors and in turn promote the interests of the 230-and-growing Australian resources companies on the continent, who have already collectively invested $24 billion in that sector.

The CHOGM communique itself calls for “more effective natural resources management through greater transparency and better governance”. This reflects a desire by African governments to effectively utilise their natural resources for national development, including through foreign investment and expertise, while mitigating the foreign exploitation and corruption that has characterized their history.

In turn, the Australian Government announced just prior to CHOGM that it would pilot implementation of the global regulatory Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), which the communique encouraged all members to do, and that it would be establishing in WA the International Mining for Development Centre to complement is existing scholarship schemes for training African students and officials in mining governance and technical skills.

The communique also notes the adoption by the CHOGM delegates of the Perth Declaration on Food Security Principals, which coincided with Gillard announcing that Australia would establish the Canberra-based Australian International Centre for Food Security. Food security is a crucial issue for Africa in the face of vast uncultivated but fertile land, the effects of climate change on the agricultural sector, and the acute famine currently devastating the Horn of Africa.

As such, despite the challenges of reform and relevance, and questions about the organisation’s willingness and capacity to defend democracy and human rights within its membership, the CHOGM communique also reflects substantive issues of concern to its majority African membership. In turn, this facilitates further Australian engagement with the continent as Canberra increasingly ‘looks West’ in its foreign policy

Mohandas Gandhi

“Nobody can hurt me without my permission.”