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Commonwealth tussle over human rights

world Updated: Oct 09, 2010 23:33 IST
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The Commonwealth has abandoned its commitment to defending human rights, according to a leaked document in which the secretary general tells his staff it is not their job to speak out against abuses by the 54 member states.

The latest revelations about dysfunction within the secretariat and foundation are likely to add to questions over what the Commonwealth is for. The most threatening internal rupture is over human rights. Staff at the secretariat were furious when the secretary general, Kamalesh Sharma, remained silent over a series of abuses by member states in recent years.

For example, when Gambia threatened to behead homosexuals in 2008; when government troops and Tamil Tiger rebels were accused of widespread atrocities at the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka last year; and when a Malawi court in May sentenced a gay couple to jail for being homosexual, the secretary general ignored calls from secretariat staff urging him to express concern at least.

In response to complaints from employees, Sharma's office told his staff that the institution had no obligation to pronounce on the issue.