March 13, 2017
Today, 52 countries celebrate Commonwealth Day and aspire for ‘A Peace-building Commonwealth’. The occasion will once again see member states pronounce affirmations to the fundamental principles of the Commonwealth Charter – democracy, rule of law and human rights.
Unfortunately, the reality is that these core values are currently under severe strain. A majority of the 2.4 billion people living in Commonwealth countries live in poverty, deprived of rights. In too many countries governance is marked by abuse of power, corruption and state violence as well as religious intolerance, attacks on free speech, hate speech, the right to associate and discrimination on grounds of race and gender.
The Commonwealth’s collective response to this state of affairs and non-compliance with its fundamental principles militates against ensuring peace building. Feeble response cannot be an option when countries are displaying a diminished commitment to preserve civil liberties and an abysmal record in upholding human rights.
The race for markets and economic growth is often an excuse for curbing rights. However, these are not inimical to each other and economic growth must assure basic rights.
If the Commonwealth is to play an effective role in peace building, then it is imperative that it places the promotion, protection and realization of human rights and the protection of its defenders at the forefront of its agenda for the 2018 London CHOGM. Silence cannot be an option.
CHRI also urges the Commonwealth to set high benchmarks of human rights adherence when considering the entry of new members into the association. Without practical measures by which to ensure compliance to lofty ideals, the Commonwealth is in danger of losing relevance.
As a leading Commonwealth human rights organization, CHRI urges the Commonwealth’s watchdog body, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) to be assertive in forewarning and counselling non-compliant member states. In addition, member states should act unitedly at international forums to protect human rights.