Commonwealth sessions end with agreement on reforms
Commonwealth leaders agreed Sunday to a series of reforms they said would prevent the 54-nation bloc sliding into irrelevancy, but divisions over human rights diluted their modernisation drive, AFP reported.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard hailed the results of their summit as proof the institution set up 62 years ago with roots in the former British Empire was capable of adapting to the times.
"In terms of strengthening the Commonwealth, we as leaders have taken some major reform decisions," Gillard told reporters after the three-day event in the Australian city of Perth wrapped up.
"I believe we have made a major contribution to ensuring the Commonwealth is an institution that is well positioned for the future. We have set the direction for a more purposeful, relevant and valuable Commonwealth."
Leaders at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting agreed to establish a charter of common values seen as crucial in directing the organisation that represents two billion people from vastly different stages of development.
They also gave more power for the Commonwealth to pressure member nations that are committing human rights abuses or drifting away from democracy.
Previously CHOGM's main avenue was to expel or suspend a rogue nation, a measure that only punished a country after a dramatic event rather than trying to prevent it.
And British Prime Minister David Cameron secured approval to scrap centuries-old laws barring first-born daughters or anyone married to a Roman Catholic from inheriting the British throne, which is shared by 15 other Commonwealth realms.
However, the results fell far short of "bold" reforms called for by an "Eminent Persons Group" that CHOGM itself commissioned two years ago to help it maintain relevancy.
One of the key reforms called for by the group -- and brushed aside in Perth -- was for an independent commissioner on human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
Another recommendation that failed to be adopted was for CHOGM to call for an end to homophopic laws in 41 member nations.
The chair of the Eminent Person's Group, former Malaysian prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, had told the delegates at the start of the summit that it would be regarded as a "failure" if the reforms were not achieved.
Gillard acknowledged Sunday there had been tense moments during the summit as leaders of countries with different values sought to impose their beliefs on other delegates.
"Some of the discussions have not been easy. Getting consensus in an organisation as diverse as the Commonwealth is never easy," she said.
Sri Lanka had faced particularly strong pressure at CHOGM with Australia and Canada raising concerns about alleged war crimes committed by its military in 2009 as it ended a decades-long civil war against Tamil Tiger separatists.
Sri Lanka, which hosts the next CHOGM summit in 2013, was one of the nations that rejected the proposal to set up a human rights commissioner.
Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Gamini Peiris said he was incensed when the Canadian delegation sought to raise the war crimes accusations during the summit.
"I took the floor at that point and objected very strongly to the matter being taken up," he told reporters.
"My submission was that far from strengthening the Commonwealth, this development would not augur well for the future of the Commonwealth at all."