Commonwealth Heads Of Government Meeting
The security for the CHOGM is tight for
the opening day which activists have declared to it shut down on the
opening day the 6th of October 2001.In the initial reports, 2000 Federal
and state police and 1600 soldiers will be deployed . Queenslands state
Labour Government said the police will NOT carry guns (in response to
killing of an activist in Genoa, Italy ) but the soldiers will . About
10,000 ten thousands activists from Australia and around the world are
expected to join the great event. Further report will be coming soon.
All 44 foreign leaders including the Queen of UK will bring their own
security guards plus Interpol , CIA , Commonwealth Intelligence .( Not
surprisingly, They will be allowed to carry weapons!!! )
Protesting or blockading at CHOGM?
Progressive activists have been told since May 1 that stopping CHOGM is
next. There are two strongly competing views about how to protest at CHOGM -
shut it down, or make it a forum for protest. There are many reasons put up
for protesting at CHOGM, using either tactic. Already, some activists have
Started to switch off CHOGM.
I also argue that the call to blockade and shut down CHOGM has come from
Just a few organizations, not by consultation, but by declaration. This is
not the way to develop the dynamic of popular protest that made such an
impact at S11 against the World Economic Forum. It is likely to demobilise
and reduce the numbers that will be involved at CHOGM.
What are the politics and crucial issues behind this rather bewildering
barrage of arguments and demands around CHOGM?
CHOGM is a meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government. The Commonwealth
is a body of 54 nations, all but one from the former British Empire, but
also including since 1995 Mozambique, a former Portuguese African colony,
because of its historic ties with the anti-apartheid struggle. Commonwealth
countries have a population of 1.7 billion, or 30% of the world
The Commonwealth is the latest evolution of what was the British Empire. It
started as the British Commonwealth of Nations after the Imperial Conference
of Westminster in 1926. After national liberation movements successfully
fought for de-colonisation, which started in India in 1947, the gBritishh
was dropped in 1949 and republics like India welcomed. In 1971, the
Singapore Declaration spelt out the Commonwealth commitment to improving
human rights and seeking racial and economic justice. In 1991, the Harare
Declaration spelt out more clearly that democracy and human rights are the
basis for Commonwealth membership. However, it was in the Harare Declaration
that the language of the neo-liberal TNC agenda started to emerge in the
Commonwealth, in parallel with other international institutions influenced
by Thatcherism and Reaganism (the Washington Consensus).
The Commonwealth is best understood as something like the United Nations on
a smaller scale. It has broad, even amorphous goals, works on the principle
of consultation and consensus, and has open processes with non-government
organization involvement. The Commonwealth has no military force, or
coercive power apart from suspension and expulsion.
The Commonwealth stays together because Britain wants to maintain its
economic, political and cultural influence in a post-Empire context, and
because the non-Anglo member nations want the economic support they can
obtain from Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The Commonwealth is
a north-south dialogue in motion - hence its continual name changes and the
continuing review of its relevance at every CHOGM. Because it is a
north-south dialogue where the northern member nations want it to
continue, the southern member states have bargaining power. This is a
major reason why the issues of human rights, democracy and development
dominate its activities.
The Commonwealth suspends or expels nations which have military coups and
non-democratic forms of government. Cases in point are Apartheid South
Africa, Ian Smith Rhodesia, Nigeria under the generals, Fiji after its
coups and currently, and Pakistan after its recent military coup. Robert
Mugabefs Zimbabwe is now a focus of Commonwealth concern.
This is in sharp contrast to the World Economic Forum, which is an
Organization of the top 1000 transnationals corporations (TNCs); or the WTO,
which is an organization of governments focused on neo-liberal free trade
and investment; or the IMF which as an international finance agency
dominated by the US Treasury Department to impose TNC interests on
vulnerable states; or the World Bank, which is a loan agency for
infrastructure projects, run by the US Treasury Department also to promote
TNC objectives; or the G8, which is the heads of government of the eight
richest nations who meet to coordinate economic policy in the interests of
the TNCs of their nations. The WEF, the WTO, the IMF, the World Bank and the
G8 promote the interests of TNCs in expanding profits, and pay no attention
to human rights or democracy. The CHOGM Business Forum is a meeting of TNCs,
much like the WEF, and is a proper target for concerted anti-corporate
The stop CHOGM case
Those arguing to blockade the Brisbane CHOGM meeting rest their case on two
a) CHOGM is the British Empire in another name, and we must repudiate its
legacy of dispossession of indigenous people in Australia and all over the
world. It is illegitimate and must be shut down.
b) CHOGM is the same as the WEF, WTO, IMF / World Bank or the G8. It is
there to promote the neo-liberal free trade and investment agenda against
human rights, democracy and genuine development. At the Brisbane CHOGM,
there will be a caucus of governments to force nations to vote for expansion
of the General Agreement on Trade in Services at the WTO November
Ministerial Meeting in Qatar, and to vote for a new general negotiating
round - the development Round - with an expanded agenda compared to the
Uruguay Round completed in 1994. Therefore it must be shut down.
Protest but no blockade
On the first point, CHOGM is far removed from the British Empire, and only
exists because the former colonies see a value in it. Yes, it is a vestige
of the British Empire, but so is the Australian Constitution and the
Constitutions of all the Australian state governments. But the people
proposing to shut down CHOGM for this reason - the British Empire connection
- do not propose to shut down the Queensland Parliament or any parliament in
Australia. Why not? Because it is manifest today that these parliaments are
based on a democratic vote. The Commonwealth applies the same democratic
test to its member states. Indigenous rights are abused in Australia, and in
many of the Commonwealth member states - and the CHOGM is the perfect place
to protest about these abuses. So why shut it down and deny this
international forum as a place to communicate this legitimate protest?
It is only in democratic forums that arguments for human rights and genuine
development have got any chance to be advanced. TNCs do not support
democratic forums which may regulate or constrain their freedom for the
broader social and environmental good. But we should.
On the second point, CHOGM has no standing in the WTO, the WEF, or the IMF /
World Bank or the G8. Britain and Canada are the only two Commonwealth
members that are members of the G8. Decisions made at CHOGM have no direct
bearing on these other forums. Nations which may vote for a resolution on a
corporate globalisation issue at CHOGM cannot be bound to vote the same way
at Qatar. It is highly unlikely that CHOGM will go to the detail of GATS.
However, the general corporate globalisation case will be pushed by the
desperate pro-TNC forces at CHOGM. That is a good reason to protest against
corporate globalisation at CHOGM and to support those member nations which
want to maintain their opposition to a new round in the WTO, and extended
agendas for GATS, the Agreement on Agriculture, and the Agreement on
Intellectual Property Rights. But to try to shut down CHOGM would be to try
to suppress this vital debate.
It would be much better to raise these issues forcefully in protests in
Brisbane during CHOGM to support the member nations which also oppose any
further power going to the TNCs. Any clear division of opinion (no
consensus) on these corporate globalisation issues at CHOGM will be a
victory for people everywhere, and we should do our best to make it possible
for opposition to the neo-liberal agenda to be expressed. Therefore, the
shut it down approach is self-defeating.
There are other reasons to object to the call to shut it down. The
broader progressive movement and beyond us, the public, have had no chance
to discuss together the best approach to CHOGM, and so the shut it down
approach is going to divide the protest movement, and tend to isolate the
shut it down group who will look like a self-appointed vanguard. It
worked at S11; it worked to a lesser extent at M1 - another corporate
target, but it is not likely to work at CHOGM - not a corporate target.
There are important issues to raise at CHOGM that will be on the agenda -
democracy in Fiji after the Speight coup. The Commonwealth needs to be much
more forceful in its support for a return to the Constitution in Fiji, and
protests outside about this issue should be supported.
Nigeria is back in the fold at the Commonwealth, but human rights abuses in
the Ogoni country and elsewhere in the oil fields continue. Protests about
this issue should be made at CHOGM.
In Zimbabwe, President Mugabe is waging a war against his own people to hold
onto power. Opposition democratic forces, known as the Movement for
Democratic Change, want to raise their issues at CHOGM, and should be
assisted to do so. The Commonwealth has been very slow to criticise Mugabe
In Papua New Guinea, the police recently shot students protesting against
the IMF / World Bank program to privatise everything and to open up custom
land for sale. The Howard government strongly supports that program. This
issue must be raised on the streets at CHOGM.
John Howard claims there are no human rights abuses in Australia, despite
the local and international criticism of mandatory sentencing, his denial of
the Stolen Generations, his Wik amendments to Native Title, his cuts to
funding for Aboriginal programs, his abuse of the human rights of asylum
seekers, his coddling of One Nation. The Howard government should be exposed
before the whole world at CHOGM. This opportunity would be denied by the
shut it down tactic.
All these arguments are about the politics of the competing approaches to
protests at CHOGM. They may be answered by claims that both the shut it
down and the protest approaches can go ahead together. This may be
what happens, but if so, it will be because of a lack of genuine dialogue
among the protesters, and it will undo the movements which want to protest
at CHOGM but not deny the heads of government the right to meet.
Firstly, this will happen because the mainstream media, dominated by
neo-liberal interests, will focus on the division among the protesters and
work to advance their ideological campaign against the global protest
movement. In the CHOGM case, they will have plenty of poor country
representatives saying that they want to meet and that their right is being
denied, thus echoing George Bush, Peter Costello and others who say the
protesters are selfish people denying the benefits of globalisation to the
poor of the world.
Second, the security deployed at CHOGM to stop a blockade will also stop any
protests in the vicinity of the CHOGM events at South Brisbane. This will
make headlines, no doubt, but not about the central issues. Nor will it win
the sympathy of the public and grow the broad movement against the TNC
SEARCH Foundation, Sydney
July 25, 2001