Number of nations, including India, express their problems with the idea
Commonwealth leaders have put a controversial decision on a human rights commissioner in cold storage for an undefined period, asking for "further examination", after a number of countries including India expressed their problems with the idea.
The eminent persons group (EPG), which made the recommendation to establish a Commissioner for Democracy, the Rule of Law and Human Rights, warned that a failure to deliver on such reform recommendations would tag this summit as a "failure".
Leaders attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meet (CHOGM) spent the day away from the public eye in a secluded retreat, allowing for informal discussions on thorny issues. They considered only two of the 104 EPG recommendations, leaving the remainder for the final day on Sunday.
One recommendation was accepted, with leaders agreeing to create a -- non-legally binding -- Charter of values, principles and aspirations for the Commonwealth by 2012. However, the other recommendation to set up a Human Rights Commissioner has been shunted off for further review by the Secretary General and a Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), which will report back to leaders after an undefined period. India had been among those opposing the idea, citing concerns about finances, international intervention in domestic issues, and unnecessary duplication of the UN's work.
Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma pointed to the further empowerment of the CMAG itself as a sign of progress on human rights issues. "One of the concerns was that this body is too censorious, too puritan," he said. "It is easy to point to the train wreck, but when the wagon is wobbling on the tracks -- that is when we need to take interest," he said, pointing out that CMAG reforms would allow such early engagement.
The EPG was skeptical. "The reform arrangements of CMAG...will not fill the gap," said Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, chairman of the 11-member EPG.
Mr. Badawi warned that the summit was expected to agree to reforms that would make the grouping of mostly former British colonies relevant in a changing world. "If this CHOGM does not deliver such reforms, it is our duty to sound the caution to you that this CHOGM will be remembered not as the triumph it should be, but as a failure," he said.
On Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, which has faced an attack by media and rights activists groups here on allegations of war crimes and human rights abuses, is spinning the failure to set up a Commissioner as a vindication of its own stand.
"We feel that it's very intrusive," Bandula Jayasekara, the Sri Lankan President's spokesman, told The Hindu. "There has been a very biased and unfair campaign against Sri Lanka on this whole issue." He added that India had been "very supportive" of Sri Lanka's position, both at CHOGM and earlier.
Even as some groups and countries opposed Colombo's hosting of the next CHOGM in 2013, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa pitched hard for his country to be chosen as the venue of the 2018 Commonwealth Games. "[It] would be a life-changing event in our history since it would provide a great platform to support our high growth momentum," he said. "It will also allow our people to display the reconstruction, rehabilitation, and reconciliation … that is taking place among the different communities of our country."
Declaration on food and security
Away from the spotlight on human rights, the Commonwealth issued a Perth Declaration on Food Security, calling for global efforts to deliver food aid and strenthen agriculture in countries facing serious food crises. Half of the world's one billion hungry people live in Commonwealth nations.
The Declaration also committed to "improving international market access for food producers, including smallholders and women, through trade liberalisation measures such as the elimination of tariff and non-tariff trade barriers and avoidance of restrictions on food exports."
Discussions were also held on sustainable development and the need for "legally binding outcomes" on climate change mitigation efforts.