COMMONWEALTH - As Rwanda awaits admission into the Commonwealth family, the 53-state grouping has adopted new core criteria for membership.
Rwanda, Madagascar, Yemen, Algeria and Sudan have all applied to join the organisation, which is headed by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II of Britain and largely brings together former British colonies.
Mozambique, a former Portuguese colony, is the only member that was not colonised by Britain.
A Commonwealth Heads of State meeting, which ended yesterday in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, among others, agreed that ‘an applicant country should, as a general rule, have had a historic constitutional association with an existing Commonwealth member, save in exceptional circumstances. In exceptional circumstances, applications should be considered on a case-by-case basis.’
‘An applicant country should accept and comply with Commonwealth fundamental values, principles, and priorities as set out in the 1971 Declaration of Commonwealth Principles and contained in other subsequent Declarations,’ according to a statement released after the three-day biennial meeting.
An applicant country is also required to ‘demonstrate commitment to: democracy and democratic processes, including free and fair elections and representative legislatures; the rule of law and independence of the judiciary; good governance, including a well-trained public service and transparent public accounts; and, protection of human rights, freedom of expression, and equality of opportunity.’
Another condition is acceptance of Commonwealth norms and conventions, such as the use of the English language as the medium of inter-Commonwealth relations, and acknowledge Queen Elizabeth II as the Head of the Commonwealth.
‘New members should be encouraged to join the Commonwealth Foundation, and to promote vigorous civil society and business organisations within their countries, and to foster participatory democracy through regular civil society consultations,’ it adds.
President Paul Kagame attended the meeting, and was a special guest at Tuesday’s Commonwealth Business Forum in Kampala, which he addressed.
Rwanda’s application is expected to be considered in the next meeting in Trinidad and Tobago in 2009.
According to the communiqué, ‘the Heads of Government stressed the importance of ending impunity for the perpetrators of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, and took positive note in that context of the work of the international criminal tribunals.’
The leaders also called upon the European Union and the African, Caribbean and Pacific group (ACP) to put in place Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) that constitute effective tools for poverty eradication and sustainable development and contribute to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.
Meanwhile, India’s Kamalesh Sharma was unanimously appointed secretary general on Saturday for a four-year term beginning April 1, 2008.
He replaces New Zealand’s Don McKinnon, who has served for eight years.