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Submission by civil society organizations on the Draft Charter of the Commonwealth

Dear Civil Society Partner,

The Commonwealth Secretariat is inviting comments and feedback on the draft Charter of the Commonwealth. Member states were expected to carry out consultations with civil society at the country on the draft Charter. Unfortunately, as far as we are aware, consultations have not taken place in the global south regions of the Commonwealth. After becoming aware of this and the imminent deadline for submissions to the Commonwealth Secretariat, regional organisations from the Caribbean, Africa, Asia and the Pacific got together to prepare a brief comment on the seemingly most glaring deficiency of the draft Charter from an equality and human-rights based perspective, and the very limited non-discrimination provision which is contained in clause 11 of the draft Charter.

See: http://www.thecommonwealth.org/files/243922/FileName/DraftCharteroftheCommonwealth.pdf

Given the broad range of concerns regarding discrimination in the Commonwealth, we have decided to invite organisations from Commonwealth member states in the Caribbean, Africa, Asia and the Pacific to sign on to our brief submission. If your organization wishes to sign on to the comment below, please send an email stating the full title of your organization and country to comcharter@gmail.com no later than 5pm (GMT) Saturday, March 31, 2012.

Submission by civil society organizations on the Draft Charter of the Commonwealth

We, the undersigned, welcome the resolution to draft the Commonwealth Charter as a commitment to initiate a framework ensuring institutional accountability and compliance amongst the Commonwealth nations. We also welcome the call by the Commonwealth Secretariat inviting comments and feedback on the draft Charter of the Commonwealth.

It is encouraging that the draft Charter believes “in universal human rights and that they are applicable to all persons throughout the Commonwealth in accordance with the principles of international law”. However, as organisations committed to the realisation of human rights of all peoples we would like to propose the following:

  • While noting the values and aspiration as outlined in the Charter we believe that their achievement and implementation should be underpinned by the principles of equality and non-discrimination between states and its peoples. Thus, we propose that the Preamble include principles of equality and non-discrimination in respecting, promoting, protecting and fulfilling human rights of all peoples, as underlining principles of the Charter.
  • We welcome that the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination under Clause 11 is not exhaustive. However, the list in the present formulation of the draft charter is far too limited and it should be expanded to include the following grounds which are related to the most egregious forms of discrimination and are significant factors in the Commonwealth societies: colour, sex, birth, parenthood, language, national or social origin and status, nationality, economic status, association with a national minority, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, age, disability, health status, genetic or other predisposition towards illness, or a combination of any of these grounds resulting in multiple and cumulative forms of discrimination, or on the basis of characteristics associated with any of these grounds. We also propose that clause 11 contain clear prohibition of discrimination when it is based on the association of a person with other persons to whom the prohibited ground applies or the perception, whether accurate or otherwise, of a person having a characteristic associated with a prohibited ground.
  • Mindful of the recognition accorded to the role and functions of the civil society, we stress the importance for representative and inclusive participation of civil society towards meaningful engagement in the achievement and implementation of the values and aspirations enshrined in the Charter.

It is timely that the Commonwealth nations move towards actual realisation and implementation of human rights without delay to ensure equal and sustainable development for the benefit of present and future generations and to place the well-being, livelihood and welfare of the peoples at the centre of the Commonwealth values and aspirations. The Charter will be an important document for achieving this and every effort is encouraged to ensure it will be a comprehensive process, with the capacity to address the full range of human rights promotion and protection as well as the shared history and aspirations of the nations and peoples of the Commonwealth.

Coordinating Organisations,
Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVC)
African Men for Sexual Health and Rights (AMSHeR)
Asia Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health (APCOM)
International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific (IWRAW Asia Pacific)
Caribbean Forum for Liberation and Acceptance of Genders and Sexualities (CariFLAGS)