The Commonwealth Secretariat does not impose democratic principles on member states. However, the grouping encourages the adoption and the internalization of good governance practices by its member countries.
This is according to Commonwealth Secretary General, Kamalesh Sharma, who is in Guyana as a guest of the CARICOM Heads of Government, who are scheduled to commence their annual summit today.
In an interview with this newspaper last evening, the Commonwealth Secretary General stated that this position enables member states to become a strategic partner with the Secretariat.
“If they want to do judicial legislation, if they want to build up Human Rights Commissions, want to build up their Election Commissions, want to hold elections in a transparent way, whatever it is they want, the important part is that if they want to walk the walk, we walk the walk with them,” the Secretary General said.
He noted the Commonwealth has been building upon a 1990 declaration, which represented a balanced position of the organization.
According to Secretary General Sharma, one of the principles adopted by the Commonwealth speaks to the fact that democracy does not mean just resorting to national elections but internalising the democratic practice and culture in a society, by various ways, including practicing democracy at the grass root and intermediate levels.
“It can be said that what we have done in terms of value-setting, because of our membership being from all parts of the world, it has been possible for these members to play a role in having their regions adopt it and accept it and live by it and do this benchmarking, whether it is this region or in Africa, Asia or in the pacific,” the Commonwealth Secretary General said, adding that the Commonwealth Secretariat is a value based organization.
On the question of sanctions, the Secretary General said that it is not the policy of the Commonwealth to take such a route.
However, the body did play an integral role in the dismantling of the apartheid system in South Africa.
In the case of Zimbabwe which on its own, severed ties with the Commonwealth, the Secretary General said that the consistent negative reports the Commonwealth Observer Group gave of the recent elections there, put a lot of pressure on the Mugabe Government.
“They knew that they would be answerable to that. So you could see the Commonwealth values working,” the Secretary General said.
He disclosed that on eight occasions, the body suspended member states for various reasons. However on six occasions these states have been able to rejoin the Commonwealth in keeping with Commonwealth values.
“We just don’t apply sanctions as you say. That’s not the political culture of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth recognizes transgressions of fundamental values when the members see it. But at the same time it enjoins the Secretary General to keep on working to see that…democratic constitutionalism is restored.”
Secretary General Sharma said that the two examples of this are Fiji, which is on the immediate agenda of the secretariat, and Zimbabwe which chose not to be a member.
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