Cablegate: (C/Nf) Commonwealth Tackles Climate Change, Mostly Steers Clear of Human Rights Issues


DE RUEHLO #2819/01 3491647
R 151647Z DEC 09

C O N F I D E N T I A L LONDON 002819



E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/15/2019



Classified By: Political Counselor Robin Quinville for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1.(C/NF) Summary: Officials from both HMG and the Commonwealth Secretariat gave Poloff their separate impressions of the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) that was held November 27-29 in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. Officials told Poloff that the major focus of the meeting was on climate change, and the heads of government issued a 14-point Climate Change Declaration (Reftel A) that member states, Commonwealth Secretariat officials, and members of civil society are both publicly and privately endorsing strongly. Officials noted other CHOGM accomplishments: the admission of Rwanda as the Commonwealth's 54th member, a call for Zimbabwe to implement "faithfully and effectively" its power-sharing agreement, and an expression of "deep concern" about the further deterioration of the political situation in Fiji, which was suspended from the Commonwealth earlier this year. HMG officials said that heads of government, led by Prime Minister Brown, blocked Sri Lanka from hosting the 2011 CHOGM but accepted Sri Lanka's offer to host in 2013. Commonwealth Secretariat officials noted that sensitive human rights issues such as those present in Uganda, Sri Lanka, and The Gambia were omnipresent in media reports and in comments from civil society but were notably absent from the CHOGM communique and formal discussions. This year's CHOGM included participation by Danish Prime Minister Rasmussen, French President Sarkozy, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, all of whom chaired the special session on climate change. End Summary.

Climate Change Consensus ------------------------

2.(C/NF) The UK government, members of civil society, and the Commonwealth Secretariat are both publicly and privately praising the climate change consensus issued from Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago on November 28 as part of the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) for its importance and strength ahead of the COP-15 meetings in Copenhagen. In a December 11 meeting, Director of Political Affairs at the Commonwealth Secretariat Amitav Banerji told Poloff that the consensus, a 14-point declaration that called climate change "the challenge of our time" and called for a "comprehensive, substantial and operationally binding agreement" at Copenhagen that would set the stage for a "legally binding outcome by 2010," would be seen as key for consensus-building ahead of the Copenhagen talks. Banerji noted that the declaration pointed out that many low-lying coastal states and small island nations-- which carry equal weight within the Commonwealth-- face an existential threat as a result of climate change but have contributed least to the problem. The declaration also expressed support for the initiative to establish a Copenhagen Launch Fund that would provide fast-start funding for climate change adaptation in the most vulnerable countries; this fund would start in 2010 and build to $10 billion annually by 2012.

3.(C/NF) Banerji said that Prime Minister Brown was "especially keen" for the Commonwealth to issue "an ambitious declaration," and that it was Brown who brought French President Sarkozy into the meeting in hopes that he could help "drum up a consensus." Banerji said that it was always the intent of the Commonwealth to have the declaration be a political statement and said that the power of the agreement was political, in that it allowed the Commonwealth to say that it gave a "major push to the quest for an agreement" at Copenhagen. Banerji said that Australian Prime Minister Rudd played a "star role" in the negotiations, essentially taking over for Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Manning in leading the drafting process and "pushing for a meaningful statement." Banerji further said that Danish Prime Minister Rasmussen, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, and French President Sarkozy chaired the special session but were not involved in the drafting process, making the consensus a true product of the Commonwealth.

4.(C/NF) Brendan Cox, Special Advisor to Prime Minister Brown, told Poloff on November 30 that the special climate change session provided an "important opportunity to gather momentum before Copenhagen," and noted that the proposal to establish the Copenhagen Launch Fund was put forward by the British and subsequently agreed to by all member states. In a December 11 meeting, Mike Smith, Communications Officer at the Commonwealth Policy Studies Unit (CPSU), called climate change the "dominant issue" at the CHOGM and said it was seen as "the sparring before the big fight" in Copenhagen. Smith said the strength of the statement came as a surprise to CPSU; in particular, Smith said that Commonwealth support for the Copenhagen Launch Fund was unexpected.

Commonwealth Health Compact ---------------------------

5.(C/NF) Cox told Poloff that "one of the most significant agreements" at the CHOGM was on health care. According to Cox, the Commonwealth Health Compact, proposed by PM Brown, represents the first time the Commonwealth has committed to universal coverage of free health services. The compact calls on donor countries to deliver on existing commitments for financing in health, welcomes steps taken by low-income countries toward universal access to free health services, and supports the role of civil society to advocate for and contribute to universal coverage of basic health care. Mike Smith said that the health compact "went further than it had to," and noted that some low-income Commonwealth countries had experienced recent successes in health care, citing Tanzania as one example.

New Financial Social Contract -----------------------------

6.(C/NF) On development and the global economy, the heads of government echoed PM Brown's call at the G20 meeting in St. Andrews for a "new social contract" between the financial sector and the public. Banerji said that the five G20 members that are part of the Commonwealth agreed to advocate for the interests of the rest of the Commonwealth within the G20.

Rwanda Admitted as 54th Member ------------------------------

7.(C/NF) Heads of government approved the admission of Rwanda as the 54th Commonwealth member. Rwanda, a French-speaking former colony of Germany and Belgium, is only the second country to be admitted to the Commonwealth without historic ties to Great Britain; the first was Mozambique, in 1995. Mike Smith noted that Rwanda's application for membership had been somewhat controversial due to concerns about human rights in Rwanda, but Banerji said that if the net result of entry was a boost for reconciliation and good governance in Rwanda, that the decision was a good one. Rwandan Information Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said that Rwanda was pleased by the decision and said that Rwanda sees its accession to the Commonwealth as "recognition of the tremendous progress this country has made in the last 15 years." (Reftel B).

Zimbabwe --------

8.(C/NF) The heads of government commented on Zimbabwe only briefly in their communique, stating that they "welcomed the Global Political Agreement (GPA) on power-sharing in Zimbabwe, and expressed the hope that this would be implemented faithfully and effectively." The heads of government also said that they looked forward to the conditions being created for the return of Zimbabwe to the Commonwealth, but Banerji pointed out the ambiguity of what these conditions were: was full implementation of the GPA enough, or was land reform a prerequisite for readmission as well? (Note: Zimbabwe was suspended from the Commonwealth in 2002 over concerns with the electoral and land reform policies of President Mugabe; it then voluntarily withdrew from the organization in 2003. End Note.) Banerji said that President Zuma took seriously his mediator role in the process and was pushing for the Commonwealth to readmit Zimbabwe. But Cox noted that the UK hoped the call for faithful and effective implementation of the GPA would send a clear message to President Mugabe that no country in the Commonwealth was willing to let Zimbabwe back in without real reform.

Fiji ----

9.(C/NF) Banerji told Poloff that CHOGM discussion on Fiji was guided by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), which suspended Fiji from the Commonwealth on September 1, 2009 for its abrogation of the constitution in April 2009 as well as for ongoing restrictions on human rights and the government's decision to further delay elections until 2014. Banerji said that the heads of government "stood firmly by the CMAG" and that the only contentious point with regard to Fiji was its suspension from the 2010 Commonwealth Games; in the end, the heads of government affirmed that sporting ties under the Commonwealth name are inseparable from the values of the Commonwealth itself and endorsed the decision taken by the CMAG that countries under suspension from the Commonwealth should be ineligible to participate in Commonwealth sporting events.

Sri Lanka ---------

10.(C/NF) According to Cox, the UK "worked with like-minded governments" to prevent Sri Lanka from hosting the 2011 CHOGM, as they had offered to do in 2007. Cox said that the reversal was on the basis of "serious human rights concerns, a lack of access for aid workers to the camps, and the lack of reconciliation." According to Cox, PM Brown "personally intervened" to get unanimous agreement to have the 2011 CHOGM in Australia instead of in Sri Lanka. The heads of government did, however, accept Sri Lanka's offer to host the 2013 CHOGM; according to Banerji, this was part of a "package deal" proposed by the UK and included an acceptance of Mauritius' offer to host the 2015 CHOGM. According to Banerji, Sri Lanka now has a much stronger claim to host the 2013 CHOGM than it ever did to host the 2011 CHOGM, and it would take an actual reversal at the 2011 CHOGM to deprive Sri Lanka of its hosting duties. For his part, Cox said that Sri Lanka's hosting duties "would only be on the basis of real progress in human rights and genuine reconciliation." Mike Smith noted that the decision to have Australia host the 2011 CHOGM came as a "complete surprise"; previously, only Sri Lanka and India had been mentioned as possibilities. Banerji said that there had been no formal discussion of the human rights situation in Sri Lanka during the CHOGM and noted that Sri Lanka had announced on the eve of the CHOGM that Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) were free to move out of camps; this may have helped Sri Lanka keep its human rights record off the meeting agenda.

Uganda ------

11.(C/NF) Banerji acknowledged that human rights issues in Uganda and The Gambia had dominated media reports and civil society meetings in Port of Spain but said that neither issues were raised in formal CHOGM proceedings; however, Banerji said that bilateral talks on the margins of the CHOGM had addressed the "appalling and draconian legislation" that would introduce the death penalty for homosexual acts. According to Brendan Cox, PM Brown raised the issue of gay rights with Ugandan President Museveni and expressed concern with the bill.

The Gambia ----------

12.(C/NF) Banerji said that the human rights situation in The Gambia had not been raised during the CHOGM but said that the Commonwealth Secretariat is "very concerned" about what it sees as "Commonwealth values being undermined." Banerji noted that the human rights community was "up in arms" and admitted that the Memorandum of Understanding that had been brokered between the political parties was now extinct. Banerji said that the Commonwealth Secretariat was going to engage with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and hopefully get Nigeria to weigh in before scheduled Gambian elections. Banerji said that he hoped a high-level delegation would visit Banjul by February 2010, and intimated that the delegation could be led by former Nigerian President Obasanjo or Commonwealth Secretary General Sharma. (Reftel C).

Administrative Matters ----------------------

13.(C/NF) Banerji said that a new Commonwealth budget scale, the first since 1989, was adopted. Banerji said that certain countries (e.g. Singapore) that had developed quickly since 1989 were now paying too little, while other countries (e.g. Papua New Guinea) were paying too much. The budget negotiations were at one point stuck on the UK's position that it would not provide more than 31% of the budget; the UK eventually agreed to provide just over 32% of the budget on the understanding that no country would ever contribute more than a third of the budget.

14.(C/NF) Banerji said that Commonwealth Secretary General Sharma would like to visit Washington at some point in 2010, ideally before April. Banerji said that he would follow up with Poloff to further discuss a potential visit.

Comment -------

15.(C/NF) Despite representing a third of the world's population, the Commonwealth's relevance to international relations is often subject to debate; indeed, a UK Minister this week told the House of Lords that the organization has been the subject of "many, many obituaries." But with strong outcomes on climate change and health care and a promise of Commonwealth sherpas at the G20, Commonwealth proponents will cite this CHOGM as proof that the Commonwealth still has meaning. The lack of significant dialogue on several sensitive human rights issues, however, will lend support to the common criticism that the Commonwealth is soft on long-suffering human rights and governance issues within its membership. The Commonwealth's utility is as a sounding board forum on global issues, as the climate change discussion at CHOGM provided a useful preview to COP-15 positions. As the Commonwealth, under SYG Sharma's leadership, continues to tackle global issues, the discussions will offer insight into the varied concerns and priorities that will arise in other international fora. Visit London's Classified Website: XXXXXXXXXXXX

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