Commonwealth visit Down Under goes down a treat

2011-10-29 15:13

South Africa caused waves at the Commonwealth summit held this weekend in Perth around the appointment of an independent human rights commissioner.

The summit that ends today pondered the Commonwealth’s future after it received an incisive report from a panel of eminent people appointed to advise the 54-member body on its future.

Former Mozambican First Lady Graca Machel was a member of the eminent persons group.

The summit was supposed to consider the group’s report, which suggested the establishment of a dedicated office dealing with human rights violations in member countries.

South Africa, Namibia and India believed that an office for human rights should be established under the secretary-general of the Commonwealth, instead of it operating independently.

“We will support the establishment of the human rights commissioner but there are concerns about whether it would undermine the office of the secretary-general,” said Clayson Monyela, spokesperson for the department of international relations and co-operation.

The Commonwealth takes decisions by consensus and therefore a single member’s objection halts the process.

The relevance of the Commonwealth received a boost as South Sudan asked to join the organisation, assistant secretary-general Stephen Cutts said yesterday.

If permitted, the newest African state would follow the route of Rwanda and Mozambique, who broke tradition by asking for Commonwealth membership despite not having been colonised by Britain.

“I think it’s testament in the broader world of the recognition that the Commonwealth has the potential for significant value,” he said.

The group also recommended the Commonwealth act more quickly when human rights violations take place in member countries.

The body should broaden its scope when it did election observations and include support for post-election transitions of government.

“Any adverse [election observation] report should be submitted to the secretary-general immediately for the necessary action,” the group recommended.

South Africa also asked the Commonwealth not to spend too much money on upcoming Diamond Jubilee celebrations to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s 6o years on the throne.

South Africa recommended that the Commonwealth undertake “only a few high profile activities” to mark the Diamond Jubilee.

The Commonwealth Foundation was relaunched at the summit and would be responsible for celebrations.

The queen is the head of the body, which consists mostly of former colonies of Britain.

“You have endeared yourselves to the international Commonwealth, showing them a state of professional excellence, generosity and goodwill,” she told local Australians who flocked to the Perth foreshore yesterday morning, the Sydney Morning Herald wrote.

More than 100 000 people came out to greet the queen as she proceeded up the streets of the city.

They created a unique scene of Australian flags and barbecue aromas.

About 120 000 sausages and 1 500 litres of tomato sauce were served in the public barbecue, though due to protocol the queen did not join in the feast.

Perth resident Sudel Chapman told City Press that many Australians believed this might be their last chance to see the queen and so came out in large numbers.

“Australia is really far from England and she is really old, so she might not be able to ever come out again,” she said.

The barbecue was a gift from the government to thank the public for their patience during the week-long summit schedule.

The Commonwealth will not discuss the readmission of Zimbabwe after it was kicked out in 2003 following rigged presidential elections.

“Should Zimbabwe wish to return to the Commonwealth it would need to demonstrate its commitment to Commonwealth values,” the Australian high commissioner to South Africa, Ann Harrap, said.

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