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Indian Foreign Secretary on CHOGM

Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit Meetings (CHOGMs) have a format of Executive Sessions, where Heads of government interact in a more formal manner and they make statements, and are accompanied by Ministers or officials, and a Retreat, where the Heads of government interact informally with their counterparts without the presence of any aides. This element of CHOGM is what makes it a unique forum for interaction among the leaders of 54 member countries, Indian Foreign Secretary Shri Ranjan Mathai said addressing a media briefing.

Shri Ranjan Mathai

The theme of CHOGM this year, chosen by Australia, is ‘Building National Resilience, Building Global Resilience’. Australia has circulated a Concept Paper on the theme which focuses on strengthening the Commonwealth, to enable it to more effectively assist member nations in dealing with current challenges as individual States, as members of the Commonwealth, and as members of the global community. The paper focuses on issues related to economic and social development, food and energy security, and the adverse effects of climate change. Efforts are also under way to enhance the Commonwealth’s role in international fora, particularly the G20 process, the 17th Conference of Parties (COP-17), and the Rio+20 meeting on sustainable development scheduled in Brazil next year, he said.

In addition, the Heads of Government are expected to review developments within the Commonwealth and globally. They will discuss a whole gamut of issues of relevance to the Commonwealth ranging from the promotion and protection of fundamental political values in the Commonwealth, the global economic situation, international trade, the Commonwealth’s engagement with the G20, climate change and sustainable development, and initiatives to deal with the concerns of the youth and women. A discussion on small States, which is particularly important here because 32 of the 54 Commonwealth countries are small States, will be held especially in the context of their vulnerability to economic volatilities.

In terms of the Outcome Documents, the Heads of Government are expected to issue a joint communique spelling out the position of the Commonwealth on major issues including these international issues that are of importance to the Association. A stand-alone Declaration on Food Security Principles is also expected to be negotiated and adopted. A number of Commonwealth-affiliated organizations such as Business, Youth and People’s Forums will also be meeting during this period in Perth. Reports on their activities will be presented to Foreign Ministers at their meeting.

The Commonwealth has innate strengths and considerable expertise in areas pertaining to economic, social, environmental and governance issues. It has emerged as a ‘one-stop shop’ for many of its members to easily access a variety of assistance and support in these areas such as technical advice, financial support, consultancy, feasibility reports, managerial training and skill development. The Commonwealth is also doing important work in the areas of gender equality, education and youth.

The Commonwealth has been a pillar of support for many of the geographically smaller developing countries, whom I referred to earlier, particularly in facing the challenges arising out of the global economic and financial crisis.

Question: There has been a push in Australia and also from the Canadian Prime Minister to have the Sri Lankan proposed hosting of CHOGM in 2013 postponed until there has been some, I think it has been said, progress on human rights and accountability. What is India’s position on that? Secondly, with regard to the Eminent Persons Group Report that is likely to be submitted during CHOGM, there are some suggestions that India does not support the creation of a Human Rights and Rule of Law Monitor. Can you speak about that and explain what India’s objections are?

Foreign Secretary: First of all on Sri Lanka, the decision was taken in 2009 for the next two CHOGM Summits. I think that matter has been decided already and it is not a subject which needs to be reopened.

As far as the Eminent Persons Group is concerned, we have seen the report and we had a discussion on it in New York. The Foreign Ministers of the Commonwealth met. I was present at that meeting. The report is very voluminous. It has got 106 recommendations covering the entire range of activities of the Commonwealth. The report itself was prepared over a period of one year with five meetings between July 2010 and July 2011. Since that time the member governments have had only a few weeks to actually look at it and in fact to start a discussion on it. I would not like to comment on each of the recommendations. Even these 106 have been classed into 14 core recommendations and the others. There are a number of areas where we think there is need for a more careful view.

The proposal for the Commissioner for Democracy, Rule of Law and Human Rights is one on which we have some reservations. The responsibilities spelt out in this would seem to undermine the role of both the Secretary-General and the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group itself which is dealing with those issues. Secondly, it seems to us that this particular proposal is like a duplication of what the UN is doing through its Rapporteurs.

And at a time when the organisation is facing budgetary difficulties whether it should really go that direction, is not clear. I raised the specific issue as to where the money was going to come from, and it was mentioned that it might involve reallocation of some of the resources of the Secretariat as of now. And when you consider that the current allocation and budget of the Commonwealth secretariat has been decided after considerable discussion and approval by the Heads, reallocation at this stage does not seem appropriate.

It seems to us that the real focus of the Commonwealth should be once again on the development challenges which are uppermost in the minds of the vast majority of the members. So, while we support the important values of democracy, rule of law and human rights, we believe the Commonwealth should focus on strengthening the existing institutions rather than trying to create new ones.

 

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