Sharing Discussing Understanding

Commonwealth Journalists' Association

World leaders are in Perth on the west coast of Australia this week to take part in the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).

Steph Carter, 20, a Commonwealth Correspondent and aspiring journalist from Queensland, reports on a series of proposals under consideration designed to shake up the 62-year-old association.

The topic of Commonwealth reform is one that leaders will discuss during the next three days. The Commonwealth has attracted growing criticism particularly with regard to its processes for handling human rights issues.

This weekend the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) will put forth a package of reforms for Commonwealth leaders to consider. These recommendations include a proposed Commissioner for Democracy and the Rule of Law and reform of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG).

Changes to CMAG will involve an expansion of the range of measures available to the group to better respond to violations of Commonwealth values. The EPG was formed at the 2009 CHOGM in Trinidad and Tobago, and includes the likes of well-known Australian Judge Michael Kirby.

When asked by reporters earlier today whether the recommendations put forth by the EPG would be implemented by the Commonwealth, Julia Gillard chose not to speculate. “That work will be formally received by leaders when they meet tomorrow and in discussions over the weekend,” she said.

The Commonwealth will need to revise its processes if it is to be truly proactive and not reactive in its human rights dealings. Sri Lanka, for instance, remains a sensitive issue requiring Commonwealth action. Leaders will need to decide if Sri Lanka should host the 2013 CHOGM despite its alleged breaches of human rights values.

Other groups favouring reform include the Royal Commonwealth Society (RCS) and the Commonwealth Advisory Bureau, a think tank based in London.

Mr Stuart Mole, a former director of RCS, said that the processes for electing a new Secretary General must also be revised. “The Commonwealth is left behind with non-transparent, outdated processes that it should not be proud of in the least,” he said. The terms and conditions of the Secretary General role have not been revised since 1993 and are “long overdue”, he added.

While the question of reform is one that heads of state must grapple with over the weekend, Ms Gillard remains confident that this CHOGM will be a “landmark” occasion. “It will be remembered as a significant event in the life of the Commonwealth,” she said.