This is session 2 of the Witness Seminar, The heartbeat of a modern Commonwealth? The Commonwealth Secretariat 1965-2013 which took place at Marlborough House, London, on 24th June, 2013.

Download full Witness Seminar Transcript

Session participants: (click here for participant biographies)

AB: Amitav Banerji  /  KS: Kayode Samuel  /  MB: Madhuri Bose  /  MG: Max Gaylard  / PR:    Patsy Robertson  /  PS: Puma Sen  /  RB: Richard Bourne  /  SC: Stephen Chan  /  SMO:  Stuart Mole  /  SO: Sue Onslow


PS:      I’m Puma Sen. I’m going to be chairing this session. I have previously been the head of Human Rights here at the Secretariat, currently at the LSE. Stephen introduced himself as the [former] enfant terrible! I don’t think he’s retired. There are a couple of things I’d just like to say by way of opening comments which might chime a little bit with Stephen’s role. I’d also like stress that I speak as very much as a critical friend and also somebody with some remaining hope about the future of the Commonwealth but with a lot of tempering of that about which I want to just say a couple of things. Firstly, we have four topics to look at in our session: – Political affairs, Legal affairs, Democracy and Human Rights. It’s no small task to take on. I will try and make space for as many people as possible to touch on those different themes in our conversation. Secondly, this must be, I don’t know, the third or fourth event that I’ve attended over the last six months looking at how effective the Commonwealth is or what the role of the Commonwealth is or what the impact or the future of the Commonwealth is – over the last six months or so.

It strikes me that there’s a bit of a public conversation going on at the moment about the Commonwealth, its future, it’s impact, which must say something about where we see or where we have anxieties about the association, where it sits now and where it’s going. It’s into that climate I think this conversation fits. I’m not sure that’s a particularly healthy state of affairs. Let me also note, as people would probably expect me to do, a couple of speakers in the previous session talked about their hopes for a female Secretary-General in the future. Let me also add that this conversation today and presumably on-going at the ICS draws on the pool of knowledge and expertise around the Commonwealth which is also predominantly male. If you look at the speakers list today, only 2/14 of the experts are women. I think there is something to say about the nature of the Commonwealth and its respected voices and figures which needs a huge amount of attention and work and I think we need to give that space in that conversation, too. I don’t want to take the time.

I now introduce Max Gaylard, who is the former International Affairs Division Director, who will open our conversation for this session. Thank you, Max.

MG:      Thank you very much, Doctor. There is only a limited time available, so let me divide this introduction into four parts with maybe another small addition at the end. I wanted to talk, first of all, a little about the nature of the Secretariat as I saw it when joining in July 1988. I then want to draw attention to several major strategic events just after that, say between ’88-‘91/92 that governed and set the overall framework for pretty well everything that we did. Thirdly, I propose to discuss briefly the working agenda between ’91 until early ’96 when I left, in other words, what actually happened. Fourthly, I want to try to identify – with the benefit of hindsight – two or three possible turning points in the way the Secretariat operated under the leadership of the SG. In that context I want to spend a few minutes on human rights and how the SG, Secretariat and the member states grappled with this ‘extremely dangerous’ concept introduced into the Secretariat around about 1985.

Firstly, the nature of the Secretariat and when I joined. I was just saying to Patsy (Robertson) that we need to hear much more from those such as her who devoted a goodly proportion of their lives to the Commonwealth and its Secretariat, and that the recorded history would benefit enormously from her input both oral and written. I should also note for the information of my New Zealand friends and colleagues that when I did join in July ’88 as a secondee from the Australian Government, there was some initial interest in the position from a young New Zealander by the name of David Shearer who went on to a UN career and is now poised for higher things back home in New Zealand.

Recalling that time in July ‘88 and arriving here in Marlborough House, I think it was Stuart who said that, among other things it was somewhat intimidating. The atmosphere was quite electric. I want to tell you that the staff of the Secretariat, maybe 300 plus at the time, were almost to a person highly charged and ambitious. These were exciting times and the staff felt highly-motivated and wanted to achieve.

Why was that? Well, one reason over the time that I was here and again to borrow from Stuart’s words, was the leadership by the two Secretaries-General under whom we both (Stuart and I) I served. The two of them are here looking at me [referring to the portraits], so I have to be a little bit careful I suppose, but neither needs to be concerned. By and large they left the day-to-day management of the Secretariat to others, and were not unduly bothered too much with the detail. But as strategic leaders with political nous, they were first class, the one flamboyant, the other a consummate diplomat, both with the range of necessary skills.

And these were exciting times in 1988 and following. Over the previous 18 years I think something like 20 new countries had been added to the Commonwealth club, if I could put it that way. Of the 20 – and the point has been made – many of them were small and many were fragile. So, the political and developmental challenges were right there. I know it’s much different for these states now, but at that time they had just emerged and, as Patsy noted, they looked to the Commonwealth and its supporting Secretary-General and Secretariat to help them put down a template and get on with developing their systems and their societies. The Secretariat was very much in line with that. The two big ‘political’ issues were those of Namibia and South Africa – one big issue really if you consider these as the last throes of decolonisation in the Commonwealth world.

Moving quickly to the four major strategic events that in effect shaped the way we all operated, I am referring to the fall of the Berlin Wall in ’89, the disintegration of the Soviet Union shortly after, the release of Nelson Mandela in1990, which in turn heralded the end of apartheid in South Africa. With regard to apartheid, I think by then everyone realised that the game was up, that it was going to start to unravel fairly soon. The release of Mr Mandela of course only accelerated things. The fourth strategic item I wanted to mention was the Harare CHOGM Summit of 1991.

On a lighter note for a moment, I recall that Mr Mandela unintentionally helped things along at this Harare Summit, to which he had been invited as a special guest – three years in advance of the democratic elections and the re-admittance of South Africa to the Commonwealth. There is a particular event at the Commonwealth summits, or at least there was then, where Her Majesty the Queen in her capacity of Head of the Commonwealth, invites only the Heads of Delegation – generally the Presidents and Prime Ministers – to a cosy little reception in their honour. Each of the Delegations in Zimbabwe, as is the custom for the Summits, had attached to them a junior Foreign Ministry official from the host country, just to keep an eye on arrangements and ensure that appointments were not forgotten or over-looked in a busy programme. So the young Zimbabwean Foreign Ministry official – I hope he’s done well since – who was in charge of Mr Mandela, looked at the programme on the day of Her Majesty’s reception just before it all began and saw this event listed in the programme.

With time running short, he found an unsuspecting Mr Mandela and said he had better get his suit on and off to the reception. So, Mr Mandela did what he was told and turned up, to the considerable surprise of Palace and Secretariat officials who were organising the event. However, Prince Phillip was on hand and rescued the day. He quite calmly welcomed Mr Mandela and ushered him inside as an honoured guest at the reception. The officials remained a bit nervous at the time but all was fine in the end. I don’t know if Mr Mandela ever knew that he was not meant to be at the reception, but certainly he was apparently very much at ease, as were the royal hosts.

Coming back to the Harare Summit itself, I mentioned previously the Harare Declaration of 1991, which was a very significant event and document at the time. The preparation of the document itself had taken place over many months, lots of consultation, lots of debate and arguments about content. You could find in the preparations a reflection of what is still there today, that is the ceaseless debate about political rights versus economic and social rights. Something was needed to bring them together so that the one did not dominate the other. I remember there was a particular focus on the term ‘good governance’, with some advocating inclusion of the term, others such as the Malaysians and the Indians objecting that this was too nebulous and hard to define. If you look at the final Communiqué, I think it actually says ‘just and honest government’, which was the compromise formula.

Such differences of opinion and approach inevitably arose behind the scenes at all of these summits. From the point of view of the Secretary-General and the Secretariat, the momentous event at Harare, on the back of the Declaration, was the beginnings of the era of democratisation in the Commonwealth. Stuart previously mentioned a high proportion of non-democratic states of about ten members in fifty. At the time of Harare it was even more – perhaps 15 out of fifty were one-party and/or military states, certainly many more than now. Indeed at Harare itself, some Heads of State, how shall I put it, I think they realised that the game was up and that the onset of multi-party democracy was inevitable. A few immediately beat a path to the door of the Secretary-General to seek guidance and assistance so as to initiate a process with the assistance of the Secretary-General and the expert resources of the Secretariat. I wasn’t there for these early meetings, but President Moi of Kenya, President René of Seychelles, President Kaunda of Zambia and the then military head of Lesotho, may have been some of these early callers.

They basically consulted the Secretary-General and said, “This multi-party democracy, it might well be what we have to aim for, but what exactly do we do? How do we go about it?” So, that was the vanguard of a stream of work which developed within the Secretariat involving pretty well every part of the organisation in one way or another. My own Division of the Secretariat was by then called Political Affairs – it had previously been known as International Affairs, but the new challenges were not just about political matters. There thus evolved a modus operandi centred on preparations for elections and election-monitoring, but of course there was much more to it than that. For example, Kenya, Seychelles and others involved missions by constitutional experts, by people who knew about electoral laws and legislative processes. Some of that expertise came from within the Secretariat and some of it was brought in from outside from across the Commonwealth. From ’91 until ‘96 when I left, there must have been more than a dozen election observation missions which were in effect the culmination of such preparatory work. I don’t remember any outright failures, but Kenya was a severe test of the credibility of the monitoring and evaluation mechanisms represented by the electoral observation missions. Patsy, you were there in Kenya, and will recall what we all went through. It was a very rough and violent election with many fatalities amongst the electorate, at least partly because the ruling dictatorship didn’t really want to let go, and indeed were returned to power. It did not help that the opposition parties lost their cohesion in the final lead-up. So, there was plenty that was wrong with the preparation and conduct of the election, and the Commonwealth observers from all parts of the democratic Commonwealth identified much of it. There was thus a huge debate among them as to whether the election could receive the accolade of “free and fair”, and it was unanimously decided that it could not be so described.

The observers eventually concluded in this particular case that the result of the election broadly represented the will of the people, pointed to the deficiencies, and offered recommendations for the future preparation and conduct of elections which might be termed free and fair. This process was replicated throughout the Commonwealth, and not just in Africa but also in Asia and the Caribbean. Guyana was at the time very high on the agenda and that reminds me of the discussions about the Secretaries-General and their role as mentors and agents-of-change in talking to heads of state and others. One of the key persons in the preparations and conduct of the first multi-party election in Guyana for a very long time was Rudy Collins as senior official in effective charge of the Electoral Commission. At one point with the election looming and being harassed from all sides both locally and internationally including the political parties, the neighbours to the north and the influential Carter Center Rudy became totally fed up. I was in Guyana on behalf of SG Chief Anyaoku when Rudy said to me, “Max, I’ve enough. That’s it, I’m resigning.” So I responded, “Well, you better talk to the Chief first.” So, a telephone conversation was lined up for the following morning. I was told by Rudy what the content of the conversation was but I’m not going to tell you. You could ask Chief Anyaoku if you like or maybe Stuart at some stage. The end result of the telephone call was that Rudy agreed to stay. He actually couldn’t stop laughing for about 10 minutes after the discussion with the Chief but then announced from here on he would stay. I can assure you that Rudy’s decision to do so was critical to that election going forward in the successful way it did.

Part three, very quickly as I have already addressed many aspects of the agenda between ’91 and ’96 and time is running short. I would simply like to mention that there were of course many sides to the democratisation process, and a variety of spill-over concerns to be addressed. One of the critical issues identified by SG Anyaoku and Secretariat officials concerned the security and welfare of former Heads of State and/or Heads of Government who lost power through multi-party elections. The key question was: what needed to be done to ensure the protection of a Head of State/Government who lost an election, because if anything happened to him, (they were all ‘hims’), then others would be very discouraged about moving forward with multiparty democracy. So, the ‘guinea pig’ or test case, was that of President Kaunda of Zambia. He was one of the few serving Heads to actually lose in one of these early multi-party elections and a package was developed by the SG for the consideration and approval of the newly-elected government headed by President Chiluba: pension; accommodation; security; travel; etc. This was a form of reassurance as the SG saw it, not just to those directly involved but also to the validity of the multi-party democratic process. He was of course right.

A couple of years after the Zambian election which was in late 1991, I was in South Africa with a colleague Moses Anafu, mentioned by Stuart. We were in Johannesburg and we came to learn that ex-President Kaunda was going to give a lecture on democracy at the University of Witwatersrand on multi-party democracy. So, we went along, said hello and sat in the audience and President Kaunda said, “You know, this multi-party democracy, it’s like your shadow.” He said,” If your shadow is in front of you and you chase it, you can never catch it.” He added, “If your shadow is behind you and you try to get away from it, you can’t.” So, that was his take on multi-party democracy.

Very briefly – and with the benefit of hindsight – on two or three possible turning points, well let me put them on the table. I think by 1995, not too long before I was to leave, we were turning our minds collectively to the states that had come through to some form of multi-party democracy with continuing fragilities, and what we might do as a Secretariat on behalf of the Commonwealth, to try to consolidate and reinforce the gains that had been made. There was I recall a lively debate, both among the member states and within the Secretariat itself, about how to use the CFTC in a very targeted way. So, the idea that began to emerge involved the selection of say the weakest half dozen or so fragile states struggling to consolidate forms of multi-party democracy, and focus resources towards them. That didn’t happen. Whether it would have made any positive difference later, who can say? But in fact the Commonwealth was generally weak in any form of sustained follow-up after first or second time multi-party elections and trying to make sure that consolidation took place. The Commonwealth Observer reports of such elections, if you look at them, they do have recommendations on how things could be tightened and improvements effected, but unfortunately any sort of sustained, targeted follow-up generally did not happen.

A second possible turning point relates to the Secretariat itself, I think we all have a picture of a very proactive Secretariat at that time under the leadership of two quite active and visionary Secretaries-General. It wasn’t that the SG’s were not using ministers and ex-prime ministers. They were being used on scale, particularly with Commonwealth Missions both electoral and otherwise; but in addition, senior and even middle-ranking officers of the Secretariat were also being sent out in responsible roles in support of the Missions, and sometimes in effect as direct personal envoys of the SG and the like. The Secretariat was widely used. Now, when I think back, I don’t think all member states were quite happy with that. Also, I’m not sure that all senior officers within the Secretariat were all that happy with it either. In my last year I saw senior people come into the Secretariat with views akin to those of Prime Minister Muldoon of New Zealand, who famously told a Secretary-General that he (the SG) was there to take the minutes! On reflection I think a feeling started to grow within the Secretariat, without going into further detail, that we were there to run the CHOGMs and meetings of Law Ministers, and leave the serious business of diplomacy and development to the member governments and their leaders, and maybe at times the SG.

Now, for my three minutes on human rights. The whole concept of human rights and the global debates around it, were reflected in the Secretariat. Some member states wanted to see the more political aspects of rights take precedence, while others were arguing that economic and social rights were just as if not more important. Still others – probably the majority – wanted to deal with the whole package. In this broad context there was one particular achievement for the SG and Secretariat, led by the then-fledgling Human Rights Unit. Just to briefly trace the history of the Unit, it was I think mandated in 1985 at the CHOGM summit in Nassau, and eventually began to take shape around 1986. By the time I arrived in 1988 there was one person in the Unit, and by the early nineties maybe one or two more. Building on the back of the 1991 Harare CHOGM, the Unit with support from around the Secretariat played a key role in the Human Rights Global Summit which took place in Vienna in June 1993.

Some might say that these summits are not important but in fact they are, not least because they add to the global lexicon on human rights and they put down markers. In the months leading up to Vienna, and I have some of the experts here so they can help me out if necessary, as was customary the communiqué to issue from the summit was being put together in the background. At one point with only a few months if not weeks to go, the drafters and negotiators working on behalf of their leaders had become bogged down essentially around the relative importance of political, social and economic rights, and had reached an impasse. The breaking of the logjam came from the Commonwealth Secretariat under the leadership of the SG, and a small band of proactive Secretariat officials under his direction. They were able to do because most of the parties on either side of the debate were representing Commonwealth countries. So, in about March 1993 – you would need to check – Secretary-General Anyaoku gathered the Commonwealth representatives together in Geneva with the blessing of the organisers of the Summit and they sorted out the problems in a Commonwealth context. Part of the solution involved the emergence of the concept of democracy, human rights and development as a package, which found articulation both in the (successful) Vienna Summit and in the CHOGM Summit which followed in Cyprus later that year of 1993. Let me end on that note.

PS:      Very nice. That’s a very nice note to end on. Thank you very much, Max. I’ll just hand straight over to Amitav Banerji, Director of Political Affairs.

AB:      Thank you so much, Chair. It’s wonderful to have so many old friends here I’m seeing after a long time but I have to single out Max himself. He was my very first boss when I walked in here, my director. I remember also learning about the vagaries of the English language when I produced what I thought was a brilliant note about institutional development where I talked about institutions being deeply rooted and he said that in Australia that is not a very complimentary term. I’m in the unusual position of having served in the Secretariat now for 22 years and I think that probably makes me either a geriatric or a dinosaur that should be extinct. Some, however, flatter me by calling me a repository of institutional knowledge, but I do have some interesting memories and reflections to share, having now worked with three Secretaries-General and going into my 12th CHOGM. I’ve lived through some momentous times in Commonwealth history. So, if I may I will just start with some random reflections and then try to draw them together into some propositions to put on the table. I realise I have to be selective given time constraints.

Literally weeks after I joined the Secretariat in August 1990, Malaysia was having an election. The Commonwealth was invited to observe that general election by Dr. Mahathir and we put together a Commonwealth observer group. In those days, we didn’t have too many rules. The observer group was largely paid for by the Malaysians, the hotel, accommodation, the per diem. They were well looked after, but they ended up giving a rather adverse report. The Malaysians were furious. UMNO put out its own rejoinder to the Commonwealth report. We have not been invited back to observe Malaysian elections since.

Another of my immediate duties was to help Max, among others, prepare for the Harare CHOGM of 1991 which he has mentioned. It was an honour and a privilege to accompany DSG Anthony Siaguru to meet, among others, Mr Mugabe and I can claim to have been involved to some extent with the drafting of the Harare Declaration. Sadly, that government in Harare was years later itself perceived as repudiating the very values that were set out in that declaration, adopted under Mr Mugabe’s stewardship. I do hope history turns full-circle and Zimbabwe will find it possible to return to the family soon.

The impact of that new value system that the Harare Declaration symbolised was as Max said, although I’m making the link, seen almost immediately in next-door Zambia. In fact, the elections, Max, were within two weeks of the Harare CHOGM ending. UNIP was devastated at the polls by the Movement for Multiparty Democracy and Kenneth Kaunda, that giant of the Commonwealth, walked gracefully out of State House. I remember helping with the exercise of putting together terms and conditions of service to look after former heads of government. Zambia had never had one.

The most awesome experience of my early years was seeing the sun set on Apartheid in South Africa and seeing, Nelson Mandela, having been freed from prison a few years earlier, become president of a democratic South Africa. I was mortified when he came to Marlborough House and I was away on a mission. I got to see him and shake his hand at the Auckland CHOGM in 1995, a CHOGM that he strode like a gentle colossus. At that very CHOGM Nigeria had been suspended, our largest member in Africa and the country from which the then Secretary-General came. As was the case with the Harare Commonwealth Declaration, I was also privileged to have played a role in the preparation of the 1995 Millbrook Action Programme, which the leaders adopted at their retreat in Queenstown. In doing so, they created this body called CMAG.

Until today, no other organisation has managed to replicate this unique Commonwealth institution, which received an enhanced mandate from leaders at the last CHOGM in Perth. CMAG showed its teeth pretty quickly. Sierra Leone was suspended from the Councils of the Commonwealth in July ’97. Some two years later Pakistan was suspended from the Councils following the overthrow of Nawaz Sharif’s government by General Musharraf. The very next year George Speight’s act of surrounding Parliament and taking the prime minister and MPs hostage led to Fiji’s suspension from the Councils. Fiji was of course suspended again in 2006, initially from the Councils of the Commonwealth and then, three years later, suspended fully from Commonwealth membership. Sadly, that remains the status today.

I’ve also seen the concept of Commonwealth membership evolve for new aspirants from the fairly ad hoc approaches used in the cases of Cameroon and Mozambique in 1995 to the attempts to properly codify criteria and procedures leading up to the Kampala decisions of 2007 and the admission of Rwanda under the new dispensation.

During my long innings I have seen from the inside track three major reviews of the Commonwealth. In 1990-91 we had the High Level Appraisal Group chaired by Prime Minister Mahathir of Malaysia. In 2000-2001 we had the High Level Review Group chaired by President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa. In 2010-2011 we had the Eminent Persons Group chaired by another Malaysian, former Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi but not as Prime Minister. Each went through very similar hoops, conditioned of course by the topical issues of the time. Each made very useful contributions. What was different about the EPG was that it was a review done by independent individuals, at least in theory, who had total licence, unlike the earlier more, shall we say, controlled reviews done by a group of governments who knew much better what the traffic would bear collectively in the Commonwealth.

It is inconceivable to me that any intergovernmental review could have come up with the idea of a Commissioner for Democracy, Rule of Law and Human Rights. The EPG was bold enough to do so but found out soon thereafter that governments collectively would not support it.

So, where do these random and disjointed reflections lead us? Firstly, I think they do show that the Commonwealth, and by extension the Secretariat, which is at the heart of our scrutiny today, has remained a pretty active player on the political side right the way through. Indeed, if there was been a renaissance of the Commonwealth, after those defining milestones Max mentioned, the end of the Cold War, the demise of Apartheid, I think it’s because the Commonwealth has nailed its colours to the mast of its fundamental political values. CMAG is recognised globally as a unique Commonwealth mechanism. There may be opinions about how effectively it has worked but it is a mechanism that others envy and when I talk to La Francophonie, when I talk to the African Union, sub-regional groupings, they just marvel. They cannot imagine that in their own political setups you could have a body that, by common agreement, can censure member countries when they cross the line. None has been able to replicate CMAG.

Secondly, I think there have been some successes to crow about. Both Stuart and Max mentioned statistics about countries, about one-party states or those under military rule. You can look at it in a different way actually. Since 1991, since Harare, 12 countries have moved away from those two descriptions to multiparty democracy. Some have slipped back and forth, but it is a fact that no elected leader any more likes to sit in the Commonwealth at the same table as someone who has come to office through the gun rather than the ballot box. According to the Mo Ibrahim Index of African Countries, the Index of Good Governance, 8 of the top 10 in Africa are in the Commonwealth. Commonwealth Africa is definitely in better shape than Francophone Africa or Arab-North Africa.

The Latimer House Principles, I think have become a recognised brand name globally. They are often referred to as the principles codifying and defining separation of powers.

Commonwealth election observation is much in demand. We thought demand would die away as more and more countries bedded down their democracies. Sadly, it’s not so and we simply can’t do them all. We’ve done over 100 since heads of government agreed the new guidelines in 1991, which was after the Malaysia experience.

The Commonwealth Electoral Network, which not too many people know about, launched three years ago, bringing together all the national election management bodies in the Commonwealth, has quietly been doing good work, making advances. They’ve had Working Group Meetings, five of them now on such issues as incumbency in elections, the independence of election management bodies, voter registration, campaign financing and political party funding. The fact that the Commonwealth election managers can discreetly meet and compare notes with one another, with a view to slowly raising the standards of election organisation and management and hopefully preventing train wrecks of the kind that happened in Kenya in December 2007. Compare Kenya 2013 to that, or compare Nigeria 2011 to Nigeria 2007.

I think incrementally it is becoming more and more difficult, I would say, for a Commonwealth election to go completely awry and hopefully this peer pressure through the network called the CEN is going to help.

Thirdly, the success of Good Offices work has been an unsung story. Much of that work is below the radar stuff so it doesn’t get known. The fact that countries actually want to reach out to the Commonwealth is a testament to its trusted partner status.

On Commonwealth membership there is now a more finely-tuned process of appraisal in place, learning from previous experience but the fact that countries still want to join the Commonwealth must be a good thing. The rigour by which bids are assessed, I think, has gone up.

Lastly, I can’t speak with authority for my colleagues in Legal Affairs or in Constitutional Affairs as well as in the Human Rights Unit. I am very glad Max has spoken about the initial evolutionary stages of human rights in the Secretariat. I can say that while the emphasis has remained on awareness-building and capacity-building, it has not gone and probably will not easily ever go into monitoring or investigation, except to the extent CMAG needs to do so under its new triggers. The role played by the Secretariat in helping member states comply with UPR reporting requirements as well as with implementing UPR recommendations has been very significant.

The overall report card from my perspective is a good one but not an outstanding one and there is much, much more that remains to be done. Firstly, Max, sorry to say even today, follow up to Election Observer Group recommendations remains abysmal and I think that’s not because there isn’t a will but it’s really for want of resources. We are so running to stand still, so running to observe so many elections that systematic implementation of what these wise people can come out from the country and say has been a lacuna and a new mission often goes into the same country and finds dust has gathered on the earlier recommendations and end up saying similar things.

Not all existing member states can be said to adhere to Commonwealth standards. Sadly, in the same way that aspiring members are expected to do. Political space is still an issue in many countries. Separation of powers, I think, notwithstanding Latimer House, is under threat. In too many of them for comfort, the rule of law and independence of the judiciary remain serious concerns. The area of human rights is still one where much remains to be done and certainly on divisive issues like LGBTI and the death penalty, the Commonwealth is very, very much still a divided house. Freedom of expression is another area where there are huge gaps to plug. Needless to say, we have a challenging CHOGM to get through later this year in Sri Lanka from the point of view of keeping the Commonwealth together and true to its values. Thank you.

PS:      Thank you very much. Amitav, I’m sure there is a lot there that others want to respond to. I’d like to, too, but I’ll hang fire and hand over to Kayode Samuel, who is a visiting fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies and a specialist in elections. Thank you.

KS:      Thank you very much. Let me just start by saying that it’s a very wonderful opportunity to speak, especially after the last two speakers, wonderful in a lot of ways, not least of which is that they have done much of the work that I probably would have had to do as veterans in the field. I would want to focus my comments on going forward since we’ve done a lot of the retrospective reflections. Let’s look at the prospective things that will be good for advancing the work of the Commonwealth going forward. The first thing is to say that in times of democracy, just like the last speaker said, there are still a lot of differences in perspectives, expectedly of an organisation of the kind of complexity and divergent makeup of the Commonwealth, but what is remarkable with the Commonwealth is the way it has always managed these complexities. I come from Nigeria, also able to speak intimately about one of the signal moments in the history of the Commonwealth which was the encounter with the Sani Abacha regime which defined a lot of things but fortunately for our country, also helped in kick-starting much of the progress towards the democracy that we have in Nigeria today.

For the Commonwealth, it is important to continue to recognise those complexities and those complexities always come into play, even in times of what kind of approach to adopt in navigating the whole issue of rights, LGBTI and all of the other things. It’s important to know that the complexities will always be there and that there is no one-answer-fits-all. So, as much as possible, the Commonwealth as an organisation will also need to avoid some of the stances that some countries might have taken which will appear to have closed off a debate on the issue. I’m taking things at random, just like someone said earlier, it’s rather a packed topic. I recall that somewhere earlier in the day there was some talk about the Secretary-General’s position being uncodified and undefined and I would want to say that that is not actually a bad thing, especially when you look at the experience with the British Constitution which itself is also uncodified.

More importantly for me, coming from Nigeria, let me give an anecdote here. Sometime in the 90s just as General Abacha came into office via a coup, there was this anecdote in the newspapers about the constitution of the interim government. The interim government was the contraption that the former dictator hurriedly left in power and that government had a constitution that had 847 pages. The government lasted 82 days. Someone wrote in the papers that the interim government had the most voluminous constitution that anybody had ever seen that lasted for just 82 days and they tried to compare that with the United States constitution which it said was just 22 pages but had lasted 125 years. So, really, there is not much to be said about whether things are extremely codified or not. The important thing is the spirit with which people approach the role that they have.

I would also like to put our minds to the question of our international issues that are topical. Are they more or less amenable to Commonwealth intervention? By this I mean things like human rights infringements, resource-control issues, issues of the environment and all of that. It’s important that the Commonwealth also gives some attention to this because more often than not you find that international organisations, just because they are called international, also believe that they have all the means to cover the entire world. It is important that the Commonwealth also focuses on the things that are truly important to it and achieve maximum impact. It would be nice if the Commonwealth identified what would be called niche areas so that it can focus its energies on these and not be torn in too many different directions.

I would want to conclude by calling attention to something which I don’t know if it had attracted attention before. For a lot of Commonwealth African states, governance and independence started in the parliamentary mode. Virtually all the Commonwealth countries adopted the British system and all of them had prime ministers and parliamentary control but increasingly, the transition has been towards executive control. I don’t know if this has any meaning in terms of the attitude of governments to opposition and all of that but it would be interesting to try to find out why this has been so. Virtually all the African countries that started out as parliamentary democracies at independence are now presidential systems. Some have argued that this is probably a throwback to the African culture of chiefs and monarchs and all of that. I don’t know where to stand on that but it’s important to call attention to that.

It’s also important to say that, especially when you’re talking about election observer missions which is the core of my work at the institute. The role of the Commonwealth in deepening democracy, which I’m happy to have called attention to, needs to be looked at more importantly and deepening democracy clearly goes beyond the two-week safari mission in the countries to observe elections. The most we gain from the part of the world where I come from, really takes place months before the actual voting and so there is a need to have in place some, you know, in terms of use of the word ‘observer’, more of a consistent observation of what is actually going on. It’s cunning of the political environment to look at something that would enable organisations seriously interested in election observer missions to look at party primaries, for example, to look at how candidates emerge because these are the things that lead to those issues that election observer missions then find it necessary to call attention to when it manifests on election day.

What I’m saying is, good pre- and post-election requires a more engaged involvement on the part of the Commonwealth. Let me end on this point and hope that I can address a few other things at the level of questions. Thank you.

PS:      Thank you very much, Kayode. As we’ve said, there is so much to cover in these four topics that we need to do. We have 25 minutes before lunch and while everybody is going to put their flags up please and if I miss you please wave at me or something. Can I just pick up on something that Amitav just snuck in at the end of his talk which was mention of the upcoming CHOGM? I think we’re a little remiss if we don’t place that more centrally in our conversation today because that is the context in which the meetings that I talked about at the opening of this session. The conversations about the relevance of the Commonwealth, its future, what the values mean and the Commonwealth that it claims the new charter is about. Philip and I were at a session not so long ago where a member of the EPG, I can’t remember if it’s Chatham House Rule or not so I won’t mention, was it? It wasn’t. Okay, so Ron Sanders himself was saying that though he had massive misgivings about the new Charter of Values although he was involved in the group that brought it into being, not least of all drawing attention to the opening phrase which was, ‘We, the people of the Commonwealth’ and then goes on to state the values and his misgivings were primarily attached to the fact that the people had had no say in this charter.

So, drawing on questions about what values mean in the Commonwealth and what democracy means in the Commonwealth. I think tying that to the year when we have CHOGM, that’s such a controversial one that has caused so much angst within the association and outside it, I think to have this conversation as an oral history project must also take into account the question we have been asked, which is a fundamental question for policy makers, whether the Commonwealth’s record of achievement justifies a continued engagement with it. That’s, I hope, how we might tie together the three excellent presentations in our conversation that follows. Patsy and then Stephen. Patsy?

PR:       I’d just like to comment on the whole business of election monitoring and I want to support what the last speaker said because I’ve had my little campaign which has not been noticed by anybody for the Secretary of the Commonwealth to stop monitoring. What they should do is use their resources and their power or whatever to ensure that governments run fair elections. Now, everyone knows the electoral role is fiddled a year in advance. So, as he said, coming in to do a safari thing two weeks later is really a waste of time. You can’t cover all the constituencies. With mobile phones they tell people, “Oh, the observers are on their way,” and they tidy up the polling station. I’ve done 12-13 elections. I became disenchanted with election monitoring when we did Zambia, when Kenneth Kaunda lost.

Carter was very big in coming to elections and I heard him tell the media in Lusaka that he had had a word that morning with George Bush and what was the name of Bush’s Secretary of State? “I had a word this morning with George and James and they’ve assured me that if there is a change, a regime change, they will resume aid to Zambia”, and I thought that was absolutely disgusting and I thought we shouldn’t be there in the company of that kind of business. Kaunda lost. Of course, anybody who was at the election would know that the chap running would have turned out to be the disaster that he turned out to be.

I also want to say that this idea, if you who are a hero who fights for independence – sorry, I’m going off – your people do love you. The people vote for you. All right, power corrupts and all that happens, but a lot of these countries that started out as democracies, there were coups. The army came into a lot of them and then we talk about not one-party states but military people. These coups were not really home-grown. So, we have at some stage we have to look at the effect of coups on the de-democratization of many of many of our member states.

I’d also like to put my hand up about Malaysia. I did that election and unfortunately we had a chap who was chair called Dudley Thompson, he was a fellow Jamaican and he knew lots of Malaysians. We assessed that the election was free but the treatment of the media was so disgraceful that we insisted we rang the Chief in London saying, “We can’t say it is fair.” I think we said it’s the only time a Commonwealth election was free but not fair. It created all kinds of problems for the Chief. Now, you know, Kenya was another big problem, remember, Max? The then Electoral Commissioner was a judge appointed by arap-Moi. He had twice been removed from the bench for malfeasance or whatever they remove judges for. He was made head of the Electoral Commission in Kenya. When we went there earlier, we were in the early group; he had not spoken to anybody. So, election monitoring as this gentlemen said, there has to be more to promote democracy. Sorry to take up time.

PS:      [Microphone off – 2.40.39]

SC:      Just briefly and in support of what Kayode was saying and to an extent, of course, what Patsy was saying. I came out of retirement from election observations sabbatical in 2010 before the South Sudan elections and was horrified that nothing had actually advanced in terms of observation since the days when we used to do this for the Commonwealth and I think as Kayode correctly said, this is a very deeply flawed and absolutely inaccurate process. “Safaris”, I think, might be a little bit of a harsh word but obviously a lot of the benefit of the crews, could basically be accrued from a safari party in terms of the acuity of observation and judgement that sometimes comes out of these things, but there has been no significant advance in methodology and not just in terms of the preparatory work as you rightly pointed out, but in terms of the aftermath and how things are counted which is a deep interest of my own. How did they rig the count afterwards? There is no scientific work, as it were, being put forward by the Commonwealth or indeed Carter or indeed anybody else on that particular issue.

I just wanted to make a very brief comment on what both Max and Amitav were saying. By the time of the late 1980s and the 1990s I was of course no longer part of the Secretariat but I’ve still been following these things, shadowing it as it were, from the outside. So, with Derek, for instance, I was at the 1991 Harare CHOGM and my memory of it is of course not deeply informed by how difficult or how fruitful it was in terms of discussions within the Secretariat in terms of drafting the Declaration of Human Rights but our concern – or certainly my concern as an outsider – was the malign influence that Sir Robert Armstrong had in trying to corrupt the draft that the Secretariat first set out, involving these two gentlemen and Moni Malhoutra, a very fine draft they had put forward. So, the point I’m trying to put forward is when we talk about Commonwealth history and we’re all witnesses from largely the inside of the Commonwealth, we have to be aware that there are other forces externally and a full witness account has got to encounter these external forces which are implicit in the title of this particular meeting.

Similarly just two very other brief examples – I went to the Zambian elections shortly afterwards. I have a slightly different view of it to Patsy although Jimmy Carter did try to run me down in his motorcade, so I’m not very empathetic towards former President Carter on that account. Two things and that is to do with the Kenya elections in ’92 which I attended in a private capacity. I think you were too kind, even in your qualified harsh judgement. I think that was a rig. That was a stolen election. I don’t think there are two ways that you can describe this, notwithstanding diplomatic pressures to do so, but that was, simply, I think, unpalatable and untenable as an example of choice for the people of Kenya.

The final comment, I celebrate like everybody else the creation and the proper use of CMAG. It is an advance in international relations. It is an advance in the way that international organisations work. It is envied by others such as the Francophonie for instance, but it was not an entirely internal Commonwealth creation. I spent two sets of two hours advising the Foreign Office here about their submission which helped to form the CMAG and they had their own reasons for wanting to have it in the way that it eventuated. In other words, the merging of agendas, I think is one of the things that any Witness Seminar has got to be able to take on board, not just how we remember it but how outside actors also interacted with the internal actors and I’m very, very anxious that we don’t come to obsessed with ‘How We Changed History’. We helped, perhaps, to change history.

RB:      Well, that’s very generous of you, Stuart, because I realise time is pressing us. The Commonwealth has had three sorts of ECGs as far as the heartbeat is concerned. The first was the Mahathir High Level Review and then there was the Thabo Mbeki and as Amitav was saying, the Eminent Persons Group. It really builds, both Max and Amitav were at Harare, were involved as Stephen referred to, in the drafting of that declaration and my query is how far was the High Level Review Report of Mahathir involved leading up to the Harare Declaration? How far was it the Commonwealth Secretariat able drafts people like yourselves and how far was it that governments at that time shortly after the end of the Cold War and after Mandela had been released and turned up in Harare? What was the sort of mix and really was the famous High Level Report very significant in that process?

MG:      I think I agree with everything that has been said. Nobody is suggesting this, but the Commonwealth should not forget about elections and helping countries to prepare for them and then run them properly. Just harking back to the more than a dozen in my time – and now as we heard from Amitav more than a hundred overall in which the Secretariat has been involved – the aspect that struck us time and again from the smallest to the biggest was the turnout. You heard then these dismissive counterarguments of, “Oh, what do these people know about democracy? Why would they turn out for an election? They won’t know how to vote!” Well, they turned out in astonishing numbers, much better say than the UK or the United States. I might add not better than my own country Australia, but only because we are compelled by law to vote! The second aspect of elections that consistently caught our attention was the very small number of spoiled votes. People not only wanted to vote but they knew how to vote on the day.

PS:      Nothing on the Harare?

MG:      I was going to leave that Amitav.

AB:      That’s a bad pass! I think on election observation, we have continually learned from experience and, I would like to think, honed the way we work. I was the first to admit that we still don’t follow up assiduously and the ideal, as Kayode said, is to treat the pre-election cycle, the immediate election itself and the post-election period as one continuum, because unless you are constantly engaged with a country and feeling the pulse and checking for change, you’re not really able to do very much more than take a snapshot. That said, I think the Secretariat certainly, much more than before, now keeps scanning the horizon and doing that early warning now even more post-CMAG’s new mandate and we’re waiting with baited breath, me more than anyone, to see if we will get more resources in the new budget that flows from the new strategic plan. I’ve made it very clear to my Secretary-General, and I don’t mind saying that in this room, that we are running to stand still and to do the extra work that those triggers of CMAG enjoin upon us, to constantly be able to say to the Secretary-General that in countries X,Y,Z – some red flags are going up, we need more human resources and we need more financial resources. Every observer group, even if it does still go in two weeks before an election and sometimes we have advance observers that go even earlier where the need is perceived, certainly is informed by a continuous Secretariat monitoring of the situation.

So if the voters’ roll has indeed been rigged a year before, it is not likely to remain a secret. I can certainly assure you of that. Of course there are instances like Stephen pointed out. In Ghana in 1992. I was virtually assaulted along with the others who were in Kumasi in the Ashanti province, largely because President Jimmy Carter and his Carter Centre had declared the results of the Ghanaian elections before their own Election Commission had done so, through their exit polling system but of course also said that it was a reasonably good election and people associated the Commonwealth also with that conclusion as well. So, Ashanti being NPP territory, we ran for our lives from there to try and escape being physically assaulted.

There have been instances where you can take issue with the report. I think Uganda is a very famous one of course, in Commonwealth history. If you see recent reports there is much less reticence to call it like it is and we have been able to certainly also very successfully sell the line that these are independent groups led by very experienced former leaders who can’t be taught to suck eggs and who do not represent the Secretary-General. As for the Secretariat trying to take credit for everything, I think I will be very quick to say that this is not the intention here at all. At the end of the day, nothing works in the Commonwealth if your member governments don’t subscribe to it. They will pull it apart and find one way or another of doing so. You’ve got to carry them along and things do change.

As for how Harare itself was drafted, Max that’s a pass I don’t accept because you were more privy to what was going on but my recollection is that the High Level Appraisal that Dr. Mahathir chaired spawned a small group that then met periodically to implement that but I don’t think the Harare Commonwealth Declaration was deliberated upon by that group. I think Chief Anyaoku took personal leadership of that and very informally consulted a few key governments but Stuart is probably better placed than anyone else to comment on that? Thank you.

KS:      Just to say that I’m a bit relieved by what I’ve heard from Amitav in terms of the continuous monitoring and to say that I also join him in his prayers for a better budget response from the Secretariat so that more work in that area will be done because it is quite critical. It would save us a lot of hue and cry if a lot of the early-warning systems have been put in place. Thank you.

PS:      Please use the microphone. Stuart first, please.

SMO:   Yes, just on the Harare Declaration. It was certainly a draft that the Secretariat had ownership of and then there was Lord Armstrong who had another draft and it was a question of negotiation and marrying of the one with the other. Just as the British had their own ideas about a ministerial action group, the SG had a very clear idea of what he wanted and only with the final negotiations at Elephant Hills – involving all Heads – was the matter resolved and CMAG created.

I want also to very strongly support what Amitav said about election observer missions, and I’ve crossed swords with Patsy on this before. Of course, we look at Zimbabwe now and we think of what has been done in pushing people off the register. I accept that a lot of rigging can happen before elections but it is surprising how stupid people who rig elections can be. Certainly, that was true in 2003 when some of us called the Nigerian elections down in the Niger Delta a massive fraud and we witnessed just about every electoral malpractice under the sun. People were so stupid about the rigging. If they had been far more sophisticated and subtle we probably wouldn’t have noticed but when people want to be elected with 99.9% vote on a 99% turnout then it’s obvious – especially when there is nobody visible on the street – that there has been no real election.

I stand up for what I think is one of the flagship areas of Secretariat action and I can certainly give examples, I remember Antigua and Barbuda where the election observer mission report went through both Houses of Parliament thereafter and was embodied in electoral law. So, a follow-up also happens. I would say, one of the most decisive electoral observer reports was Zimbabwe in 2002. Patsy Robinson was a member and the European Union packed its bags and went home and did not stay for the end of the elections. The Commonwealth stayed for that election, saw the violence, saw that it was an imperfect election and the unity of all members of that group, from all parts of the Commonwealth, was decisive in helping the Commonwealth maintain consensus on Zimbabwe.

Two other quick things that I wanted to say. First off, I think the idea the Good Offices external to the Commonwealth is a very interesting issue and I just mention some of the things that happened under Max’s watch in South Africa between 1991-1994 through the UN in getting observers to the negotiating process (at CODESA) and deploying observers on the ground to tackle the violence that was threatening to derail the process. The SG, Chief Anyaoku, obtained a United Nations’ Security Council Resolution for that purpose. So, that’s a very interesting area of work.

My final point is that we haven’t mentioned Secretariat staff in a kind of all-purpose sense and I do want to mention colleagues because I remember through the work that was happening between 1991 and 1994, on the ground in South Africa, with Max Gaylard’s team there. Some of the members of the Secretariat were transformed by the work that they did there. They may have come out of Marlborough House from a rather dead-end role. They were put in charge of an office or something in Natal and it was amazing to see the transformation that resulted: how people really entrusted with that responsibility rose to tremendous heights and I had nothing but admiration for those involved in that; but I know there have been many, many examples across the field where Secretariat staff were showing the same degree of high dedication.

MB:      My question relates to the leadership role of the Secretary-General and senior management. I think many of my colleagues around the table will agree that the Human Rights Unit has always been the Cinderella of the Secretariat. Clearly, the prince must have come along at some point because the Human Rights Unit now stands on its own, I understand. My question is what are the resources that it’s given because during my time, especially from the mid-1990s, we were not given resources both in terms of personnel and money to do what we were doing. So, I’m sorry to admit that I haven’t kept up with the history of the unit and what it has been doing, so I would like to know more about that.

PS:      Okay, thank you, Madhuri. Kayode, would you like to go first? Do you have any responses to those comments?

KS:      Just a quick response to Stuart. What you observed in the Niger Delta wasn’t nearly as dumb as it seemed. There is a uniquely Nigerian explanation for that. I’m ashamed to admit it but the percentage of votes that you’re able to declare also has implications for how well you can negotiate for the board appointments that will come from the president that emerges. So, it’s a purely logical thing although it might look very dumb. Thank you.

AB:      I’m not sure there is very much I want to say other than that the Good Offices part of our work has not really been discussed very much today. Stuart mentioned it. I remember when Chief Anyaoku propounded his theory of “inter-mestic” issues; i.e. domestic issues with international repercussions. This was the introduction to what is today ‘Good Offices’. There was huge protest and every country cited sovereignty, non-interference in internal affairs etc. Today, more and more actually ask for Commonwealth help with sensitive domestic matters, where other organisations are seen to have an agenda. There are examples, I think, that can be cited of success. There are other examples probably of lack of success but the effort is still worth it. On the Human Rights Unit, perhaps Madhuri can put her hat on as the previous head of the unit and tell you more from the inside track but my own understanding, Madhuri, is that the Cinderella has not really become more of a princess. It’s still a very small unit. It’s got two professionals. They are helped by a couple of interns. It has a reporting relationship that is perhaps seen as more elevated in that it reports directly to the Deputy Secretary General responsible for Political Affairs. In terms of the resources available to it, I’m not sure it is a far cry from what when you left. Certainly, a far cry from what it needs, especially given the UPR reporting requirements that have now become a pretty big thing, although there are now a couple of posts based in Geneva. A number of people are waiting to see what happens to the way human rights are dealt with post-EPG, post-New Strategic Plan given that egregious violation of human rights is one of the triggers now set out in the new CMAG mandate, that could enable pro-active engagement by CMAG. Thanks.

PS:      I’ll just add quickly to Amitav’s comments on the HRU in January 2008 when the unit had £225,227 as its entire budget. I know that number very well because I spent a lot of time repeating it to senior management, saying how disgraceful it was. That was to do human rights work across 53 member states. While I was here we increased the budget considerably but mostly by raising resources from outside the building, not least from the Foreign Office which allowed us to kick off the UPR work that Amitav has mentioned and in cooperation with the UN we got that massive project under way. We also raised money from other governments. I think some of that has come to an end. I think when I left, the full budget was about £360,000. It’s pretty minimal when you see other parts of the Secretariat having budgets in the millions.

There is only a temporary acting head at the moment who has been there for almost two years since I left. I could give you chapter and verse about the place of human rights and the work of the Secretariat. It’s nowhere near where it should be and that’s why I think the whole question about what do the values mean that the Commonwealth states acclaim to, is something we haven’t talked about very much and where it’s going is a question that is still unanswered. Max, you get the last word.

MG:      If I could add a further comment on human rights, against my recent background of the last 15 years in the UN system. If you look back briefly at the history of the UN and the creation of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), what tended to happen is that when it came to confronting human rights issues, other parts of the UN system including the agencies would tend to refer these to OHCHR, effectively saying to human rights complainants “No, no! There is a special office for that. So, you’ve got to go and talk to them.” Those tendencies are still there, and in my view are complete nonsense. As I used to say to my UN colleagues, to the horror of some, “You know, the United Nations as an intergovernmental organisation is fundamentally a human rights organisation,” implying that it is good to have an office to bring focus, but all of the staff of the UN are effectively working for the people, and are thus involved in the promotion of human rights.

It sounds very simple but the reality is not so easy. These days thankfully, virtually all of the UN agencies – UNDP, UNICEF, WHO and many others – are talking the language of rights.

PS:      Yes.

MG:      Even UNDP is talking rights, and that is my point. There is a small Human Rights Unit in the Secretariat which brings focus to rights issues; but in fact everyone working in the Secretariat in my view should be thinking of rights as part of their normal workload.

On a final, lighter note, we were talking before about communiqués and in particular about the Harare CHOGM Communiqué and the Vienna Human Rights communiqué. This reminds me of the process of preparation of communiqués in the Secretariat, not just for the two-yearly CHOGM summits but also for entities such as the Commonwealth Foreign Ministers Committee on Southern Africa which met every six months, and for which each meeting issued a communiqué. The way it worked, for better or for worse, was like this. The SG would consult in advance with Heads of Government, Ministers or their representatives. The SG would then pass his directions and guidance to a small Commonwealth Secretariat team such as Stuart Mole, Amitav, Madhuri and myself.

The second part of the instruction was to go away and find a quiet place where no member state minister or official could find you and start drafting the communique, I remember one Foreign Minister in particular, whose name I shall not mention, who wanted to be involved in the drafting process from the beginning and by doing so could, theoretically any way, influence the outcome and shape of the draft of the communiqué. So we would be hiding in one part of the hotel/conference centre, putting together the beginnings of the communique and he would be looking for us because he wanted to get involved right at that stage. The SG would seek to reassure him by saying “just wait a little longer, we will have a draft for you shortly.”

PS:      Can I just thank Kayode Samuel, Amitav Banerji and Max Gaylard for some really interesting presentations, and some great questions and conversation that followed. Thank you very much. It’s straight to lunch now, isn’t it Philip?

SO:      Thank you very much indeed to the last panel. We will be convening promptly at 14:15 so that the rest of the day doesn’t slide on, but thank you very much to everyone who has participated this morning.

[End of session]