The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) will take place in Perth at the end of next month. It is a gathering of the government leaders of the 54 Commonwealth countries.
The Commonwealth today has direct links to the earlier structures of the British Empire in which colonialists of a previous era used to boast that the “sun never sets” on the places where they were killing and oppressing people.
Today, that naked imperialism has had to give way to imperialism of a more subtle kind. Thus while the Commonwealth likes to present itself as an organisation united around support for “international peace”, “democracy” and “human rights”, in reality it is an organisation to further the ongoing domination of the Commonwealth’s wealthy countries over their poorer associates.
CHOGM today is marked by both these characteristics: on the one hand the oppressive reality of imperialist business interests pushing their agendas; on the other hand, a bland talk shop set against a backdrop of nice sounding platitudes.
Either way, it is important that this year’s CHOGM summit be met by a sizeable and effective protest. The Chogm Action Network (CAN) has been formed by a variety of social movement campaigners to achieve this result.
CAN has united around the theme of “For justice and climate action, not racism and war”. Specifically, it will raise demands for Aboriginal rights, an end to mandatory detention, troops out of Afghanistan and a huge boost in renewable energy.
The main CHOGM protest will be on October 28, the Friday public holiday that opens the CHOGM summit. The protest will march from Forrest Place in the city centre to the summit venue at the Perth Convention Centre.
Most of the active social movement campaigns in Perth are a part of CAN, including the Refugee Rights Action Network, the Deaths in Custody Watch Committee, Equal Love Perth, Safe Climate Perth, the Reclaim the Night Collective, Friends of Palestine WA, and anti-nuclear groups Ban Uranium Mining Permanently, the Anti-Nuclear Alliance of WA and Footprints for Peace.
Other supporters of the October 28 protest include the Socialist Alliance, The Greens (WA), Socialist Alternative, Solidarity Perth, the Communist Party of Australia, the Revolutionary Socialist Party, the Human Rights Alliance, the Australia-Cuba Friendship Society and the Zimbabwe Information Centre.
Below are four good reasons CAN has put forward for why people should mobilise for the October 28 protest.
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Troops out of Afghanistan
Three of the Commonwealth’s most powerful nations — Britain, Canada and Australia — have been key partners in the US-led, 10-year occupation of Afghanistan.
Today, nearly 10,000 British soldiers, and 1500 Australian soldiers, are deployed in Afghanistan.
While maintaining a facade of upholding Afghan women’s rights, the occupying powers installed a puppet regime whose “family code” sanctions spousal rape and child marriage.
Free the refugees
The Australian government, while cutting health, welfare and education, boosted military spending to $32 billion this year ($87 million a day).
The government also remains committed to locking up asylum seekers fleeing conflicts such as the war in Afghanistan and the genocide of Sri Lanka’s Tamil population.
War criminal Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa will be welcomed by the Australian government at the summit.
Renewable energy now
The Commonwealth Business Forum, held before CHOGM, will be a fair for Australia’s biggest mining companies — such as BHP Billiton and Energy Resources of Australia — to push the export of uranium on developing countries.
But, as the Fukushima meltdown has shown, nuclear power is not a clean alternative to fossil fuels.
The Commonwealth’s biggest per capita polluter — Australia — continues to avoid real action on climate change, while Commonwealth Pacific island nation states Kiribati and Nauru, and flood-prone Bangladesh, face devastation from rising sea levels.
Aboriginal peoples continue to be denied justice.
Today, 20 years after the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, Indigenous Australians — while only 2% of the population — make up 25% of those in prison.
Aboriginal elders have been denied any opportunity to address CHOGM on the issues of Aboriginal land rights or the Stolen Generations.