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Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Uganda)

Volume 468: debated on Monday 26 November 2007

The biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting (CHOGM) took place in Kampala, from 23 to 25 November. Her Majesty the Queen attended the meeting in her role as Head of the Commonwealth. This was Her Majesty the Queen’s 18th CHOGM, and I—like my fellow Commonwealth leaders—pay tribute to her dedication and commitment to the Commonwealth.

The meeting came at a critical moment: in the midst of the democratic crisis in Pakistan; one week before the Bali climate change conference with only 10 to 15 years to turn the tide on global warming; half way to the millennium development goals which the world is in danger of not meeting; with months left to agree a global trade deal; and with no room for complacency in the fight against extremism.

And as a unique partnership of rich and poor countries, the Commonwealth has a critical role to play in meeting these challenges.

Commonwealth leaders met in the aftermath of President Musharraf’s decision on 3 November to declare a state of emergency. On 12 November the Commonwealth Ministers’ Action Group (CMAG) set out five conditions for Pakistan to fulfil in order to avoid suspension from the Commonwealth: lifting the state of emergency; the president giving up his job as chief of staff of the army; holding free and fair elections; releasing political detainees incarcerated during the emergency; and removing restrictions on the freedom of the press. Meeting in Kampala on the eve of CHOGM, CMAG concluded that whilst progress had been made—not least the commitment to an election that has been announced for 8 January—the five conditions had not been met and, crucially, the state of emergency was still in place. Therefore Pakistan was suspended from the Councils of the Commonwealth.

The CHOGM and the UK made clear that we hope to see Pakistan restored to the Commonwealth as soon as possible and will revisit the suspension in January once the election has taken place.

The Commonwealth has sent the strongest signal that, above all, it stands for democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

The meeting also agreed with the need to act collectively to:

redouble their efforts to deliver education for all, with a particular focus on enrolling the 30 million primary school aged children out of school across the Commonwealth; eliminating gender disparity in education; and strengthening education systems in countries affected by conflict. At Britain’s initiative, heads also undertook to put in place, by the end of 2008, at least 20 long-term education plans of the type endorsed by the Education for All Fast Track Initiative, and to focus on measuring and improving the quality of education;

achieve a successful conclusion to the WTO’s negotiations, in light of the fundamental contribution of international trade to global prosperity, sustainable development and to the elimination of poverty;

establish a small group of Commonwealth Heads to campaign for reform of international institutions, in order to achieve an architecture which reflects today’s global challenges and is more effective and more representative;

meet the Millennium Development Goals—the responsibility of all countries rich and poor—and called for a UN meeting next year to re-energise global efforts; and,

achieve a declaration on climate change, as we move towards the Bali summit, by calling for a long term global goal for emissions reduction to which all countries must contribute—a comprehensive post-2012 global agreement that strengthens, broadens and deepens current arrangements and leads to reduced emissions of global greenhouse gasses. We agreed on the need for all Commonwealth members to assess the implications of climate change for their societies, and offered new technical assistance through the Commonwealth to help achieve this.

CHOGM also endorsed the analysis by the Commission on Respect and Understanding led by Nobel Prize Winner Amartya Sen on how to promote respect and understanding among different ethnic and faith groups. The meeting recognised that all countries must work together to tackle the causes of radicalisation and noted that the diversity of its members gives the Commonwealth a unique perspective on these issues. Heads of Government committed to developing concrete activities to give practical effect to the Commission’s recommendations.

We also applauded the work of Don McKinnon, outgoing Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, who has led the organisation with energy and creativity and welcomed his successor, Mr. Sharma.

I am confident that, following the Kampala CHOGM, the Commonwealth can continue to play a vital role in international affairs.

Copies of the concluding communiqué have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.