Commonwealth leaders signed agreements Sunday on issues such as poverty and development as they staged a show of unity after a summit in Sri Lanka dominated by a bitter dispute over war crimes.
After a three-day meeting in Colombo, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse announced a declaration had been signed by the Commonwealth's 53 member nations after a summit which he said had been characterised by "fruitful discussions".
But he was again forced on the defensive and warned his critics against pushing him "into a corner" by setting an ultimatum to address war crimes allegations by next March.
"I am happy with the outcome we have reached at this CHOGM," said Rajapakse, who has spent much of the summit having to fend off allegations that his government's troops killed as many as 40,000 civilians at the end of the country's 37-year conflict.
Outlining the agreements inked by Commonwealth leaders, he said there had been widespread agreement on a series of issues -- particularly on ensuring that economic growth does not come at the expense of equality.
"Achieving growth with equity and inclusive development must be one of the priorities of the Commonwealth," said the Sri Lankan president.
"Issues covered in the communique include development, political values, global threats, challenges and Commonwealth cooperation."
While only 27 heads of government attended this year's meeting, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said the summit had helped strengthen the organisation of mainly English-speaking former British colonies.
"I sense there is a reaffirmation of the spirit and ideals of the Commonwealth ... the core values of the Commonwealth, namely democracy, the rule of law and human rights," Najib told reporters.
The Malaysian prime minister said there was a general recognition among leaders of "the fact that we are different but should not be divided".
"There was a reaffirmation of the spirit and willingness of wanting to stay together as a unique collection of nations."
The summit was dealt several body blows before it began, with the leaders of Canada, India and Mauritius deciding to stay away to protest at Colombo's rights record.
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron then stole the limelight on the opening day with a visit to the war-torn Jaffna region, where he met survivors of a conflict that killed more than 100,000 people.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who was handing over the chairmanship of the Commonwealth to Sri Lanka, acknowledged "more needed to be done" to address concerns about its rights record but said he wanted to be "good mates" with Colombo.
According to the United Nations and rights groups, as many as 40,000 civilians may have died as troops loyal to the mainly Sinhalese government routed the Tamil Tiger rebel movement in its last stronghold in Jaffna in 2009. (Bangkok Post)
The Colombo Declaration:
1. We, the Commonwealth Heads of Government, recognise that accelerating growth has become central to policy efforts globally. However, we note that rising inequality at both international and national levels has implications for poverty reduction and future growth potentials of member states. Countries grappling with natural and man-made disasters and other pressing global challenges are the worst affected. This situation has led to the economic marginalisation of societies, within and among countries. Therefore, we agree that achieving growth with equity and inclusivity must be one of the main policy priorities for the Commonwealth, in keeping with its Charter adopted in December 2012.
2. We express our deep concern about the adverse impacts of the world financial and economic crises on development prospects, particularly in developing states. We emphasise the need to act decisively to tackle the challenges confronting the global economy to ensure balanced, sustainable, inclusive and equitable global growth with full and productive employment. We affirm the importance of reforms of the international trade, monetary and financial institutions in order to ensure fair representation for developing countries.
3. We recognise that improving access to productive employment is a critical element to achieve equitable growth, and requires enhancing employability of the workforce, and creating productive employment opportunities. Improvements in employability are largely linked to access to quality education, skills development, better health care, and equitable access to resources. We agree to take concerted efforts to create productive employment with equitable access to all, to achieve inclusive growth.
4. We reaffirm the right to development for all individuals, and commit ourselves to eliminate disparities and focus on making growth more inclusive for all, including for vulnerable groups, women, youth, and the differently abled.
5. We recognise the importance of meaningful social protection for all, in achieving inclusive development, and also as an important tool in addressing poverty, inequality, vulnerability
and social exclusion. Given the varying degrees of vulnerability to crises, particularly among the developing states, we underline the need for having proactive national initiatives on social protection, based on relevant international agreements.
6. Member states of the Commonwealth are home to a diverse array of natural resources, which have been preserved and sustainably utilised over centuries for their benefit. We recognise the sovereign right of nations to manage their own natural resource base, according to national needs and priorities, in a sustainable manner, enabling their further growth and development.
7. We note the findings of the 2013 UN Millennium Development Goals Progress Report, which states that some of the MDGs have already been met and that more targets are within reach by the 2015 target date. However, we are concerned that certain targets remain off-track both globally and within the Commonwealth. We therefore call for an urgent implementation of all commitments undertaken, individually and collectively, in particular on Goal 8, related to global partnerships. We reaffirm our determination to collectively call for a strong and effective partnership for development, while emphasizing that the successful achievement of the MDGs by 2015 should remain a global priority.
8. We therefore pledge to engage collectively and help shape the Post-2015 Development Agenda, by constituting an open-ended High-Level Working Group of Heads to identify through a Commonwealth Statement on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, our shared Commonwealth perspectives and recommendations. We will advance these shared perspectives through individual member governments in the intergovernmental consultations at the 69th Session of the UN General Assembly.
9. We welcome the Report of the High Level Panel of the Eminent Persons Group on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, the Report of the UN Secretary-General entitled A Life of Dignity for All – Accelerating progress towards the Millennium Development Goals and Advancing the UN Development Agenda beyond 2015, United Nations Development Group consultations, the United Nations Global Compact and the Sustainable Development Solutions Network. We note their contents as inputs into the intergovernmental process on the Post-2015 Agenda.
10. As we seek to further strengthen the global partnership, we are aware of the wealth of knowledge, expertise and experience available within the Commonwealth which remains underutilised. We therefore commit to actively explore the unrealised potential for collaboration and partnerships within the Commonwealth. We also recognise it as a useful step to facilitate the efforts of individual member states towards equitable distribution of benefits and to achieve better living standards and prosperity for all.
11. In the context of a rapidly-changing global environment, achieving growth with equity and promoting sustainable development will require intensified efforts at both the national and international levels. At national level, this could be achieved through strengthened public administration and institutions and reinforcing accountability; developing the necessary institutional capacity, knowledge and skill levels, particularly among young people; promoting the smoother functioning and increasing openness of markets; and strengthening the private sector and expanding infrastructure to foster long-term growth, including by making full use of public-private partnerships (PPPs) as an investment tool to achieve sustainable development. At the international level, we acknowledge the importance of strengthened financial, technical and institutional efforts to support national efforts in addressing vulnerability and building resilience and the need for new international approaches that respond to the rapidly changing global environment in which sustainable development policies are being pursued. We recognise the special role the Commonwealth can play in exchanging experiences and lessons learned.
12. In furthering partnership building, we also recognise the useful contribution that tools such as ‘Commonwealth Connects’ can bring to the member states, and encourage its full use to enhance connectivity among the people of the Commonwealth.
13. We express our commitment to work towards developing supportive global policies to address poverty, food security, climate change mitigation and adaptation, inequalities in trade, predictable and adequate finances, investments, knowledge and technology transfers, as well as in increasing voices in the global economic, trade and financial order to achieve growth with equity.
14. We recall the Millennium Declaration and the outcome of the United Nations General Assembly special event on the MDGs. We reaffirm their commitment to the Millennium Declaration, the outcome document of Rio+20, the Monterrey Consensus, the Doha
Declaration on Financing for Development and the outcomes of all major UN conferences and summits in the economic, social and environmental fields. We will continue to be guided by the values and principles enshrined in these texts. We reaffirm all the principles of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, including, inter alia, the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, as set out in principle 7 thereof.
15. We are of the firm view that our chosen national paths forward to realise sustainable, inclusive and equitable development in our societies can be reinforced and further advanced through concerted initiatives in the economic sphere. To this end, we request the Commonwealth Secretariat to convene and inform a discussions at forthcoming Commonwealth Finance Ministers Meetings, drawing on inputs from members and expert development practitioners, on the key economic and other factors affecting Commonwealth member states’ ability to meet development goals, including the Post-2015 Development Agenda once defined. This work should consider other areas of potential for economic cooperation within the Commonwealth. Progress will be reviewed at the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 2015.