As the spotlight on the Commonwealth intensifies in the lead up to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Sri Lanka next month, it is critical the the Commonwealth shows that it is committed to its values, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative said on Wednesday.
This meeting is particularly contentious, with calls for a boycott emanating from various quarters across Commonwealth countries. On the one hand, there have been calls for Commonwealth countries to boycott CHOGM in Sri Lanka due to the lack of accountability within Sri Lanka for on-going human rights abuses and credible allegations of war crimes. Of particular concern is the passing of the role of Chair of the Commonwealth to the President of Sri Lanka that will occur at the meeting. On the other hand, the President of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, has reportedly been lobbying African Commonwealth countries to boycott CHOGM because the Commonwealth has not supported him in his call against the International Criminal Court. President Kenyatta has been charged with and is standing trial for crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court.
“This CHOGM, the Commonwealth will be at a critical place. Its relevance is being questioned after only recently reaffirming its core values in the new Commonwealth Charter in March of this year. Sri Lanka, The Gambia and now Kenya are testing these values. It is vital that the Commonwealth stands for its key values, including democracy, human rights and rule of law” said Maja Daruwala, Director of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative. “The Commonwealth should stress that adherence to human rights, and the resulting requirement of accountability to guarantee human rights are respected and protected, is a fundamental Commonwealth value. A clear message must be sent from the Commonwealth that member states will be held to these Commonwealth values.”
Chair of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative International Advisory Commission and Katiba Institute Director, Professor Yash Ghai, echoed these sentiments, noting that the ICC process was triggered because of the failure of local bodies to address widespread and systematic human rights abuses that occurred in the post election violence of 2007/8. “The ICC indictment and trial of President Kenyatta and his Deputy President only began because the government failed to meet its promise to investigate and prosecute people involved in the widespread human rights abuses that occurred in the post-election violence. It is unfortunate that President Kenyatta is putting pressure on Commonwealth countries to boycott CHOGM as a means to help him escape accountability through the ICC judicial process – in complete contradiction to fundamental Commonwealth values.”