I enclose a civil society statement that is the outcome of a Roundtable convened by CHRI in London on 13th October 2009.
The statement is targetted at the Commonwealth heads of governments, and the Committee of the Whole (COW) meeting in London next week where senior officials will plan for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Trinidad this November.
The Roundtable meeting discussed the state of human rights in the Commonwealth and in particular pointed to the work, worth and worries of human rights defenders. This statement is also complementary to CHRI’s new report on human rights defenders, which was launched the same evening by Lord Anthony Lester.
We would very much welcome your circulating this to your networks and also should you wish to, endorsing the statement and commending it to your contacts within the official Commonwealth and at the Secretariat.
Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative
B-117, First Floor, Sarvodaya Enclave
New Delhi, INDIA, 110017
Tel No 91 11 26864678:26850523 (O)
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Roundtable Consultation on Partnering for Human Rights in the Commonwealth.
Civil Society Message to CHOGM 2009
Civil Society Organisations from across the Commonwealth and beyond met in London on 13 October 2009 and issued this message to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2009
The credibility of the Commonwealth as a values based association is being seriously questioned.
Human rights and fundamental freedoms form an intrinsic part of Commonwealth Principles as enshrined in the 1971 Declaration of Commonwealth Principles and other subsequent Commonwealth communiqués and declarations.
The Harare Declaration and Millbrook Action Plan commit governments to observe and
implement Human Rights as part of the Commonwealth’s fundamental political values. Security, climate change and financial stability can only be realized where there is genuine protection of human rights. The 2009 CHOGM is considering the theme “Partnering for a more Equitable and Sustainable Future.” It must recognise that partnerships without human rights will lead to neither equity nor sustainability.
The Commonwealth is far from fulfilling its purpose as a champion of human rights. Many critical aspects of the Millbrook Action Plan are yet to be fully implemented.
In this context we urge that CHOGM should:
1) Indicate real political will to strengthen human rights within the Commonwealth and call for demonstrable adherence by member states to international best practice standards of human rights.
2) Expand the mandates of the Secretary-General’s Good Offices role and CMAG so that civil society is routinely actively involved in their work and they should refer to international human rights standards in dealing with countries that seriously or persistently violate human rights.
3) Apply human rights criteria in selecting host countries for Commonwealth meetings with input from CMAG, the Human Rights Unit and broad-based civil society consultation.
4) Further the implementation of its past commitments on civil society space at previous CHOGMs by ensuring their participation and representation in Commonwealth meetings and processes, especially those relating to human rights and mandate the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Commonwealth Foundation to this end.
5) Call on the Secretary-General to take immediate action in the event of direct threats made by governments to Human Rights Defenders and civil society, particularly in light of the recent threats made by the President of The Gambia.
6) Develop a public disclosure policy that will uphold the principle of maximum disclosure and ensure full transparency in all aspects of the Secretariat’s work.
7) Strengthen the Human Rights Unit within the Secretariat by elevating it to the level of a Division.
8) Recognise that currently there are no systems in place to comprehensively vet membership applications, and set up a mechanism that will carry out independent, comprehensive, and public reviews of the state of democracy and human rights in an applicant country so as to verify that Commonwealth membership standards have been satisfied.
9) Establish a mechanism to measure the implementation of past human rights commitments and recommend ways of implementing them speedily.
10) Call on member states that have not yet done so to begin or continue the process of realising international and regional human rights standards through ratification of treaties and by devising steps to implement those treaties.
Human Rights Defenders
Recognise the value and importance of the work of Human Rights Defenders, including women Human Rights Defenders. Any attack on them is an attack on the human rights of the whole society.
Reaffirm that Commonwealth countries have a duty to protect the life and liberty of Human Rights Defenders and respect their rights to freedom of association, movement, expression and information.
Urge Commonwealth states to commit to abide by the UN Declaration on Human Rights
Defenders at international, regional and sub-regional levels and take steps for the domestic implementation of the Declaration. Member states should view Human Rights Defenders as key partners in implementing the human rights principles in the Harare Declaration.
Mandate the Secretariat to develop a Commonwealth-wide policy to protect Human Rights Defenders. To implement this policy the Secretariat should:
1) Provide technical assistance to states in implementing international standards for the protection of Human Rights Defenders and the promotion of civil society.
2) Partner with member states and civil society organisations to put in place National Human Rights Action Plans that include a comprehensive, practical step-by-step strategy for improving protection for Human Rights Defenders.
3) Create a monitoring mechanism on the situation of Human Rights Defenders within the Commonwealth Secretariat’s Human Rights Unit which should also work to protect Human Rights Defenders at risk.