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Commonwealth head faces criticism

Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma has to fend off mounting criticism of his alleged soft-handed approach to human rights violations, with senior diplomats suggesting some of his own disgruntled staff may be behind the attacks.

world Updated: Oct 29, 2010 00:55 IST
Dipankar De Sarkar

Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma has to fend off mounting criticism of his alleged soft-handed approach to human rights violations, with senior diplomats suggesting some of his own disgruntled staff may be behind the attacks.

Sharma, a veteran Indian diplomat who became chief of the 54-nation Commonwealth in 2008, is accused of being too deferential to member-governments. The Guardian newspaper has run two reports this month based on leaked documents just as a Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group met in London to discuss concerns.

Sharma, it is alleged, has not only ignored human rights violations by countries such as Sri Lanka, the Gambia, Malawi and Kenya, but also instructed staff not to speak out on rights issues.

In addition, comments made by him have been read as evidence that he supported the Kenyan government over its failure to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.

Historically there have been tension in the Commonwealth between the three old members known as the ABC — Australia, Britain, Canada — who tend to push human rights issues and the vast majority of the rest, who stress economic development. India typically tries to strike a balance.

“At the end of the day, the Secretary-General is a servant of member-states and if he detects the slightest sign that someone is unhappy with a stance, he will not take it,” said a Commonwealth source.