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Volume 12 Number 1
New Delhi, Spring 2005

Around the Commonwealth

- Compiled by Vaishali Mishra
Media & Communication Officer, CHRI


The government of Bangladesh has finally jettisoned the plan to introduce the draft law aimed at regulating foreign-aided non-government organisations apparently bowing to the pressure of the powerful donor groups and leaders of the development industry and civil society. The decision of the government to shelve the proposed “The Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation (Amendment) Act, 2004” is interpreted by many as a “limbo dance”, while leaving the development sector to the unilateral domination of the donor community. In a memorandum to the government, the LCG Sub-group on NGOs, a club of bilateral and multilateral donors, said, if enacted, the law will do an “incalculable amount of harm to Bangladesh’s image” and its ability to meet its development and poverty alleviation goals, as outlined in the Poverty Strategy Paper (PRSP).


A proposed Criminal Code Amendment Bill, which the government-dominated, and controlled National Assembly of The Gambia, is set to rubber stamp into law, is perhaps, the most ominous evidence yet that the government of President Yaya Jammeh is determined to kill off the independent media and limit the space for freedom of expression in The Gambia. Media freedom, freedom of expression, and the diversity and pluralism of views and the media are guaranteed and reinforced in several provisions of the 1997 Constitution, notably Sections 25, 207, 208. However, the relentless application of arcane decrees and provisions (such as the Telegraph Stations Act of 1913), the continued promulgation of restrictive laws (such as the National Media Commission Act of 2002), and the sheer perpetration of impunity (such as continued forceful closure of the Citizen FM radio station contrary to a High Court ruling) put media freedom and freedom of expression under siege.


The Malaysian govern- ment’s plan to begin arresting and deporting thousands of undocumented migrant workers from the month of November 2004 resulted in widespread rights abuses. According to the Immigration Department, Malaysian authorities will conduct a 14-day investigation into each case and then press charges against undocumented migrants in federal courts. Those found guilty under the Immigration Act of 2002 may be caned, imprisoned for five years, fined heavily, and detained indefinitely pending deportation. Last year, some 18,000 migrants were caned in Malaysia.


A team of democracy experts, sent by Commonwealth Secretary- General Don McKinnon to observe the Maldives Parliamentary Elections has come out with its report available on the Commonwealth Secretariat website Cassam Uteem, a former president of Mauritius, led the five-member team sent to Male. Andy Becker, Electoral Commissioner of Australia, Bangladesh MP Mahi Choudhury, British MP Jim Fitzpatrick and D. Jayaprakash Narayan, the campaign coordinator of the Lok Satta were the other members of the team.


The Pakistani Government’s violent repression of an opposition party rally has caused grave concern among human rights activists across the Commonwealth. In the run-up to a Pakistan People’s Party rally which was scheduled for 2 December 2004, General Pervez Musharraf’s government arrested hundreds of the opposition party’s PPP supporters, including several legislators. “Musharraf spoke a lot about political progress on his recent visits with Bush and Blair to Washington, but back in Pakistan it’s business as usual with baton charges and harassment of political opponents,” said Brad Adams, Asia Director at Human Rights Watch.


The Pakistan government has bulldozed the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill 2004 against “honour killings” in the National Assembly and adopted it on 26 October, 2004 without any debate amidst Opposition walkout. While the Bill has for the first time officially acknowledged the existence of this barbaric practice of honour killings, it is far from addressing the real issue of impunity, which encourages the practice. Ironically, just when the Bill was being presented in the National Assembly, enraged villagers in the hinterland of rural Punjab tied two persons to the railway track for marrying against the will of family elders who were then crushed under the wheels of a speeding train.

South Africa

South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress, has, following outcry, moved to qualify statements it made about judges needing to change their ‘mind-set’. It said the policy statement it issued neither threatened nor attacked white judges, says a report on a local website. ‘ It is instead an honest assessment of the state of transformation within the judiciary, consistent with the long-standing policy objectives of the ANC and the requirements of the Constitution.’


Uganda’s Constitutional Court is all set to decide on the controversial issue of the death penalty. The matter has come to the fore after a group of high profile lawyers asked the court to rule on the constitutionality of capital punishment. The 14 lawyers challenging the death penalty imposed on 417 condemned inmates have closed their case after urging the court to scrap the penalty and replace it with punishments such as life imprisonment. The lawyers were quoted as saying that, “the death penalty is the most severe punishment in our law and if this court finds it fit to declare it unconstitutional, then it should substitute it with life imprisonment or refer each and every convict to the trial court to find another alternative sentence.”


The publication of The Zimbabwean, an initiative by veteran journalist, Wilf Mbanga (founder of the now silenced Daily News – Zimbabwe’s only independent daily) has been hailed internationally as a major step in bridging the information gap between millions of Zimbabweans in the diaspora and their troubled homeland. The 24-page weekly will be published simultaneously in London and Johannesburg every Thursday. Copies will also be available in Zimbabwe through street sales and subscriptions. Mbanga and his team of helpers will distribute the paper free of charge to areas with concentrations of Zimbabwean residents and to interested people in the streets of central London.



CHRI Newsletter, Spring 2005

Editors: Vaishali Mishra & Clare Doube, CHRI;
Print: Anshu Tejpal, Electronic:
Jyoti Bhargava, CHRI; Web Developer: Swayam Mohanty, CHRI.
Acknowledgement: Many thanks to all contributors

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The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) is an independent international NGO mandated to ensure the practical realisation of human rights in the Commonwealth.