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Charter for the Commonwealth adopted by Commonwealth countries

December 20, 2012

Acting Prime Minister Wayne Swan and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Bob Carr, today welcomed the adoption by Commonwealth leaders of the Charter for the Commonwealth, a key achievement for Australia during its term as Chair-in-Office of the Commonwealth (October 2011 to November 2013).

In what is a significant achievement, the Charter enshrines for the first time the values and aspirations of a Commonwealth in a single document. The Commonwealth is made up of two billion people in 54 countries, spanning all continents and major religions.

The Charter reflects the Commonwealth’s commitment to democracy, human rights and the rule of law. It sets out the Commonwealth’s principles of tolerance, respect and understanding, freedom of expression, separation of powers and gender equality. The Charter emphasises the importance of young people and civil society, the environment and sustainable development, good governance and access to health, education, food and shelter. It recognises the special needs of small and vulnerable states within the Commonwealth.

Leaders at last year’s Perth Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) called for the negotiation of the Charter following recommendations made by the Commonwealth Eminent Persons’ Group (EPG) for a document that captures and institutionalises the Commonwealth ‘spirit’. Following national consultations with civil society and a meeting of Commonwealth Foreign Ministers chaired by Senator Carr in September 2012, the text of the charter has now been adopted by all members.

Acting Prime Minister Swan and Senator Carr thanked the EPG, which included Australia’s former High Court Justice, the Honourable Michael Kirby AC CMG, for their contribution to the Commonwealth. They made special note of Mr Kirby’s work in leading the first draft of the Charter presented by the EPG.

The EPG was established by Commonwealth Heads of Government at their summit in Trinidad and Tobago in November 2009. The group, made up of 11 distinguished individuals from across the Commonwealth, was tasked with advising Leaders on how to sharpen the impact, strengthen the networks, and raise the profile of the Commonwealth.

  1. R Rands permalink
    December 21, 2012 5:31 am

    So, I’m interested.

    Where’s the link to this charter?

  2. December 21, 2012 7:00 am

    Dear Senator Carr,

    Once I would have been impressed by Australian support for the Commonwealth Charter which “reflects the Commonwealth’s commitment to democracy, human rights and the rule of law.” However, since the governments of Britain and Australia have recognised the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) as the “legitimate voice of the Syrian people”, I feel a sense of great despair.

    The SNC is a body hobbled together by powerful countries which support and fund the militias in Syria. These militias are incited to commit the most heinous crimes by extremist clerics. For example, recent video images from the ‘rebels’ show a child beheading a soldier. Many Syrian Australians have lost relatives to the indiscriminate violence of the militias. Furthermore, a significant number of the anti-government fighters are from other countries attracted to Syria because they believe in a violent jihad, or because it is a paid job. A young man who travelled to Syria to join the ‘jihad’ has reported on Tunisian TV how the poor are being used as ‘cannon fodder’ in what he calls a ‘proxy war’ in Syria. The targets of the jihad in Syria are people considered ‘infidels’, ‘heretics’, ‘collaborators’. (Most Australians would be labelled as one or the other of these by extremist clerics used to incite the violence against secular Syrians.)

    Millions of innocent Syrians could be killed; genocide could be committed; a state destroyed. The war could go on for decades and could engulf the region. The call for a violent ‘revolution’ may one day be heard in Australia. Commonwealth countries which believe in ‘the rule of law’ and ‘democracy’ are complicit in the terror, death and destruction in Syria.

    What will Australia’s future be if we condone the same terror which Australians experienced in Bali? If we do not display moral courage and independence? When the rhetoric of our government and that of the Commonwealth becomes hollow, what will our own soldiers be fighting for?


    Susan Dirgham

    National Coordinator of “Australians for Mussalaha (Reconciliation) In Syria”

  3. December 24, 2012 5:35 pm

    Reblogged this on Daniel's Blog.

  4. December 31, 2012 1:26 am

    I have just read the Commonwealth Charter and am shocked. Its good to see a key role identified for Civil Society (which so far as I’m aware the Australian government doesn’t support – continuing to use terms like charity and not for profit organiation instead of the term civil society). Michael Kirby was a good Australian addition to the Commission which drafted it and he is well acquainted with the Commonwealth. However he is a lawyer and there seems to be an excess of legalistic points in the Charter while Commonwealth values related to social policy are somewhat lacking. For example I was shocked to see Education relegated to a commodity along with health, housing, sanitation and food, completely neglecting the transformative power of education to achieve many of the other goals which is one of the major areas of activity of the Commonwealth.

    I attended the Commonwealth Ministers of Education conference in Mauritius, in September representing the Commonwealth Association of Adult Education and Training, and was surprised to see no Australian Ministers there. Education does not mean only formal schooling as the Charter seems to imply. Similarly Health is not just a service, but something all citizens contribute to, it is treated in a very summary way in the Charter as if it means access to medical services!.

    What a pity there was little discussion of this Charter in Australia. However now that it exists I hope the Australian government will try to promote some of its principles! I have tried twice to get some discussion of the important role of civil society in Labor Party conferences and always failed. It is time for Australians to become aware of the myriad of ‘semit secret’ voluntary associations which exist in our midst and play a key role in framing political discourse (or used to do so in the past). Our political debate would be much the better for it.

    Dr Helen Hill
    Fitzroy, Victoria

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