Commonwealth fails to reach human rights consensus
Commonwealth leaders meeting in Perth, Australia, have wrapped up their discussions for the day without being able to settle the most contentious issues dealing with human rights.
They did not adopt a charter of rights nor appoint a human rights commissioner despite Australia, Britain and Canada's backing for the proposals, which were floated in a report aimed at making the Commonwealth more relevant in the modern age.
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Commonwealth leaders remained undecided Saturday over what to do with the report, even though they commissioned the 11-member Eminent Persons Group, or EPG, two years ago to study human rights in member countries.
The group recommended leaders become more aggressive in monitoring and policing human rights violations among the 54 member states, but smaller countries balked at those proposals, saying it's a matter once again of rich nations telling poorer ones how to behave.
So the summit's final communiqué to be issued Sunday will likely pledge to examine the issue further, rather than actually move on it.
Zimbabwe, Pakistan and South Africa have all run afoul of other Commonwealth leaders in the past and have been booted out of the organization at various times until issues were addressed.
Former British foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind of the EPG called it a "disgrace" that the Commonwealth failed to even publish the report, which is aimed at making the Commonwealth more relevant in the modern age. That's not a surprise to many, considering Commonwealth countries operate by consensus.
Sri Lanka — which stands accused of war crimes for its 2009 military offensive to end a civil war — has been invited to host the next Commonwealth summit, a meeting Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper says he'll boycott unless that country's human rights record is addressed.
Harper scrubbed plans for an early departure from Perth because key details remained on the table for Sunday's closing session.
Rifkind condemned the Commonwealth for being silent on Sri Lankan human rights abuses and said a permanent commissioner would have avoided that silence.
Earlier in their meetings, the leaders of the Commonwealth's 16 realms — the countries that have Queen Elizabeth as their head of state — agreed on a succession change that will see first-born daughters ascend to the throne over a younger brother.