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Volume 11 Number 4
New Delhi, Winter 2004

Commonwealth Legal Minds Flood London
Clare Doube
Coordinator, Strategic Planning and Programmes, CHRI

October heralded an influx of legal minds from around the Commonwealth at the Commonwealth Secretariat in London: from October 18th to 20th the Secretariat hosted the Meeting of the Senior Officials of Commonwealth Law Ministries, followed by the Meeting of Law Ministers and Attorneys General of Small Commonwealth Jurisdictions from the 21st to 22nd. As well as the Delegates and their staff, organisations that partner with the Commonwealth Secretariat's Legal and Constitutional Affairs Division, including the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), were invited as Observers.

Topics covered in the Law Ministers Meeting were varied, although many naturally focused on issues specific to small states in the Commonwealth, such as the Barbados Plan of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States; and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, as many of the Commonwealth's small states are also islands

Of particular interest to human rights were the discussions around: a) broadcasting legislation and regulation; b) terrorism and, of course, c) the specific discussion on human rights and development. A paper on the rights-based approach to development, prepared by the Human Rights Unit of the Secretariat, was presented to the Law Ministers.

The final communiqué of the Meeting reflects the discussion that took place: that while Ministers expressed a commitment to human rights, they also noted reservations on the role of some human rights organisations. The increasing value placed on the contribution of civil society groups in the Commonwealth, as seen through increased involvement in Ministerial Meetings among other areas, has been positively noted by groups such as CHRI and it is hoped that the reservations expressed at this meeting regarding human rights NGOs will not lead to any restrictions on collaborative efforts between the official and unofficial Commonwealth.

CHRI and other NGOs look forward to engaging in the forum to be developed by the Secretariat to further discuss human rights issues, as well as involvement in future Law Ministers Meetings, such as the Law Ministers Meeting to be held in Ghana in October 2005 and the next for Ministers of Small States, to be held in London in 2006.

Below is an extract from the communiqué:

"30. Ministers emphasised their commitment to the protection of fundamental human rights, 'universal legal guarantees protecting all individuals and groups, simply by virtue of being human, against actions and omissions that interfere with fundamental freedoms and human dignity'. Their discussion reflected strongly-held concerns over some aspects of current human rights rhetoric. There was anxiety in particular over the assertion of new human rights which emerged not from considered action by all states but from organisations with no democratic mandate. Although the international conventions on social and economic rights accepted that progressive realisation of those rights must take account of the available resources, there was concern that ideals and aspirations could be too readily translated into justiciable guarantees requiring sovereign states to commit themselves to particular patterns of expenditure.

31. Ministers discussed the role of human rights courts in the interpretation of the scope of human rights. They recognised that State power had to be subjected to scrutiny as part of the system of checks and balances between the branches of government, but were concerned at the undue global influence of some regional human rights courts, as they reflected an activist approach to the interpretation of treaty obligations and were not subject to appeal to any global body.

32. The role of some human rights organisations was seen as problematic. Their work could be seen as an expression of global citizenship, but activism by unrepresentative organisations, operating in parts of the world distant from the states whose actions they sought to constrain, could create harmful disillusionment with the whole human rights movement, the overall results of which had been so beneficial.

The full communiqué can be downloaded here.


CHRI Newsletter, Winter 2004

Editors: Vaishali Mishra & Clare Doube, CHRI;
Design: 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.