Wednesday, October 26, 2011

CHOGM 2011: The Commonwealth At A Cross-road

On the 12th of this month, I participated as a panelists at an event titled; "Human Rights: can the Commonwealth get its bite back?" organized and hosted by the Royal Commonwealth Society (RCS).

The event was well attended and panelists included the UK minister for Equalities, Lynne Featherstone MP, former Head of Human Rights Unit at the Commonwealth Secretariat, Dr Purna Sen (now Director of programmes at London School of Economics - LSE), Co-founder and joint Executive Director of the Death Penalty Project, Saul Lehrfreund and chaired by Broadcaster and Writer, Simon Fanshawe.

In my short speech, I argued that the problem of the Commonwealth is not that it is not unique, but because it has lapsed into irrelevance. I questioned the knowledge of its boasted 2 billion plus population on its existence and their affinity?

In my conclusion, I suggested that the Commonwealth could be influential, invaluable and even iconoclastic only if it chooses to be. However, all the above can be a dream lost with the fading of the morning darkness.

Looking back over the 60 years of its existence, the question is, has the Commonwealth been advancing or diminishing? Has is progressed or retrogressed? Is it still needed and would it survive? But more importantly, is it prepared to survive?

The answer to these questions seems all negative; the Commonwealth doesnt, at this point, seem equipped to move on. Although it may defy this and continue to exist as a polity, but its lack of impact is equivalent to a living dead.

However, there is hope. It is not written off yet. In my speech, I stressed that majority still have hope in the body to make a difference; yet it depends on whether it would like to.

And the above brings us to the very present; the Commonwealth is on a wide freeway that is also the precipice of a gulf. Would it crash over the barriers and perish in the abyss below or can it navigate successfully on the freeway to safety?

In his article on CHOGM, first Director of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiatives (CHRI) argued almost the same as I did on the 12th.

Eleven years into the 21st century, the uprising in the middle-east spells out the desperation of the oppressed masses and unequivocally sends out signals to both governments and inter-governmental bodies that better governance and democracy is necessary to retain the realm.

And as Justice for Gay Africans showed in the last 2 years lobbying the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Secretary General directly on the issues of criminalization in its member-states, the time for a clear and decisive action is here.

The Commonwealth must make up its mind by the end of this week at its summit biennial gathering whether it would exist and make an impact or occupy Marlborough House, London as a private members club and a tourist attraction. Whichever it chooses, the body would be writing a new chapter in its history; but one would hope not one that gently digs its grave.

But now is the time; the choice must be made. The Commonwealth must now either DO or DIE!

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