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Update July 2022: The Commons Library briefing, The Commonwealth, CBP 9478, has details on the outcomes of CHOGM 2022. This paper was last updated on 20 June 2022. 

From 20 to 25 June 2022, Rwanda will host the 2022 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). The meeting was due to be held in 2020 but has been delayed twice due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

This will be the first in-person meeting of Commonwealth leaders since the London CHOGM in 2018. Prince Charles will represent the Queen and open the meeting. The UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, will also hand over the role of chair-in-office of the Commonwealth to the President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame.

Rwanda is the most recent country to have joined the Commonwealth, in 2009. This will be the first CHOGM held in Africa since Uganda in 2007.

This paper explains the background to the conference and the issues likely to arise. This includes scrutiny of Rwanda’s human rights record.

What is the Commonwealth?

The Commonwealth is an association of 54 member-states, including the UK, Jamaica, South Africa, and Pakistan. It has a population of 2.5 billion (around a third of the world’s population), and a collective Gross Domestic Product (GDP) estimated at US$13 trillion in 2020.

The Commonwealth collaborates on issues such as human rights, trade, climate change and democracy through formal meetings such as CHOGMs and the work of the Commonwealth Secretariat and country leaders.

The chair-in-office represents the Commonwealth at international meetings and supports the “good offices” work of the Secretariat (such as mediation and arbitration). The Secretariat is responsible for its day-to-day work.

What are CHOGMs?

Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings (CHOGMs) normally take place every two years. These operate by consensus, and a communiqué is issued at the end of each.

The last CHOGM was held in London in 2018. This year’s CHOGM will be the 26th since the first in 1971.

Outcomes of 2018 CHOGM and progress against commitments

Outcomes of the 2018 meeting included a commitment to boosting intra-Commonwealth trade to US$2 trillion by 2030, ensuring all Commonwealth states ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and providing more support for small states vulnerable to climate change. 25 of the world’s 38 small island developing states (SIDS) are Commonwealth members.

In its 2022 update on progress against the 2018 commitments, the UK Government said it now has 33 trade agreements with Commonwealth states, had funded projects to develop domestic violence legislation overseas, and supported 13 SIDS monitor their marine economies.

CHOGM 2022 themes: Health and Ukraine

CHOGM’s theme is “Delivering a common future: Connecting, innovating, transforming.” This includes protecting natural resources and increasing trade. No further details have been published.

The Rwandan Government has also identified health as a key focus. This is likely to include discussion of the effects of Covid-19 on wider health services and ongoing Commonwealth commitments to halve malaria in the Commonwealth by 2023 and ensure access to quality eye care.

The Commonwealth Secretary General, Baroness Patricia Scotland, has condemned Russia’s invasion on Ukraine. However, several Commonwealth countries including Uganda, South Africa, Pakistan, and India have assumed more neutral positions on Russia’s actions. 

Re-appointment of Secretary General

Commonwealth leaders will consider the reappointment of the Secretary General, Baroness Patricia Scotland, who is seeking a second term in office. She assumed the role in 2016, and her four-year term was temporarily extended in 2020 in response to the pandemic.

The UK, among others, has been critical of the Secretariat’s governance and financial stability. Her significant challenger is Jamaican foreign minister Kamina Johnson Smith. Smith has the backing of the UK, India, and Belize. Scotland is backed by Dominica and Antigua and Barbuda. Tuvulu is also intending to put forward a candidate with a focus on climate change.

Togo and Gabon are expected to apply for membership

Togo, a French-speaking West African state, is expected to apply for Commonwealth membership. Britain historically ruled part of Togoland, which is now part of Ghana. To join the Commonwealth, countries must meet several requirements including on human rights and democracy and usually having a historic link to the UK. A decision on membership is reached by consensus of member states.

There are also reports that Gabon, like Togo a former French colony, will apply for membership at the summit.

Rwanda as host

Rwandan President Paul Kagame will take over from UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson as the chair-in-office of the Commonwealth until the next CHOGM.

As the host nation, Rwanda’s human rights record may come under scrutiny. 24 organisations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have written an open to letter to Commonwealth Heads of Government to ask them to speak up on Rwanda’s human rights record. They argue failure to do so “risks undermining the organisation’s human rights mandate, as well as its integrity and credibility”.

In the UK, the focus is likely to be on the agreement to transport some people to Rwanda who would otherwise claim asylum in the UK. This is discussed in Commons Library paper UK-Rwanda Migration and Economic Development partnership, CBP9568.

The UK Government has previously expressed concern about restrictions to civil and political rights and media freedoms in Rwanda. The Government has said “we are clear that Rwanda must mirror its social and economic progress with gains in civil and political rights for its people.”

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