India India Against New Rights Group At Commonwealth

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Jan 7, 2005
Metro-Vancouver, B.C., Canada
India against new rights group at Commonwealth

New Delhi says the 54-member group should focus more on development challenges instead of human rights

Iftikhar Gilani
New Delhi - October 27, 2011


India has said that the proposal to inspect
human rights violations in Sri Lanka or elsewhere
is ill-timed given the Commonwealth funding problems

As India seems set to block an attempt by some countries to constitute a human rights monitoring group at the 54th Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), international human rights groups have taken a strong exception to New Delhi’s stance.

The summit begins in the Australian city of Perth o Friday. Vice-President Hamid Ansari left for Perth on Thursday to lead the official delegation at the summit, which includes an executive session where leaders would make formal statements and a retreat during which they would interact informally without the presence of aides.

Australia and Canada are in the forefront of supporting recommendations of an eminent persons’ panel set up by the CHOGM. The 106 recommendations by the panel include creation of the post of Commissioner for Democracy, Rule of Law and Human Rights to monitor human rights situations in the member nations.

India has said that the group should focus on development challenges rather human rights. Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai has said that India’s reservations stem from the fact that the new office of Human Rights Commissioner would undermine the role of both the Secretary General and the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group. Secondly, he believes that the proposal is a duplication of what the UN is already doing through its rapporteurs.

“CHOGM’s real focus should be once again on the development challenges which are uppermost in the minds of vast majority of the members. So, while we support the important values of democracy, rule of law and human rights, we believe the Commonwealth should focus on strengthening existing institutions rather than trying to create new ones,” he added.

However, Director of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiatives Maja Daruwala believes that if the summit dismisses the eminent persons’ report, the Commonwealth will hits its very own stance on human rights. “Those who insist that the introduction of a Commissioner for Democracy, Human Rights and Rule of Law is too ‘punitive’ oppose the Commonwealth’s stated values are distorting the intent and importance of such a position. But values-based scrutiny must be a Commonwealth feature if the association is to claim that it lives up to its stated aims and principles,” she said.

Mathai said that the proposal to inspect human rights violations in Sri Lanka or elsewhere was ill-timed given that the Commonwealth was also facing funding problems noting that India was the fourth-largest contributor to the coffers of the 54-member group and also the largest member in terms of population to assert itself in the association. Mathai said that there was a “need for a more careful review” of the recommendations adding that he brought up the issue at a meeting of Commonwealth officials in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly last month. “A decision was taken in 2009 for the next two CHOGM meetings. That matter has been decided and does not need to be reopened.”

On Australia’s initial objections to the Vice-President standing in for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Mathai said: “In our system, the Vice-President holds a position of great importance. He is second in the warrant of precedence.” Canberra had conveyed to New Delhi that Ansari wouldn’t be treated as a head of a state or government as Australia had no Vice-President. Ansari, it said, would be accorded privileges reserved for the Speaker of Australian Parliament.

The theme of CHOGM this year, chosen by Australia, is 'Building National Resilience, Building Global Resilience'. Australia has circulated a concept paper on the theme, which focuses on strengthening the Commonwealth, to enable it to more effectively assist member nations in dealing with current challenges as individual states, as members of the Commonwealth, and as members of the global community. The paper focuses on issues related to economic and social development, food and energy security, and the adverse effects of climate change.

Iftikhar Gilani is Special Correspondent with


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