The Commonwealth is a voluntary association of 53 sovereign nations working together to promote principles of democracy, human rights, the rule of law, and world peace. The modern Commonwealth was founded in 1949, but has historical roots dating back to the 1880s. The Commonwealth now has 2 billion citizens, with nearly all of them hailing from former British colonies. There is no written constitution, but there are a series of agreements, most notably the Declaration of Commonwealth Principles signed in 1971 and the Harare Commonwealth Declaration signed in 1991. The main inter-governmental body is the Commonwealth Secretariat, the association's executive branch. The association also consists of the Commonwealth Foundation, which unites the non-governmental bodies and organizations of the association, and the Commonwealth of Learning, which supervises distance learning. Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom is considered the Head of the Commonwealth, but this position is largely symbolic. While the Commonwealth has no court system or decision making body, it continues to influence domestic policies, especially of the many developing members which benefit from the sharing of ideas at the various international forums.
||Keywords: rule of law, public international law, international obligations, human rights, international agreements
Recent Developments: Commonwealth Helps Small Nations Meet Challenges in Implementing International Law
Twenty-five nations gathered at a recent meeting of Law Ministers and Attorneys General of Small Commonwealth Jurisdictions in London on October 4-5 to discuss the ongoing challenges in implementing international law. The 32 official "small states", nations with populations under 1.5 million citizens, have traditionally faced more difficulties incorporating international law than their larger counterparts. In his opening speech the Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon encouraged the smaller members to continue working towards integrating international law into their domestic legal systems. He recognized the political, economic, cultural and logistical challenges facing this goal and pledged to continue working with each state to find solutions. He also stressed the importance of the rule of law to all nations, reminding the ministers and attorneys-general that "the rule of law is your professional reason for being."
A keynote paper by Dr. Chaloka Beyani was also presented on the subject to aid in discussion. It included a number of recommendations to assist small jurisdictions in meeting their international legal obligations. The paper noted the need for such jurisdictions to become fully involved with the international law community, including civil society organizations. It went on to discuss the value of international law in maintaining sovereign equality and accepting the jurisdiction of international dispute resolution means such as the International Court of Justice. Regulation of the private sector in the face of globalization was also encouraged. Lastly, the paper recognized that international law must be incorporated into domestic legislation and that human rights obligations must be met.
In the discussion that followed, several members voiced concerns over unintended consequences of international conventions. Several states found that meeting the obligations of these conventions caused internal conflicts, citing difficulties reconciling international expectations with local norms. It was noted that working with other nations in the same region or with similar circumstances could be helpful.
The Commonwealth continues to look for ways to assist its member nations fulfill their international obligations. One successful initiative has been the dispatching of legislative drafters to smaller member states to assist in legal reform. Training local lawmakers so that they may strengthen the rule of law without outside help has also been fruitful. Additionally, the training of local judiciary to learn new law and more effectively handle case loads has yielded positive results.
Along with legal issues, the Commonwealth continues to work with small countries on logistical problems. One example is the recent ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Political Rights by the Maldives. In ratifying these treaties the Maldives needed to reinvent their Human Rights Commission as an independent legal entity in order to monitor and fulfill the newfound obligations.
Another Commonwealth initiative which has benefited the Maldives is human rights training for police including details of rights for police, suspects, victims and the general public. This work is especially important as police brutality has been one of the chief human rights concerns in the Maldives.
In addition to hands on training, the Commonwealth's Human Rights Unit has created the Handbook on Ratification of Human Rights Instruments to assist member countries such as the Maldives in dealing with potential problems arising from ratification of international human rights agreements.
The work performed by the Commonwealth is vital because the adoption of international covenants by these small nations builds global confidence in these states. By continuing to strengthen the rule of law these nations can continue to progress economically. Industries such as tourism and financial services provide opportunities for growth, but both rely on stable governance, a fundamental principle of the Commonwealth.
Meanwhile, the extension of globalization has left nations more interdependent on one another. Nations increasingly find that they must be able to rely on others to follow the rule of law. Through the cooperation of the Commonwealth nations, many small nations are becoming reliable contributors at a rate much greater than they could achieve on their own. This in turn strengthens the entire international community, especially the international legal community which relies heavily on widespread agreement and participation for validation.
The Commonwealth, available at http://www.thecommonwealth.org/subhomepage/151236/ (last visited October 31, 2007).
Commonwealth Secretariat, Singapore Declaration of Commonwealth Principles, (January 22, 1971), available at http://www.thecommonwealth.org/Templates/
Internal.asp?NodeID=32987 (last visited October 31, 2007); Commonwealth Secretariat, Harare Commonwealth Declaration, (October 20, 1991), available at http://www.thecommonwealth.org/Internal/
20723/34457/harare_commonwealth_declaration/ (last visited October 31, 2007).
Don McKinnon, Commonwealth Secretary-General Opening Speech, Meeting of Law Ministers and Attorneys General of small Commonwealth jurisdictions, (October 4, 2007), available at
/35178/170441/031007lawministers.htm (last visited October 31, 2007).
Communiqué, Meeting of Law Ministers and Attorneys General of small Commonwealth jurisdictions, (October 4, 2007), available at http://www.thecommonwealth.org/document/
170643/lmscj_07____communique.htm (last visited October 31, 2007).
Young lawyers needed to draft laws in the Pacific, (June 27, 2007), available at http://www.thecommonwealth.org/news/165951/270607tuvalu.htm (last visited October 31, 2007).
Magistrates in Swaziland receive judicial training, (October 31, 2007), available at http://www.thecommonwealth.org/news/171608/311007swaziland.htm (last visited October 31, 2007).
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Welcomes Progress; Stresses Importance of Implementing International Human Rights Instruments, (February 5, 2007), available at http://www.presidencymaldives.gov.mv/
pages/eng_news.php?news:120:2 (last visited October 31, 2007).
HRCM: An Introduction, available at http://www.hrcm.org.mv/profile/index.php (last visited October 31, 2007).
Human rights training for Maldives police, (November 8, 2006), available at http://www.thecommonwealth.org/news/163105
/156408/maldives_police_cheer_training_in_human_rights.htm (last visited October 31, 2007).
Ahmed Saleem, Commonwealth Workshop for NHRIs, (February 27, 2007), available at http://www.thecommonwealth.org/Shared_ASP_Files/UploadedFiles
/51123A66-AA76-40CC-ACF6-9922C5441B6B_MaldivesPresentation.pdf (last visited October 31, 2007).
Commonwealth Secretariat, Handbook on Ratification of Human Rights Instruments, (2006), available at http://www.thecommonwealth.org/Shared_ASP_Files/UploadedFiles
/20AFBD50-7AF7-492D-B68B-CDA734583FAD_RatificationHandbook.pdf (last visited October 31, 2007).
See McKinnon, supra note 1.
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