Monday, October 31, 2011

CHOGM backs human rights action plan

Commonwealth governments in danger of violating human rights and the rule of law will face earlier intervention under a plan approved at a meeting of former British colonies in Australia.

Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd presented a report on Friday to the first session of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Perth on ways to deal with countries veering toward breaches of democratic values, as occurred in Fiji.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said all 35 reform proposals of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) report were adopted, which she described as CHOGM's first concrete action.
"The purpose of these reform proposals is to enable the Commonwealth to act when a country is veering off course in terms of democratic values and the rule of law, rather than waiting until a country has gone to a grossly unacceptable stage and leaders only having options of suspension or expulsion in front of them," Ms Gillard told reporters after the first CHOGM executive session.

Ms Gillard declined to comment on whether the decision meant a proposal flagged in an Eminent Persons Group report to set up a commonwealth human rights commissioner would not go ahead.
But a senior government source said the commissioner role was highly unlikely to succeed.

A number of countries - notably India, Sri Lanka, and many African nations - have played down the commissioner idea, saying it duplicates the role of United Nations officials and CMAG, and would cost too much.

One of the group's members, former High Court judge Michael Kirby, also talked down the prospects of a commissioner and was critical of the direction of the talks.

"The commonwealth will survive this week, if countries dont agree on the commissioner, but it will be a seriously weakened body," he said. The chance of another key reform - a "charter of the Commonwealth" - being agreed was 50-50, a government source said.

Earlier, at a lavish opening ceremony at Perth's convention centre featuring Aboriginal dancers and Australian pop star Guy Sebastian, Ms Gillard told commonwealth leaders it was "time for renewal".

"Let us make CHOGM 2011 memorable ... for being the meeting that gave the commonwealth the direction it needed at a time of global uncertainty and risk," she said.

The Queen urged leaders to seriously consider the report of the Eminent Persons Group.

"I wish heads of government well in agreeing further reforms that respond boldly to the aspirations of today and that keep the commonwealth fresh and fit for tomorrow," the 85-year-old monarch said.

Her Majesty concluded by reciting an Aboriginal saying. "We are all visitors to this time, this place. We are just passing through. "Our purpose here is to observe, to learn, to grow, to love and then we return home."

The future of Fiji, which was suspended from the commonwealth after a military coup, will be discussed over the weekend at a CHOGM leaders' retreat.

Despite Sri Lanka being heavily criticised for human rights abuses, Commonwealth secretary-general Kamalesh Sharma confirmed the country would still host the next CHOGM.
"This decision is firm and final," he told reporters.

Meanwhile, Perth's CBD was in lockdown as several hundred protesters began a sit-in at the edge of the CHOGM security zone which some were describing as Occupy Perth, echoing the growing global protest movement.

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