Commonwealth to intervene in democracy subversion, rights monitor stalled

October 28th, 2011 - 9:14 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh Perth, Oct 28 (IANS) The 54-nation Commonwealth Friday armed itself with powers to intervene early in countries that violate human rights and democratic norms, but a contentious move to set up a special human rights monitor appears to have been stalled.

At the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) here, the grouping of former British colonies adopted a report that gives it wide-ranging authority to intervene effectively to prevent situations like the one that developed in Fiji, which was suspended from the grouping after an elected government was overthrown in a coup.

The report by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) clearly lays down the situations under which the Commonwealth can intervene if democracy and the rule of law are threatened in any member-state.

These include unilateral abdication of the constitution, suppression of parliament, postponement of elections without justification, political detentions, flawed electoral processes, undermining of the judiciary, restrictions on the media and civil society and suppression of rights of communities and groups.

“Ambitious reforms have been achieved today,” said Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma about the adoption of the CMAG report, adding that it increases “our ability to protect the values that the Commonwealth stands for”.

A parallel move, contained in a report by an Eminent Persons Group (EPG), to set up a Commissioner for Human Rights, appeared set for a burial as several countries — especially India, Sri Lanka, and some African countries — were opposed to the idea.

The EPG report, a civil society initiative, will be discussed again by the Commonwealth heads at their informal retreat sessions Saturday.

However, officials indicated it was unlikely to be adopted.

“At the level of the foreign ministers itself, there was no consensus and it was felt that the matter needed more study,” an Indian official said, adding that even in the summit meeting today “a very large majority was against the move at this stage”.

Indian objections to the move, articulated earlier by Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai, stems from the fact that a Commonwealth human rights monitor would only duplicate what is done already by the UN, and that the organisation does not have the budget to create an office of a Commissioner of Human Rights.

Meanwhile, a concerted effort by rights activists to ensure that Sri Lanka does not get to host the 2013 edition of CHOGM also came to naught, with Sharma clearly stating that “there is no proposal to consider a change of venue in 2013″.

Activists have been alleging war crimes and major human rights violations by Sri Lanka and have lobbied to have the decision to host the next CHOGM in Colombo overturned.

Vice President Hamid Ansari, standing in for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, is heading the Indian delegation at CHOGM 2011.

(Shibi Alex Chandy can be contacted at shibi.c@ians.in)

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