Back to Index
voting patterns tell tales of the Commonwealth Nations and Their
Real Commitment to Human Rights
Ilango, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative
January 03, 2007
actions speak louder than words human rights protection in the 53
countries of the Commonwealth is treading on thin ice. An
analysis of voting patterns at the UN’s Third Committee done by
the New York based Democracy Coalition Project shows big gaps between
the Commonwealth’s rhetoric and reality. The Democracy Coalition
Project analysed six recent resolutions connected to human rights
and democracy. Five related to human rights violations in Iran,
North Korea, Myanmar, Belarus and Uzbekistan. The sixth resolution
sought a blanket ban on "preventing politically motivated and
biased country specific resolutions and confrontational approaches".
of its diplomatic veneer "The Resolution on the Promotion of
Equitable and Mutually Respectful Dialogue on Human Rights"
basically tried to put a stop to the valuable UN practice of naming
and shaming countries in an international setting for what they
do to their people at home.
Third Committee focuses on human rights issues and on the reports
of the "special procedures of the newly established human rights
council." Amongst its one hundred and ninety-two members are
members of the Commonwealth who have a special mandate to promote
and protect human rights because 13 sit on the Human Rights Council
and the nine sit on the Commonwealth’s own watchdog mechanism the
Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group. These members have dual mandates
to protect human rights.
voting record however did little to bolster faith that this responsibility
weighed heavily with them.
those on the Human Rights Council, Canada and the UK opposed this
dilution of human rights accountability. However, India, Malaysia,
Pakistan South Africa and Sri Lanka voted to weaken human rights
accountability. Bangladesh, Ghana Mauritius and Nigeria abstained
while Cameroon and Zambia were absent. Of the CMAG members
only Canada, Malta and the UK voted against any dilution of this
process while Lesotho, Malaysia, St Lucia and Sri Lanka voted to
get rid of country specific criticisms. Papua New Guinea and the
United Republic of Tanzania abstained.
matter. There was only a one-vote difference between CMAG members
voting for and against the motion to name and shame or not. But
taken together with absentees and abstainers the margin of disagreement
goes up; with two thirds of Commonwealth’s human rights protectors
voting in favour weakening the UN’s ability to call countries to
should matter, or they have no meaning. Protection of human rights
is one of the core aspects of the Harare Declaration which proclaims
its fundamental political values. Member states who persistently
violate its standards face suspension or expulsion. Suspect states
are kept on a CMAG watch list. Pakistan and Nigeria have both had
spells of suspension. UN mechanisms for examining human
rights records are stronger than those of the Commonwealth but few
consequences flow even when reports are grim. At best violating
governments get rapped knuckles when they are specifically named
for really bad behaviour. Despite their higher Commonwealth standards
most Commonwealth members were happy to try to reduce even the little
embarrassment naming a country for human rights violations causes.
schizophrenic behaviour puts in doubt whether there is indeed any
Commonwealth standard on human rights and if there is, should there
not be mechanisms that insist it be demonstrated globally?
the guardians of state accountability sleep on their watch it does
not bode well for the UN either. The present voting also betrays
the promise that "members elected to the Council shall uphold
the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights"
and lends validity to fears that like its predecessor, the new Council
may fail to serve the keep countries that are insensitive to human
rights out of its membership .At the UN human rights is much the
hand maiden of foreign policy imperatives. Resolution and voting
patterns are guided by more real politik concerns and bloc
alliances than by any genuine commitment to an international gold
standard on human rights. The Commonwealth members voting record
just lends a few more nails to the coffin of the burgeoning hope
that the new Human Rights Council would be able to hold violating
countries effectively to account for inflicting pain and suffering
on their peoples. Perhaps the next round will nail it down.
Please credit www.kubatana.net if you make use of material from this website.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License unless stated otherwise.