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Commonwealth needs to get tougher on human rights

Commonwealth Foreign Ministers meet this weekend in New York to approve the draft Charter of the Commonwealth which sets out the values that member states are due to uphold, and Commonwealth trade unionists are demanding that they get tougher.

At the moment, the plan is for the Charter to be a non-binding document, but trade unionists want member states to be answerable for breaches of the Charter - in particular, where human rights have been breached, we want the Commonwealth to take action. At the moment, the Commonwealth is really only able to do one thing - suspend a member state where a democratically elected Government is overthrown by force. Bizarrely, that means Fiji has been suspended because of a military coup, but Swaziland isn't because the feudal monarch never allowed democracy in the first place!

We also want to see the text of the Charter beefed up to outlaw discrimination against the disabled and against LGBT communities. We're also backing an e-action aimed at Foreign Ministers initiated by LGBT and HIV/AIDS activists, who maintain that homophobic laws - probably more common in the Commonwealth than anywhere else in the world - are preventing countries from tackling the spread of the pandemic.

And we want the text to be stronger on the right to work, and on the need for a just transition to a low carbon economy, protecting the interests of the people who depend for their livelihood on currently polluting industries.

Our assessment of the Charter is that it's got some good stuff in it (and we welcome the track record the Commonwealth - almost alone among international bodies - has of cracking down on abuses of democracy by members). But Commonwealth Foreign Ministers need to go just that extra mile to make the Charter of the Commonwealth a real milestone in multilateral human rights.

Owen Tudor

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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