(Kampala) – When Commonwealth heads of government convene in Kampala this week for their biennial retreat, they should address human rights abuses within their ranks, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch endorsed the suspension of Pakistan from the Commonwealth unless emergency rule there is lifted.
Leaders from 53 countries will gather at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) from November 23-25 to discuss “transforming Commonwealth Societies to achieve political, economic and human development.”
“Any serious discussion at the Commonwealth summit should recognize that human rights violations are inimical to sustainable development,” said Reed Brody, counsel with Human Rights Watch. “Commonwealth members need to hold leaders accountable if their abusive human rights policies thwart the development of their own countries.”
In Pakistan, the imposition of emergency rule, the arrest of human rights defenders, opposition activists and lawyers, and the dismissal of judges are a frontal assault on human rights protections in that country, Human Rights Watch said.
Human Rights Watch welcomed the November 12 ultimatum given to Pakistan by the body charged with monitoring serious violations of the Commonwealth’s political values. The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) has threatened Pakistan with suspension unless emergency rule is lifted by November 22, the eve of the Commonwealth summit. The Commonwealth suspended Pakistan in 1999 after General Pervez Musharraf took power in a military coup. It lifted the suspension in 2004 when President Musharraf promised to step down from the army leadership – a promise that he has failed to keep.
“Musharraf’s assault on the rule of law goes against everything the Commonwealth stands for,” said Brody. “Leaders meeting in Kampala should stand firm and say that emergency rule has no place in the Commonwealth. They should tell Musharraf that he needs to restore the constitution and the judiciary without delay.”
Human Rights Watch called on both the founder of the Commonwealth, the United Kingdom, and the host of this year’s summit, Uganda, to exercise leadership on Commonwealth commitments to human rights and the rule of law.
Abusive counterterrorism measures in the United Kingdom set the wrong example for the Commonwealth and, indeed, the rest of the world, Human Rights Watch said. The government’s efforts to deport foreign terrorism suspects on the basis of unreliable “diplomatic assurances” against inhumane treatment undermine the global ban on torture.
Britain’s 28-day limit on detention without charge in terrorism cases is already the longest in the European Union. A proposed extension to 56 days would violate the basic right to liberty and also undermine counterterrorism efforts by alienating communities whose cooperation is vital to combating terrorism.
Respect for the rule of law in Uganda must include stopping intimidation of the civilian courts. In March, armed security forces stormed the High Court building in Kampala to thwart the release of co-defendants of Dr. Kizza Besigye, leader of the opposition party the Forum for Democratic Change. These co-defendants had been bailed after 15 months of detention. This was the second time in as many years that security forces were used to derail judicial process in the case.
The Ugandan government must also ensure prosecution of the most serious crimes committed during the conflict in northern Uganda, and hold its soldiers to account for human rights violations committed during the past year in operations in the Karamoja region.
“No Commonwealth country should be immune to scrutiny when it comes to human rights,” said Brody. “Without human rights protections, sustainable development is a dead letter.”
Human Rights Watch said that the human rights records of other member countries were also at odds with the summit’s theme of “political, economic and human development.”
Renewed conflict in Sri Lanka has led to thousands of enforced disappearances and abductions, and has displaced some 315,000 people since August 2006 alone. The Sri Lankan government’s announcement in March that it would create a “high-security zone” that includes “special economic areas” on lands from which thousands of people have been displaced poses a serious threat to any foreseeable resolution to the conflict, Human Rights Watch said. Nigeria, which hosted CHOGM in 2003, President Umaru Yar’Adua has failed so far to address entrenched corruption and the lack of government accountability, which has fueled the misuse of booming oil revenues. These state revenues would be more than adequate to improve the lives of ordinary Nigerians. Despite inflated government budgets, most Nigerian families remain mired in crushing poverty, and each year an estimated 1 million Nigerian children die before the age of five. Although the Niger Delta is the source of the nation’s vast oil wealth, many of its state and local government institutions have been hijacked by corrupt and violent politicians whose activities have turned the region’s relative wealth into a source of increased human rights abuse rather than development.
Human Rights Watch said the government of King Mswati III of Swaziland continued to permit the national police force to commit brutal acts with impunity, including detention, torture and extra-judicial killing of anti-monarchists and opposition members.
The poor human rights records of many member countries undermine the Commonwealth’s proud role of promoting human rights, democracy and the rule of law, Human Rights Watch said. Commonwealth leaders meeting in Kampala should help to narrow the gap between Commonwealth values and Commonwealth realities by taking joint action on human rights protection. On the global level, this includes raising country situations at the United Nations Human Rights Council and rigorously engaging in the council’s new Universal Periodic Review process.
“The 13 Commonwealth countries on the UN Human Rights Council have the power to shake it from its lethargy and turn it into a real force for human rights protection,” said Brody.