Commonwealth Wants Political Reforms Before Re-admitting Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe was suspended in 2003 after holding a sham election and for wanton disregard of human rights.

Hague said there should be no compromise in the observation of high standards of human rights within the grouping.

Without singling out Zimbabwe, which together with Fiji are currently on suspension, Hague said, “We expect high standards of human rights to be maintained by member countries.”

The UK Foreign Affairs chief was speaking to journalists after officiating at the closing ceremony of the Commonwealth People’s Forum which brought together civic society groups within the commonwealth countries.

Hague’s comments came as the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) was being opened Friday in Perth by Queen Elizabeth II.

The meeting is expected to discuss the appointment of a Human Rights Commissioner who will look into re-admission issues of suspended countries. But the idea of a Human Rights Commissioner suggested by the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group has so far been shot down by many countries which have been expressing fears that such an appointment would interfere with the political independence of member countries.

During the Foreign Ministers meeting on Wednesday, countries argued over the title human rights commissioner whose office would be expected to deal with human rights issues before they get out of hand.

Hague said all members of Commonwealth are expected to maintain the high standards of human rights.

Zimbabwe and Fiji were not very much missed Commonwealth officials had their hands full trying to deal with the issue of Sri Lanka which is accused of committing heinous human rights against its citizens suspected of belonging to ex-rebels Tamil Tigers.

Sri Lanka is the next CHOGM host. And with its battered human rights record who would have needed Zimbabwe.
According to Commonwealth officials Zimbabwe and Fiji will not be discussed at tomorrow’s meeting but some southern African country’s are expected to raise the issue in meetings.

A UK- based think tank early this month released a paper encouraging the grouping to marginally remove “sanctions” imposed against President Robert Mugabe and his inner circle as a way of helping the reform process in Zimbabwe.

However the Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said the grouping of former British colonies must find new tools to deal with recalcitrant states such as Zimbabwe and Fiji. He said it is not enough for the grouping to just suspend a member country as that leaves it in danger of being seen as a weak institution.

“Once a military coup occurs, then the one blunt instrument available to the commonwealth is one of suspension or expulsion,” Rudd said in an interview with the West Australian newspaper, “On the pre-emptive diplomacy side there may be other means that we can deploy.”

Meanwhile a report of the Eminent Person Group has recommended action on suspended countries but emphasised that when a country’s political leaders are suspended citizens of their countries must be allowed to continue participating in Commonwealth festivities.