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Protecting democracy and rights

The challenge

The Commonwealth places a high priority on being a community of peaceful and democratic countries, and ensuring shared fundamental political values – including commitment to human rights, the rule of law, and civilian government – are actively protected and promoted.

In countries where core Commonwealth values are under threat, an independent mechanism can help to assess and address alleged infringements and recommend measures for collective action. Twenty years ago, such a mechanism was established by the Commonwealth to help ensure, and restore, democratic governance in our member states and safeguard the constitutional rights of citizens.

Commonwealth action

In 1995, Commonwealth leaders created a Ministerial Action Group to deal with persistent or serious violations of the Commonwealth’s shared democratic values. The Group is composed of nine foreign ministers who assess infringements of the Commonwealth’s political values in member states and recommend action to be taken as a result. The Group can suspend a country or even recommend its expulsion from the Commonwealth.

In its early years, the Group focused on unconstitutional changes in government, including military coups. In 2011, Commonwealth leaders broadened its mandate so it could engage more proactively and constructively with countries where democratic values are at risk. The Group now assesses wider concerns such as threats to human rights or the unreasonable postponement of elections. When it detects warning signs, it offers positive support, encouraging countries to respect shared political values.

Since its establishment, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group has suspended member states eight times. All suspended countries except Zimbabwe - which opted to leave the Commonwealth - were returned to full membership following the restoration of democracy.

Global value

For 20 years, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group has helped to champion democracy, human rights and the rule of law globally. Among intergovernmental organisations, its authority to suspend member governments or to take other collective action is unmatched.

The Group’s expanded mandate enables it to address, in addition to systematic violations of human rights and the unjustified postponement of elections, the undermining of the judiciary, a lack of space for the opposition, and systematic constraints on civil society and the media.

Violations of the Commonwealth’s fundamental political values, such as unconstitutional changes in government, are not only dealt with, they are deterred or prevented as a result of the presence and positive work of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group. Our values are also shared by many non-member countries and their reinforcement has a positive effect on all regions of the world.