A Guide to the Contemporary Commonwealth

By W. David McIntyre | Go to book overview

11
Ethos, Values and the 1991
Declaration

In the argot of the contemporary Commonwealth, groups of buzzwords have been assembled to highlight the values that member countries strive to uphold. Democracy, human rights, good governance and the rule of law are seen as the concomitants of sustainable development, free trade, the role of the market economy, equal opportunities and consensus building. Each of these phrases has the superficial quality of a slogan, but, on definition and analysis, they sum up the endeavours and aspirations of a quarter-of-a-century and they were restated at the start of the 1990s to signify a minor revolution.

Previous enunciations of Commonwealth principles and values were never designed as charters or constitutions; nor were they intended as theoretical exercises in politics and ethics. They each arose from specific circumstances. Just as the declaration of equal status in 1926 arose from specific South African, Canadian and Irish concerns, and the creation of the symbolic Headship in 1949 arose from India’s republican constitution, so the 1971 Declaration of Principles arose from anger over British policies in Southern Africa and the 1991 Harare Declaration was a response to the end of the Cold War. Similarly, in 1995 an action plan for fulfilling the Harare values was drawn up because of the persistence of ‘errant states’ under military rule, notably Nigeria.

The 1971 Declaration was a statement of guiding norms, not of mandatory rules. They provided generalised political commitments and were reinforced in the 1970s and 1980s by a series of declaratory elaborations. We have seen how the members pledged themselves to support peace, liberty and cooperation. 1 This was reinforced by the 1983 Goa Declaration on International Security and the 1985 Nassau Declaration on World Order. The members also denounced racial dis

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