by Amit Roy
LEADERS VOW TO WORK TOGETHER ON EQUALITY, CLIMATE CHANGE, POLLUTION AND CYBER CRIME
COMMONWEALTH heads of government indicated last week that they will push for gay rights, but political analysts pointed out this is easier said than done because homosexuality remains an offence in 37 out of the 53 member states.
India has shown itself willing to play a leadership role in the organisation, partly because it will soon be the largest economy in the Commonwealth. Also, from the Commonwealth’s total population of 2.4 billion, India accounts for 1.25 billion.
Although gay people are no longer prosecuted in India, the law which makes homosexuality an offence has not been removed from its statute books. A spokesperson for the Indian government declined comment on any proposed changes to same-sex relationships in the country.
The end of summit press conference was addressed by a number of leaders, among them British prime minister Theresa May. She said: “I have been clear that nobody should face persecution or discrimination because of who they are or who they love. And the UK stands ready to support any Commonwealth member wanting to reform outdated legislation that permits discrimination, including against same-sex relations.”
The agreed communiqué, Towards a Common Future, makes a number of points on fundamental political values, gender equality and inclusion.
It said the leaders “emphasised that the full social, economic and political participation of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status, is essential for democracy and sustainable development to thrive”.
They aimed for policies and programmes “that promote gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls in social, economic and political life”, the statement added.
One paragraph disguised the differing attitudes to LGBT rights with the Commonwealth: “Heads are encouraged by continuing action by member countries and Commonwealth bodies to prevent and eliminate sexual and gender-based violence; child, early and forced marriage; and female genital mutilation as barriers to the development and the full realisation of girls’ and women’s human rights and to sustainable growth and development.
“Heads also encouraged support for already married girls, adolescents and women who have been affected by such practices.”
Joined by the leaders of Samoa, Grenada, Ghana and the Commonwealth secretary general, Baroness (Patricia) Scotland – Indian prime minister Narendra Modi had left for Germany after the informal gathering in Windsor – it was left to the host prime minister to sum what up what CHOGM 2018 had achieved and its ambitions for the future.
The Windrush scandal affecting people who came from the Caribbean decades ago could not have broken at a worse time for May.
On migration, for example, the statement asserted: “Heads recognised that safe, regular, and responsible migration, with full respect for international human rights obligations, can deliver socio-economic benefits and improve the resilience and inclusive growth of member countries and lead to sustainable development.”
May repeated earlier apologies: “I met with the Caribbean leaders where I gave an absolute commitment that the UK government will do whatever it takes, including where appropriate payment of compensation, to resolve the anxieties and problems which some of the Windrush generation have suffered.
“These people are British. They are part of us. They helped to build Britain. And we are all the stronger for their contributions.”
May will be reminded by the Labour opposition – and Commonwealth countries – that diversity begins at home.
There was agreement on the need for deal with such issues as plastic pollution in the oceans, climate change – many of the Commonwealth’s members are islands vulnerable to rising sea levels – and cyber crime.
May emphasised that the Commonwealth, a unique organisation, does have its strengths: “This week we have demonstrated that the Commonwealth is united not only by a common history – but by a common future: a future in which we work together for the benefit of all our citizens and for the wider world.
“For when many of the greatest challenges we face are global in nature, the breadth of the Commonwealth – spanning six continents and a third of the world’s population – offers a unique perspective in helping to forge the global solutions we need.
“No other organisation has our geographical and cultural diversity, while giving all nations an equal role, an equal voice and an equal standing.”
Referring to the effects of climate change, she pointed out: “Indeed, we are in London today because of the devastation wrought on Vanuatu by Cyclone Pam in 2015.
“So as a global leader in the fight against climate change, we are proud that every nation of the Commonwealth has now ratified the Paris Agreement.
“And every one of our nations is united behind its highest ambition of pursuing efforts to limit the increase in global average temperature to 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels. At this summit we have taken specific action to protect our oceans with the first ever Commonwealth Blue Charter.
“The UK and Vanuatu are working together to launch the Commonwealth Clean Oceans Alliance to tackle the scourge of plastic pollution.
“And we are already seeing a series of commitments that can mark a breakthrough in the battle to save our oceans. For instance, Papua New Guinea has banned plastic bags… Belize will ban plastic bags, forks and other single use items by 2019… New Zealand has announced a ban on microbeads which will come into effect in June… The Bahamas is planning to ban plastic bags this year… and the UK has pledged to ban plastic straws, stirrers and plastic-stemmed cotton buds.”
She confirmed Prince Charles would take over from the Queen: “Today we have agreed that the next head of the Commonwealth shall be His Royal Highness Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales. He has been a proud supporter of the Commonwealth for more than four decades and has spoken passionately about the organisation’s unique diversity. And it is fitting that, one day, he will continue the work of his mother, Her Majesty The Queen.”
The next CHOGM summit will be held in 2020 in Rwanda. Samoa has offered to host the gathering after that, in 2022.