Monday, October 04, 2010

The Commonwealth

from w
With the Commonwealth Games in full swing and good luck to all the athletes from a disparate lot of countries, I am just wondering what is this 'Common-wealth' and where it is going. These are some rambling thoughts and grabs from the internet. I'll rewrite this later after I do the breakfast dishes!What is the value? With the history of British imperialism, exploitation of resources, a point of view that expects the British to be rulers over a variety of indigenous peoples, sending criminals and never-do-wells to the far corners, slavery. There's a bad history behind the colonial story. Okay there's been some altruism, some aid, some development, some grants, some co-operation.

But, is there a value in being part of this disparate group of nations in these modern days? Certainly the Commonwealth Games is a wonderful event for young people to experience meeting with strangers-becoming-friends from many different parts of the world linked by British colonial history.

And what about the teenage kid in the corner writing out a thousand times, I must be on my best behaviour at all times! They certainly picked on little Fiji while barely casting an eye on many countries with serious human rights abuses. Fiji left in 1987; rejoined in 1997; suspended on 6 June 2000; suspension lifted on 20 December 2001;[34] again suspended in 2006 because of the 2006 Fijian coup d'├ętat.
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Here are a few grabs from internet resources:

The modern Commonwealth has come a long way since it was ''invented'' in April 1949 to replace the original ''British'' Commonwealth of The United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Its members reflect every region, religion and race on the globe. Critics allege that the Commonwealth is a colonial relic, a neo-imperial conspiracy and nothing but ''a collection of not very important states brought together by accident of having been colonised by Britain''. Others claim that it is a toothless (originally British) bulldog and a mere talking shop which has helped Britain to slowly come to terms with its loss of empire.

The Commonwealth is also accused of failing to effectively discipline members who fail to apply the principles of human rights and good governance which underpin the organisation.

Supporters, meanwhile, hold the organisation up as a British ''foreign policy success story'' and cite the queue of prospective members as evidence of its vibrancy and continuing relevance.

Without it, they argue, many impoverished small states (who make up the majority of its membership) would find it difficult to network and build strategic alliances in the competitive modern world.

It is also said to be a important simply because it a ''decent club...which confers a sense of identity...no more no less.''

What do you think? Is the Commonwealth a pointless neo-colonial talking shop that achieves nothing in the world today? What if any role do you think it plays< Would the world be a worse place without it? Do you have ideas on how it should change? Should the British monarch, for example, still head the organisation?

The Commonwealth has developed a 21st-century role – as a haven for serial human rights abusers
by Tom Porteous, London director Published in: The Guardian (UK)
November 24, 2009

What's the point of the Commonwealth? Every two years the question comes around in the run-up to the Commonwealth heads of government meeting. Then everyone goes home and forgets about it until the next one.

Starved of cash and political attention, the Commonwealth becomes ever more marginal. Even the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office hardly mentions it in major foreign policy pronouncements.

But is the Commonwealth redundant? Or is it, as Lord Howell, a Tory former chair of the foreign affairs committee, said recently, an "ideal soft power network" for the multipolar world?

The answer depends on whether the Commonwealth can muster the collective political will to uphold its core values of political freedom and respect for human rights. In the past it has punished errant members: apartheid South Africa was excluded; Nigeria was suspended in 1995 after the execution of Ken Saro Wiwa; Pakistan was suspended after General Musharraf's coup d'etat in 1999, and again in 2007; Zimbabwe was suspended in 2002, and withdrew from the organisation the following year.
However, in recent years the collective political will of Commonwealth members to promote human rights has all but evaporated. Only the tiny Pacific nation of Fiji, suspended following a coup in 2006. Its secretariat fails to push or fund its human rights unit as a viable mechanism to encourage its members to comply with international standards; neither the secretary-general nor the diplomats of leading member states make a serious effort to get the Commonwealth to act collectively at the UN and elsewhere to champion human rights.

Over the past six years, the Sri Lankan government - presiding over serious violations of the laws of war and a vicious assault on its critics - has even sat on the Commonwealth ministerial action group, responsible for enforcing members' compliance with the Commonwealth's core values. There could be no better symbol of its failure to protect human rights and political freedoms.

Pakistan and Bangladesh, with a nod from London and Washington, use the real threat of terrorism to justify abuses such as torture and illegal detention. Kenya deliberately avoids accountability for serious abuses during the post-election violence in 2007. Cameroon, Uganda and the Gambia intimidate human rights defenders and journalists...

If the Commonwealth is to become relevant in the 21st century, it must set itself in opposition to the gathering forces of intolerance and authoritarianism. As a global, multifaith, multiracial network of genuinely rights-respecting states, the Commonwealth could be a powerful symbol of the universality of human rights and a champion of their protection. But that means first engaging constructively with its own members on their shortcomings, taking strong action against serial abusers, and refusing to accept new members unless they are genuinely committed to human rights and democracy.

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