(Written in UK English)

Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma has cited the recently concluded CHOGM, in Perth, Australia, as one which will be remembered for its visionary decisions aimed at reforming the organisation and strengthening its effectiveness and associated partnerships.

Following the 2009 CHOGM in Port of Spain, Trinidad, burgeoning concerns about the organisation’s political relevance and ambiguous actions pushed heads of government to create an independent body geared at examining the issues and providing workable solutions. The resulting Eminent Persons Group, through its 16 months of consultations and deliberations, provided heads of government at the 2011 CHOGM with a number of recommendations to aid in the organisation’s reformation.

Of the 106 recommendations put forth in a Report, “A Commonwealth of the People: Time for Urgent Reform,” 30 were swiftly adopted, said Sharma, with roughly two thirds queued to be considered within a specified time frame.

During the two-day summit, there was much debate over two of the 106 recommendations; namely – the creation of a Commonwealth Charter and the appointment of a Commissioner for Democracy, the Rule of Law and Human Rights – the latter of which would support the affairs of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) and the Secretary-General.

After much scrutiny, said Sharma, the EPGs recommendation for the development of an official Charter was adopted. The Charter will compile into a single, non-legally binding document, all Commonwealth declarations and agreements dating back to the Singapore Declaration of Commonwealth Principles in 1971 – the association’s fundamental values and principles.

Though accepted, Sharma assured that further discussions will be held to ascertain the parameters of the document. “There will be consultation in member countries organised by member governments to ensure that this Charter is owned by the people.”

Full approval of the Charter is carded to occur following the September 2012 meeting of Commonwealth Foreign Ministers in New York.

Though the EPG scored success in having its recommendation for the charter accepted by the heads of government, the same however, can’t be said of its recommendation for a Commissioner.

Heads of government disregarded the recommendation, citing issues of overlapping between what was suggested by the EPG and a proposal presented by the CMAG for its own reformation.

The post of commissioner was recommended by the EPG amid growing concerns about the CMAGs failure to act expeditiously and effectively on serious violations of the rule of law and matters affecting Commonwealth states.

The commissioner, it had recommended, would serve by bringing to the attention of the CMAG and Secretary-General, all evidence and analyses collected from reports of injustices and violations reported.

Though Sharma acknowledges the need for the CMAG to “engage earlier and constructively in the future,” he believes the organisation should continue functioning in its own way.

“We will of course continue to be an organisation that finds its own niches and ways of doing things in a constructive spirit,” he said. “We are an organization that always aims to offer the helping hand before any wagging finger.”

As for now, explained Sharma, because “CMAG has been lifted up,” by the reforms it has put forward, “the type of role [suggested by the EPG] has to be re-examined.” Examination of the issue has been tasked to the Secretary-General and the CMAG. Both are expected to submit their findings for review at the Foreign Ministers meeting in September.

The concerns of Commonwealth youth were also at the “heart of engagement by heads,” said the Secretary-General.

Beyond engaging members of the Commonwealth Youth Forum in dynamic dialogue, heads of government opted to adopt the EPG recommendation for the creation of a constitution by the Commonwealth Youth Programme.

The constitution will be used to in turn to create an independent youth-led Commonwealth Youth Council, which will become the recognised voice of Commonwealth youth.

Recommendations concerning increasing member state debts, climate change and a range of public issues, including HIV/AIDS, were also addressed in the report.

The recommendations however, were not the sole highlights of the summit. The Perth Declaration on Food Security was created by the heads of government. The document highlights the challenges to food security in the Commonwealth and established a unified vision and voice on addressing the issues.

Additionally, for the first time, the two-day biennial summit, which formed part of a week of deliberations by other Commonwealth arms, was held in conjunction with an activity advancing the role of women globally.

A panel discussion examining the theme, “Empowering Women to Lead,” was hosted by the Hon. Julia Gillard MP, Prime Minister of Australia, on October 27. The discussion was  a fitting choice given the celebration of 2011 as the year of Women as Agents of Change and even more so, given the handover of chairmanship of CHOGM from Trinidad and Tobago’s female prime minister, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, to Australia’s own Julia Gillard MP.

CHOGM 2011 has been branded as one of “reform, renewal and resilience,” by Sharma. The Secretary- General, who believes it to have been a “landmark CHOGM,” was himself re-elected to serve a second and final four-year term in office.

CHOGM is held every two years to discuss global and Commonwealth issues, and to agree on collective policies and initiatives.

The next CHOGM will be held in Sri Lanka in 2013.





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