Memorandum from the Commonwealth Human
1. This submission has been prepared and
submitted by the Trustee Committee of the Commonwealth Human Rights
Initiative (CHRI). CHRI is an independent, international non-governmental
organisation mandated to work towards the practical realisation
of human rights throughout the 54 countries of the Commonwealth.
2. CHRI notes that the UK Government claims
to have made " . . . good progress in getting human rights
high up on the Commonwealth agenda."
However, CHRI wishes to see a great deal more being done in order
to mainstream human rights throughout the Commonwealth and particularly
the Commonwealth Secretariat.
3. CHRI welcomes the UK Government's support
in trying to obtain an expansion of the working remit of the Commonwealth
Ministerial Action Group (CMAG). CHRI has made a submission to
every CMAG meeting and continues to argue that, thus far, CMAG
has undertaken an unduly narrow interpretation of its role. Consequently,
it is failing to fulfil its actual remit and overall potential
as an enforcement mechanism.
4. CHRI advocates that CMAG's mandate should
expressly empower it to deal with "persistent or serious"
violations of the Harare Principles
and should be proactive within its remit. The Secretary General,
in partnership with a "commonwealth High Commissioner for
Human Rights" should investigate human rights records of
current and possible new members and should apply the membership
5. The High Level Review Group (HLRG) appointed
at the 1999 CHOGM in Durban, South Africa, and of which the United
Kingdom is a member, to review the role of the Commonwealth in
the twenty-first century is one such opportunity. CHRI has made
regular submissions to the group and continues to advocate for
the centralisation of human rights within all Commonwealth mechanisms.
Historically, human rights have underpinned the Commonwealth and
it is our contention that the Commonwealth itself needs human
rights more than human rights need the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth
must publicly demonstrate its human rights commitments, set out
in the Harare Declaration 1991, and subsequently reinforced by
the Millbrook Commonwealth Action Programme 1995, in order to
live up to the rhetoric of Heads of Government.
6. CHRI continues to be concerned about
the lack of transparency surrounding the HLRG. Little is known
about the position of the UK Government within this group and
problems have arisen in relation to the "confidentiality"
of the draft documentthese needs must be addressed in future.
Whilst CHRI was grateful to be given the opportunity to attend
a HLRG briefing a which the High Commissioner of South Africa
and other HLRG member countries were in attendance, CHRI noted
the absence of the secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth
Affairs at this meeting. Presence at such meetings is an important
indicator of the regard with which Commonwealth Governments hold
7. CHRI prepares a biennial report on the
situation of Human Rights throughout the Commonwealth to coincide
with the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings (CHOGM). The
postponement of CHOGM in 2001 as a result of world events represents
a missed opportunity for the Commonwealth to reassert itself as
an international organisation of some consequence.
8. It is noted with pleasure that the UK
Government is proposing the inclusion of freedom of expression
guarantees within the Harare Principles. CHRI would support this,
in view of the fact that it is a fundamental freedom that is frequently
abused by Commonwealth member states.
9. CHRI welcomes the UK Government's recognition
of the important role that civil society, including NGOs can play
in strengthening the operations of the Commonwealth and its Secretariat.
CHRI feels that the knowledge and expertise of "unofficial"
Commonwealth bodies is all too often overlooked. There is also
a distinct lack of communication and feedback between the Secretariat
and such NGOs about Commonwealth issues of interest and relevance.
10. Increased collaboration between the
Commonwealth, Commonwealth NGOs and human rights offices within
member governments should be facilitated. This would enable greater
communication, understanding and information sharing.
11. The issue of resources continues to
be of importance. The activities of the Commonwealth Secretariat
continue to be hampered as a result of a lack of funding. The
Foreign and Commonwealth Office must continue to ensure that at
least a third of the money contained within the Human Rights Fund
is utilised for "Commonwealth" research, projects and
12. The Human Rights Unit (HRU) within the
Commonwealth Secretariat should be strengthened and consolidated.
This could be achieved with greater funding, additional staffing,
and a direct access to the Secretary General. The UK Government
should support and promote this view within the HLRG and to the
Commonwealth Heads of Government.
13. CHRI welcomes the recognition of the
UK Government that Zimbabwe is in breach of the Harare Declaration
1991. CHRI has monitored the situation as it has developed and
called for the suspension of Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth. The
failure of the Abuja Agreement 2001 and the introduction of draconian
legislation to curb opposition activities in the run-up to the
Presidential elections in March 2002 only reinforce the need for
the Commonwealth to take some form of punitive action. This is
important as a signal not only to other members that such breaches
will not be tolerated, but also to the people of Zimbabwe that
the Commonwealth "cares".
Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative
8 United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office-Human
Rights Annual Report 2001, p 54. Back
Principles set out within the Harare Declaration 1991. Back
See paragraph 20, 1997 Edinburgh Communique, Edinburgh Commonwealth
Heads of Government Meeting. Back