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Media Release

Critical Singapore meeting should demand that the Commonwealth
keep up with the times

7/7/2001

The Commonwealth's leading human rights group, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) has called for Monday's Singapore meeting of the Commonwealth's High Level Review Group to grasp the chance to make the Commonwealth more relevant to its people and to ensure its future in the global arena.

The High Level Review Group is a group of leaders of 10 Commonwealth nations which was set up in 1999 at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in South Africa. Their mandate is to 'review the role of the Commonwealth and advise how best it could respond the challenges of the new Century'[1].

The group, which includes Singapore, India, Australia, South Africa and the United Kingdom, has been meeting regularly for close to a year and their next meeting is Singapore on Monday and Tuesday (9th and 10th July). They will be reporting to the next CHOGM, which will take place in Brisbane, Australia in October.

"This meeting is part of a long review process and it should be obvious by now that it's time to break from the image of the Commonwealth as a comfortable club of leaders", says Maja Daruwala, director of the CHRI in New Delhi.

Ms Daruwala says the reasons why change is urgently needed are clear. The Commonwealth is essentially an organisation of the poor. Eighty-five percent of Commonwealth people live in developing countries and 60% are amongst the poorest in the world.

Though the Commonwealth mentions development and poverty in its official rhetoric and makes pledges on realising human rights, CHRI believes much more could be done.

CHRI has made two key recommendations to the review group for the Singapore meeting. First, given the extensive human rights violations taking place in Commonwealth countries, human rights must be central to all the polices, practices and activities of the Commonwealth.

"One of the many ways to achieve this is to expand the responsibilities of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) which is mandated to look into serious and persistent violations of human rights", said Ms Daruwala.

CHRI's second recommendation is to create more bridges between Commonwealth people, who make up a third of the world's population, and the organisation's leaders and bureaucrats.

"The Commonwealth could follow the United Nation's lead and start listening to the issues that are important to the people", says Maja Daruwala.

"If they listened then they would find that people are talking about, for example, climbing out of poverty, human rights, and education", she says, "these are all areas where the Commonwealth could be representing its people on the global stage and at the same time building credibility and relevance for the future".

For interviews or more information:
Ms Maja Daruwala
Director
Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative
New Delhi

[1] Commonwealth News Information Service (CNIS), Issue 30, 21 March 2001

 
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