Accra, Ghana
The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) is an independent non-governmental organisation created to ensure the practical realisation of human rights in the countries of the Commonwealth. We push for an adherence to the Commonwealth's Harare Principles and the United Nation's Universal Declaration of Human Rights. CHRI was established in 1987 after several Commonwealth countries voiced their concern about a lack of focus on Human rights within the Commonwealth organization. CHRI currently has three offices; in Delhi, London and Accra. The Africa office was opened in Accra in 2001 and is at the forefront of the fight to uphold basic human freedoms in the region. We work in three main areas of human rights: Human Rights Advocacy; Access to justice and The Right to Information.

Wednesday 18 May 2011

Secretary General speaks up for The Commonwealth

A couple of weeks ago I questioned what was the point of the Commonwealth if it continually fails to denounce human rights abusers? Well, last week at a meeting with Andrew Mitchell (the United Kingdom’s Secretary for International Development) the Commonwealth Secretary- General, Mr Sharma, spoke up about the achievements of the organisation.

Mr Sharma argued that the Commonwealth had a unique role is promoting dialogue between disparate areas of the globe. He said “The Commonwealth has managed to create convergence and understanding without friction, among and between different societies."

The Secretary-General disputed claims that the organisation is inactive or silent issues and said that most of the Commonwealth’s important work goes on behind the scenes. “We don’t often make headlines, but our work of supporting the strengthening of democratic institutions and rule of law is very important”. He cited the seven years of work undertaken by The Commonwealth in the Maldives which held its first successful multi candidate presidential elections in 2008. The organisation has also been involved in recent election observer missions to Uganda and Nigeria and will be sending a mission to the Seychelles to monitor the forthcoming presidential elections.

The Secretary-General added: “You have to draw a deep breath to measure and evaluate the work the association does, because we don’t operate like a donor agency. We are demand driven and listen to our partners and respond appropriately.”

Whilst I applaud the Commonwealth’s obvious commitments to capacity building and election monitoring, I reiterate my call for the Commonwealth to come out publically when its members show blatant disregard for the human rights of their citizens.

The upbeat appraisal of the Commonwealth given by Mr Sharma is in contradiction to the findings of the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group (EPG) which conducted a review of the organisation in March of this year. The group concluded that “The Commonwealth is in danger of becoming irrelevant and unconvincing as a values-based association.”

The EPG drew up a list of recommendations to be discussed at the next Commonwealth heads of meeting in Perth, Australia in October.  Among these recommendations the EPG called for a “Charter of the Commonwealth” to be developed by and for Commonwealth citizens, expanding the range of measures available to Commonwealth to better respond where its values are violated and creating a Commissioner on Democracy and the Rule of Law to advise the Secretary-General on serious or persistent breach of Commonwealth core values.

The group also called for a renewed focus on HIV in small Commonwealth states and an expansion in the ‘footprint’ of the Commonwealth by creating incentives for Commonwealth organisations to re-locate out of the UK.

We at CHRI wait with bated breath to if the Commonwealth is willing to take on board the recommendations of the EPG.

Henry Wilkinson, CHRI Advocacy Officer

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