Don McKinnon: Democratic principles require more than lip-service

From a speech by the Commonwealth Secretary General, delivered at the Institute of Regional Studies in Islamabad
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The Independent Online

One of the key features of the Commonwealth is that it is based on shared values and principles. These are outlined in the 1991 Harare Declaration. They include the protection and promotion of democracy, the rule of law, good governance, equality for women, sustainable development and universal access to education.

But our leaders felt that it was not enough simply to declare their commitment to a set of fundamental political principles. They thought it was important to show that the Commonwealth actually lived up to these principles.

So in 1995, they set up the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group on the Harare Declaration (CMAG). This "democracy watchdog" is empowered with measures to deal with serious or persistent violations of the Harare principles.

I know that CMAG is a sensitive subject in Pakistan, as Pakistan has itself been the object of CMAG's attention and action. But CMAG is what distinguishes the Commonwealth from other organisations, what gives it greater political and moral stature in the international community.

It is not Pakistan alone which has engaged the attention of CMAG. Several other countries have done so in the past. All have emerged with better credentials in the community of democracies.

The mandate of CMAG was broadened two years ago, when leaders decided that countries could be suspended not only when a constitutionally elected government had been overthrown, but also when there were serious or persistent violations of Commonwealth fundamental principles.

It is interesting to note that every country that has left, or been suspended, has sought to come back; we hope this will also be the case with Zimbabwe.