by Keith Locke
Human rights was the loser at this year’s Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ conference (GHOGM).
Endorsing Sri Lanka to host the next (2013) conference was a slap in the face for those calling for an independent international investigation into the 2009 massacre in northern Sri Lanka and an end to the ongoing persecution of the Tamils. To his credit, Canadian PM Stephen Harper had said he would boycott the next CHOGM if it was held in Sri Lanka.
Proposals from the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) to strengthen CHOGM’s ability to deal with human rights violations were either deferred or rejected. A key EPG recommendation had been for a new commissioner on the rule of law, democracy and human rights who would have a mandate to speak out. This was knocked on the head by some southern African and south Asian nations.
The EPG pointed out the short-comings of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), made up of foreign ministers, which has been weak in addressing human rights violations. While Commonwealth members (eg. Fiji) have been suspended after there’s been a military coup CMAG has failed to implement the 1991 Harare Declaration and condemn “severe and persistent violations of democracy and human rights.”
There is no better illustration of this than the Commonwealth’s failure to act over the atrocious human rights situation in Sri Lanka and the complete denial of accountability by the Rajapakse government for the 2009 genocide. A Canadian EPG member, Senator Hugh Segal, said the failure over Sri Lanka “speaks to the thesis of [Commonwealth] irrelevance.” Our government seems to have kept a low profile at this CHOGM, which is a pity when so much is at stake, including the very future of the Commonwealth.