Friday, November 27, 2009

Commonwealth SG says Gambia is under investigation

Commonwealth S G

The secretary General of the Commonwealth has reassured human rights groups and individuals concerned about the deteriorating human rights situation in Gambia that the country is under investigation for death threats made by its leader, Yahya Jammeh. Kamalesh Sharma made this revelation at a news conference, Thursday, on the eve of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Trinidad and Tobago.

Yahya Jammeh has been under pressure to withdraw what seemed to be his most widely condemned statement, made last September, in which he threatened to kill people who identifies with human rights defenders ‘‘to destabilize my country.’’ Jammeh remains characteristically defiant against the overwhelming outpour of international outcry that continues to put Gambia constantly on the spotlight for the wrong reason.

Kamalesh Sharma told journalists at the International Financial Centre in Port-of-Spain that respect for human rights is a core value of the Commonwealth. “I would like to say that we are in discussion with the Gambian side and that discussion continues,” the Trinidad and Tobago’s Thisday Newspaper quoted him. Secretary General Sharma’s statement came after a controversial statement by the incoming Commonwealth chairman, Trinidadian prime Minister Patrick Manning, who sought to relegate the Gambian issue to a domestic matter that needed not be discussed at the CHOGM.

The government of Trinidad and Tobago announced Jammeh’s eventual absence at the CHOGM earlier, after coming under intense pressure from human rights organisations in India and Trinidad and Tobago who demanded that the Gambian dictator be banned from attending the summit of the former British colonies, which commences Friday, 27 November, 2009.

After bowing out, apparently for fear of what he might meet ahead of him, coupled with fears of his possible overthrow amid intense speculation of coup plot at home, Jammeh is reportedly been represented at the CHOGM by Foreign Affairs Minister Ousman Jammeh.

Gambia is on the spotlight alongside Uganda, whose government proved difficult to yield to pressure to abandon a ridiculous Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009 which is currently before the Ugandan parliament. This law effectively calls for the killing of HIV/AIDS infected gays and lesbians. This similarity in disregard for human rights in both Gambia and Uganda apparently explains why President Yoweri Museveni, who is the outgoing chairman of the Commonwealth, has been particularly apathetic to calls for action against his Gambian counterpart.

Museveni is expected to officially handover chairmanship of the Commonwealth to Prime Minister Patrick Manning of Trinidad and Tobago, who has himself wasted no time in identifying with the reproachful trend of indifference to human rights violations by tyrannical governments like those of Uganda and Gambia.

“The statement of the [Gambian] president essentially related to domestic matters in Gambia. They will not form part of the agenda at CHOGM,” Patrick Manning told the press briefing on Thursday, much to the obvious disapproval of human rights bodies and concerned individuals.

Commonwealth Secretary General Sharma’s statement of assurance is seen as a Cushion, aimed at dispelling reasons for fear and more uproar by a seemingly unrelenting force against human rights violators.

Sharma told reporters that the Commonwealth is in the process of strengthening and expanding its various institutions.
"A lot of Commonwealth voices have been raised," he said. "But one point is clear: Respect for human rights is a core value. We are in discussion with the Gambian side. As far as Uganda is concerned, this is before their parliament and I'm hopeful that the various voices raised when this is debated will bring forward all the issues of discrimination and vulnerability."

At least Sharma’s statement serves as source of encouragement for
Caribbean Centre for Human Rights executive director, Diana Mahabir Wyatt, who reportedly disputed Manning’s view on the matter. She said that they were “in contravention of the Harare Declaration” upon which the Commonwealth was founded.

Maja Daruwala, executive director of the India-based Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, described the Trinidadian prime minister’s statement as misguided.

"It's a great pity that the leader of a country with a good record on human rights would miss the opportunity to show real leadership," she was quoted by the Ottawa Citizen.

"As the new chairman of the Commonwealth,’’ she added, ‘‘he [Prime Minister Patrick Manning] has failed an early test. It is not only disappointing but against all Commonwealth principles. He is dismissing the cries of ordinary citizens who are asking their leaders for basic human rights."

To add on this, another voice critical of the unresponsive view of the Trinidadian prime minister, Royal Commonwealth Society director Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah, whose group is said to have released a critical report about effectiveness of the Commonwealth, said he was shocked by Manning's remarks.

"The Commonwealth is about shared values and principles everyone has signed on to," Director Sriskandarajah said, "so if they can't be discussed here, then where? If a member state falls short you either help them or sanction them in some way. If the Commonwealth stops being about that, we've lost another leg of the Commonwealth stool."

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