The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), which concluded in Colombo on Sunday, is a good example of a ‘meeting for the sake of meeting’. Mainly a conglomeration of countries once ruled by the British, the Commonwealth has little in common today. The glue that holds it together is the commitment of member nations towards democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
With many nations criticising Sri Lanka, which hosted the CHOGM, for its human rights abuses and war crimes, the relevance of the Commonwealth is being questioned. A common criticism is that it refuses to take a stand against erring nations — an approach that has eroded its credibility.
That only 27 heads of government attended the Colombo CHOGM shows that the 53-member Commonwealth is battling a split down the middle. Among the leaders who gave it a miss were Queen Elizabeth II (for the first time in over four decades), Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Mauritius Prime Minister Navin Chandra Ramgoolam.
While Mr Harper’s decision came early in October, Mr Singh’s last-minute decision has given the impression that it was based more on politics than on principle.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said the Colombo summit was a “reaffirmation of the spirit and willingness of wanting to stay together as a unique collection of nations”. The events that unfolded tell another story. Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron’s visit to Jaffna and his statement that if progress was not seen before March, he would urge the UN Human Rights Commission for a “full, credible and independent international inquiry” turned the focus on the Mahinda Rajapaksa government’s human rights record.
Australia and Canada’s objection to backing a ‘Capital Green Fund’ to help smaller states tackle climate change can be seen as a failure of the Colombo CHOGM. The statement released after the meet that said the countries had agreed to address issues like poverty reduction, trade and youth affairs, pales given the group’s potential. Irrespective of the fate of the 2015 CHOGM in Malta, it is now clear that the Commonwealth is a relic of the past without any real significance.