Commonwealth: focus on human rights to avoid irrelevance
The Commonwealth is often portrayed as an imperial relic, and some of the flummery surrounding the royal visits and High Commission garden parties back that image up. But it’s one of the few inter-governmental bodies willing to suspend member countries over breaches of democratic rights.
Fiji is currently suspended, and Zimbabwe left to avoid the same fate. But this year’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Perth WA is facing up to the widespread view that without an even greater focus on human rights, the Commonwealth will become irrelevant.The major argument at CHOGM this weekend is going to be about the human rights recommendations of the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) chaired by former Australian human rights lawyer Michael Kirby. The Group’s interim report suggested the Commonwealth needs to prevent, rather than merely punish, abuses of human rights, for example through a new Commonwealth Human Rights Charter, a commitment by member states to ratify fundamental international conventions on human right such as the ILO core conventions, and an independent Human Rights Commissioner. Some countries don’t want to go that far.
The TUC, like our fellow Commonwealth trade unions, thinks the EPG have got it right. A greater focus on human rights would help prevent countries like Malawi and Rwanda follow Fiji, Swaziland and Zimbabwe on the path to dictatorship. It would provide the Commonwealth with an alternative to the blunt choice of blameless membership and the. ineffective last resort of suspension. And it would assist unions to hold Commonwealth countries to account for breaches of ILO core conventions and other fundamental human rights.