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CHOGM 2011: “Failure to establish a commissioner for democracy”
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CHOGM 2011: “Failure to establish a commissioner for democracy”

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).

Francis Ventura, 21, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Melbourne, recounts how Saturday unfolded as a day of drama, accusation and industrial action.

The second day at the CHOGM leaders’ forum began without much fanfare. The only topic was the disappointment that nations had failed to agree on the appointment of a new human rights watchdog, something that is not good news for those of us who care about how people are treated.

The local newspaper reported that ‘plans for a new Commonwealth charter were also at risk of collapse’. I spoke yesterday with His Excellency James Michel, the President of Seychelles – leader of a developing nation – and he expressed his strong support for a Charter. Only Australia and Canada spoke in support of decriminalising homosexuality yesterday, despite the fact that it has the backing of Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma.

In the 21st century, homosexuality being illegal in over 40 of 54 nations is as remarkable as it is disgusting. Prime Ministers David Cameron and Julia Gillard held a press conference late yesterday to announce that the discriminatory nature of Britain’s royal succession laws would be reduced.

Early today I attended a briefing by the Commonwealth spokesman where he received some feisty questions from the Sri Lankan press. The questions surrounded criticism of Sri Lanka regarding alleged war crimes committed in 2009, and the fact that ‘the West’, including nations such as the United Kingdom, had to fight terrorists at home, yet were the first to point the finger when Sri Lanka was forced to defend itself. Some countries, most notably Canada, have threatened to boycott the 2013 CHOGM meeting as there were continued reservations about its human rights record.

Later in the day, the Sri Lankan High Commission announced to all reporters that the Minister for External Affairs would address the media tomorrow to discuss ‘Sri Lanka’s views on the views on the future of the Commonwealth after CHOGM 2011’. Opinions are currently ranging from a withdrawal from the Commonwealth by Sri Lanka to simply a stern state from an aggrieved foreign minister. Nevertheless, it will certainly be an interesting press conference to say the least. The place is buzzing with speculation!

Today’s deliberations were somewhat overshadowed, certainly from a media perspective, by the announcement by Qantas, Australia’s national airline company, that it was immediately suspending all international and domestic flights, thus impacting on the travels of seventeen Heads of State (including yours truly, although rather less significantly).

At the day’s closing press briefing by Prime Minister Gillard and Secretary-General Sharma, I asked a question about whether the leaders’ failure to establish a Commissioner to oversee democracy, rule of law and human rights; and the stymied push to decriminalise homosexuality in over 40 Commonwealth countries meant that the conference would be a failure overall. The Commissioner was recommended and strongly endorsed by the Eminent Persons Group, chaired by a former Malaysian Prime Minister and the push to decriminalise homosexuality was strongly advocated by the Australian delegation.

Secretary-General Sharma believed that these failures didn’t signify an overall failure and Ms Gillard disagreed with the premise of my question. Their responses were somewhat reflective of the post-Copenhagen rhetoric, that there was an agreement to have more discussions on the topic but without solid progress on the pressing topics of the day. As a result, homosexuals will still be subjected to flogging and life imprisonment and there is still no supreme authority on human rights, democracy and rule of law.

I’m looking forward to another action-packed day tomorrow and making sure that the voices of youth and human rights are spoken about!

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About me:

“G’day! My name is Francis Ventura and I am currently studying Politics and International Relations at the University of Melbourne. I am also the youth director of the Australian Republican Movement.

“As Melbourne is the sporting capital of the nation, I have a keen interest in cricket and Australian Rules football. I also love exploring Australia’s beautiful environment. After my studies I would like to dedicate my life to human rights, with a focus on protecting civilians living in war zones or under totalitarian regimes.”

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?

To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/commonwealthcorrespondents/

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