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Tuesday, 5 March, 2002, 16:36 GMT
Is the Commonwealth an outdated institution?
Commonwealth heads of government will soon begin assembling for this week's meeting in Australia.
The organisation now comprises fifty-four independent member states that have pledged to uphold certain fundamental principles.
These include democracy, equality, the alleviation of poverty and a commitment to world peace.
Members who violate these principles risk sanctions and suspension from the organisation.
In recent years Nigeria, Pakistan and Fiji have come under scrutiny for violations of human rights and undemocratic political processes.
Now the Commonwealth is facing the decision of whether or not to suspend Zimbabwe.
Does the Commonwealth still serve a useful function for its members? Or is it simply an anachronistic legacy of the British Empire with diminishing powers?
We discussed these issues during our phone-in programme from the Commonwealth summit in Brisbane. Our guest was Richard Bourne from the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Vikram Rao, India/ USA
Unless the Commonwealth expands its remit to include possibilities such as a common constitution, free trade agreement and common defence then there is very little point in it other than costing the member states money to send representatives to the meetings.
Chris Glover, Belgium
Many people in powerful countries such as the UK, Australia, India and Pakistan may question the importance of the Commonwealth. However, many members are small countries whose voice is often ignored on the international stage. These countries welcome the opportunity to be heard that the Commonwealth provides (however imperfectly) and it is in everyone's interest to listen, both for what we have in common and what we do not. Any organisation that fosters this dialogue should be supported.
The Commonwealth does bring a lot of countries both rich and poor together. But so does the United Nations, which has relatively greater power. The countries have nothing in "common" except that all of them fought pretty hard to resist the "Empire", which today is saving face in the name of this ludicrous organisation. The Commonwealth as an organisation provides close to no help in either politically or economically helping any of the countries.
Kamran Ezdi, Lahore, Pakistan
Developed economies like the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand as well as powerful emerging nations like India must work together to re-discover the Commonwealth. It is an important force for the future. It could become just as relevant to the UK as the EU and has immense potential. There are very strong cultural and linguistic bonds that now unite many of the countries - more so than in the 1940s. Investment in collaboration - industrial, scientific, technological - is what is needed to prime this process for the 21st century.
Vishal Khote, India
An organisation to promote democracy with a monarch as the head? Wake up and smell the coffee! This is not going to get nations anywhere. The Commonwealth is a white elephant that needs to be removed. It has been truly ineffective and powerless. It has no role to play in the modern world.
Yes the Commonwealth is an outdated
institution and so for that matter is the
political entity known as the United
Mayank Joshi, London, UK
The Commonwealth has a great deal of potential to do good and has had some success in the past. It does need a lot of reform and should re affirm its strong commitment to democracy and human rights and poverty alleviation. The organisation itself should be made more relevant and democratic by removing the Queen as its head.
Quite obviously, if an organisation has not achieved any of its objectives then it needs to be either removed or reformed. The Commonwealth has had no real influence, positive or negative, on its member nations. Therefore, I am sure it can be dispensed with and no one would even raise an eyebrow.
The Commonwealth is a unique organisation like no other in the world. It brings together rich and poor under one common desire for democracy.
The Commonwealth is still relevant. But, like Michael Ashton said it would be much better if it could build a trade zone within itself so that its much poorer members can benefit. The Commonwealth is one of the few organisations in the world that spans a host of cultures yet is united by a common past of being affiliated with the British Empire. For the Commonwealth to move forward it needs to defend its members and assist them.
The Commonwealth could be
more useful if it was to turn
itself into a free trade area with
common currency etc. It already
has a common history, language
and similar political cultures - it could
build on these and do so much
more like the EU.
The Commonwealth, by enforcing a sporting ban on South Africa (primarily cricket and rugby), hastened the end of the apartheid regime in that country. The organisation should re-double its efforts to preserve democracy in all its member countries.
The Commonwealth does seem to have a role to play, and has been quite effective in encouraging change in South Africa and now perhaps Zimbabwe. It seems to be a small closely knit group of nations with some shared interests and history. As for my fellow Canadian's opinion (Andrew), cogent points are what matters not negative ones from a book based around the dated issues of dependency theory. Any organisation that brings differing cultures together in a positive forum is of benefit. If you would like to see a useless talking shop where supposedly similar cultures try to work out "their own problems" read the press releases from an ASEAN or even better a SAARC meeting.
Unfortunately, the Commonwealth has no moral, military or economic authority to impose its will on anyone considering that it's a formation of unwilling colonialised countries and now-defunct colonial powers. The Commonwealth is largely an organisation whose basic purpose is to remind the English of how "great" they were a very long time ago and pass useless resolutions that no one cares about.
Sure. Some of the problems faced by Commonwealth member countries started at the time when they were ruled by the British. Britain can and should play a constructive role in solving these problems.
Zimbabwe: Is Commonwealth tough enough?
01 Feb 02 | Country profiles
01 Feb 02 | Country profiles
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