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Volume 13 Number 1
New Delhi, Spring 2006

Around the Commonwealth

- Compiled by Mary Rendell
Intern, CHRI


On 28 December 2005, despite the Maldivian government’s stated support for press freedom and democratic reform, 10 Sri Lankan police officers working on behalf of the Sri Lankan Interpol Unit raided the office of Minivan, one of the only independent news agencies for the Maldives. The warrant for the raid was issued by the Maldivian Police Commissioner who accused Minivan of gun-running and planning seditious activities designed to overthrow President Abdul Gavoom’s regime. Since no evidence of illegal activities was found during the raid, the case was dropped. The police explained that due to the gravity of the charges, they had no choice but to search the premises. Following the raid, Minivan has continued running their radio station and website remotely.

“a human rights-based approach to community policing begins with knowledge and awareness on the part of the police officers...” - Commonwealth Secretary-General


The Ugandan Constitutional Court has decided that the trial of opposition leader Dr Kizza Besigye and 22 others before the military General Court Martial is unconstitutional. Though the acting Director of Civil Litigation has said that the Government will appeal the judgment, the decision marks the end of much controversy over whether these men would be tried in both the High Court and the General Court Martial (GCM) for charges of terrorism and illegal possession of firearms based on the same facts. The military proceedings were set to begin on 31 January despite orders of the High Court that this military trial not proceed until the Constitutional Court reached a decision. The Constitutional Court’s ruling on 31 January 2006 was the result of a “public interest petition” filed by the Uganda Law Society seeking a constitutional review on the legality of a number of acts that are connected with the arrest, detention, charge and trial of Besigye and his co-accused. The court said the trial of Besigye and 22 others at the GCM over terrorism and illegal possession of firearms, whose ultimate penalty is death, contravened articles 22 (1), 128 (1) and 210 of the Constitution. As such, it was decided that the GCM has no jurisdiction to try the case of terrorism, regardless of whether it is an offence committed while in military service.


The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR), an African Union (AU) institution, adopted a resolution in December 2005 strongly denouncing Zimbabwe’s human rights practices. Notably, this is the first time any AU body has adopted a critical statement on Zimbabwe. The intention of the resolution was to exert much needed pressure on Zimbabwe to improve respect for human rights in the country - including the right to freedom of expression, association and assembly and the independence of the judiciary. This resolution was also expected to mobilise African leaders to prove their commitment to deal with some of Africa’s most pressing issues when it was tabled at the 6th Ordinary Session of the African Union (AU) Assembly held in Khartoum, Sudan on 23-24 January 2006. Civil society groups have urged the AU to publicly call on the Government of Zimbabwe to respect its obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and encourage compliance with the recommendations contained in the African Commission’s resolution. However, the resolution was thrown out of the AU meeting for allegedly not conforming with procedure.  


The Gambia

The Gambia Bar Association has urged the Chief Justice, Steven Allan Brobbey, to resign due to what it perceives as an unprecedented breakdown of the judiciary. In a press release issued by the Bar and signed by its President, Musa Bittaye, the Association stated that it can no longer stand idle or appear to condone the situation of the judiciary in their country. The Bar believes that the present Chief Justice of the Gambian judiciary is partial in the way he assigns sensitive cases to the courts, and that immediate and appropriate action must be taken.

The Gambia Bar Association will not appear in the High Court for one week in protest. The Bar will also continue other boycotts to demonstrate their disapproval with the partial nature of the Chief Justice.

The Bar is urging the Attorney General and Secretary of State for Justice to ensure that the Government and its agencies respect and comply with Court Orders and bring about the end to impunity. They emphasise that the issue at stake is whether or not the courts are subject to the direction and control of any other body, authority, or person than the rule of law, equity and justice.

Human Rights Council Negotiations

The process of establishing a Human Rights Council at the UN continues as member states resumed negotiations in New York on 6-7 February 2006. Though governments have reached some agreement on contentious issues in bilateral negotiations, plenary discussions have not been advancing due to persisting divisions on a number of topics, such as electing members based on two-thirds majority versus simple majority, the nature of the universial periodic review, and whether the Council should primarily make recommendations to the General Assembly or the UN system. Member states have been pushed to reach agreement within a week so that the Council can replace the Commission this year, however continued disagreement on key issues will make this a difficult goal to achieve.

Commonwealth Secretary-General Launches Policing Manual

On 8 December 2005, in time for the celebration of International Human Rights Day (December 10), the Commonwealth Secretariat launched its ‘Manual on Human Rights Training for Police in Commonwealth West African Countries’, hosted by the Commonwealth Secretary General, Rt Hon. Don McKinnon. During his speech, Mr. McKinnon stated that human rights must form the cornerstone for strong and open societies and that active and entrepreneurial societies continue to be stifled in the absence of rights-based protections to freedom of expression and opinion.

The participants in the inaugural meeting of the Street Movement for Legal Reform came from Kalutara, Panadura, Galle, Ambalangoda, Kandy and Negombo. In recent years a number of human rights groups have worked hard to build a strong movement for justice reforms, in the conflict ridden country.

Annual Reports Released

Reporters Sans Frontiers Annual Round-up – Press Freedom in 2005
Released on 4 January 2006, with the following summary: “Violence still increasing, 63 journalists killed, more than 1,300 physically attacked or threatened”.

Global Health Watch 2005-2006: An Alternative World Health Report
This report provides an evidence-based analysis of the political economy of health and health care as a challenge to the major global bodies that influence health and reveals that while some important initiatives are being taken, much more needs to be done to have any hope of meeting the UN’s health-related Millennium Development Goals.

Transparency International: Global Corruption Report 2006
On 1 February 2006, TI launched its 5th Edition of the Global Corruption Report. This edition provides a detailed account of how corruption deprives millions of access to essential health care and leads to drug–resistant strains of deadly diseases. It includes a detailed assessment of the state of corruption in 45 countries, a selection of the latest research, corruption trends and links between corruption and good governance.

Human Rights Watch Report – Events of 2005
The 532-page Human Rights Watch World Report 2006 contains information on human rights developments in more than 60 countries in 2005. In addition to these country chapters, the book contains an introductory essay on torture and two other essays: “Private Companies and the Public Interest: Why Corporations Should Welcome Global Human Rights Rules” and “Preventing the Further Spread of HIV/AIDS: The Essential Role of Human Rights.”

UNICEF: State of the World’s Children 2006
UNICEF’s groundbreaking report “State of the World’s Children 2006: Excluded and Invisible” was released in London in December 2005. The report is an assessment of the world’s most vulnerable children, whose rights to a safe and healthy childhood are difficult to protect. The report describes how these children - poor, exploited and abused - are being ignored, growing up beyond the reach of development campaigns and often invisible in everything from public debate, legislation, to statistics and the media.

Freedom in the World: Global Survey 2006 – Freedom House Report
On 19 December 2005, Freedom House announced the release of a major survey of global freedom. Through its publications, of which this is the latest, Freedom House calls attention to global trends in freedom and democracy, and shines a public light on dictatorship and abuse. The country rating outlined in the survey reflects global events from 1 December 2004 through 30 November 2005. Freedom House plans to release country narratives in summer 2006.


CHRI Newsletter, Spring 2006

Editors: Mary Rendell & Clare Doube CHRI;
Layout: Print: Chenthil Paramasivam, 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.