Among those criticising her decision is Canadian senator Hugh Segal, who said the report contains helpful suggestions around more work on HIV/Aids, a stronger and supportive presence on human rights, democracy and rule of law, a Commonwealth Youth Corps, focused disaster-relief preparations, economic and trade support for smaller states, achieving development goals, work on climate change, addressing the needs of women, and modernising the secretariat’s communications strategies.
“Instead, some recommendations have been subject to distortion and misinterpretation by representatives of a few governments that mistakenly believe there is some marginal benefit to them in stifling progress on these issues,” he said. Australia’s prime minister Julia Gillard, host of the forthcoming meeting, has indicated that, while her national position is that the report should be made public before the summit, she is constrained to join Persad-Bissessar to keep the reports from being made public in the interest of “consensus.”
Sir Ronald Sanders, a former high commissioner for Antigua and Barbuda to Britain, who, along with Segal, is a member of the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group (EPG) established by Commonwealth leaders in 2009 to look at how the Commonwealth might be updated and made more relevant, said the absence of comprehensive information has led to misinterpretations. A handful of government representatives has chosen to focus on the Commissioner for Democracy, the Rule of Law and Human Rights, wrongly suggesting that the holder of the post will be a “policeman” playing a “punitive role,” Sanders said.
There is a precedent for the EPG report to be released publicly before the heads of government meeting. When the first EPG report was delivered to the Commonwealth secretary-general 25 years ago, it was published four months ahead of the summit meeting, allowing for a full discourse throughout the Commonwealth on its findings about apartheid in South Africa. “At the time, there may have been governments that would have preferred the report not to be made public, but in the end it was released in the interest of transparency,” Sanders said.
“There is little doubt that public discussion of that report in the Commonwealth and beyond helped to mobilise strong sentiment against the apartheid regime in South Africa.” Segal added: “Leadership is about the courage to engage freely on ideas that serve the public interest…Advocates of keeping the reports secret are really advocates of weakening the Commonwealth.”