The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG)

The second example of Commonwealth values in practice is the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group on the Harare Declaration (CMAG). This was formed in 1995 at the Auckland CHOGM, as the mechanism for the association to deal with serious or persistent violations of Commonwealth principles.

Foreign Ministers from eight Commonwealth countries are appointed to the CMAG and tasked with investigating any serious infringements of the Harare Declaration and recommending measures for collective Commonwealth action aimed at restoring democracy and constitutional rule.

The CMAG works by:

  • collecting information and assessing all sides of a situation through correspondence with high level government representatives
  • calling for written and sometimes oral presentations from experts and interested parties
  • undertaking missions to the country in difficulty, to meet officials from the military, opposition groups, community leaders and, if possible human rights activists.

The CMAG also tries to meet with detained leaders (such as Chief Moshood Abiolo in Nigeria or Nawaz Sharif in Pakistan). However, since all their activities in-country are possible only with the permission of the rulers (and in cases like Sierra Leone the agreement of rebel forces), the CMAG is often unsuccessful in getting access to detainees or seeing all stakeholders or observing all elements of the situation.

Initially, the CMAG focused its attention on the three Commonwealth countries that were still under military rule in 1995: the Gambia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone. By mid-1999 each of these countries had at least formally returned to democratic rule. In Sierra Leone, assistance with consolidating the return to civilian rule came from a Commonwealth Police Development Task Force and Commonwealth technical assistance for capacity building and electoral management. And in the Gambia, a CFTC-funded expert in elections management was provided to the Independent Electoral Commission.

As you can see, there is a strong linkage between the analysis provided by the CMAG, the decisions taken by Heads of Government, and the technical and advisory assistance provided by the Secretariat and the CFTC.

The CMAG’s attention expanded beyond these first three countries in 1999 with the agreement of Heads of Government, and now it is considered routine for the CMAG to investigate and monitor any military overthrow or breakdown in democracy. Since 1999, the CMAG’s remit has included Pakistan, Fiji, Zimbabwe and the Solomon Islands, as well as continued attention to consolidating democracy in both Sierra Leone and the Gambia.