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Tuesday, November 9, 1999 Published at 02:38 GMT


New powers urged for Commonwealth

Other suspensions could follow Pakistan's if the proposals are adopted

A British think-tank with links to the government says the Commonwealth should adopt new mechanisms to police democracy and human rights in its 54 member states. Diplomatic Correspondent Barnaby Mason examines the proposals.

The Commonwealth now acts more promptly than it used to against military regimes among its members - Pakistan was suspended from Commonwealth meetings less than a week after the civilian government was ousted last month.

Such action is decided by a Ministerial Action Group set up when Nigeria was suspended in 1995.

Now the talk is of extending its mandate and powers to police governments which are not military regimes or one-party states, but which fall short of democratic and human rights standards.

The ministerial group is expected to recommend new guidelines widening its scope to the Commonwealth summit in Durban.

'At Risk' register

The report by the Foreign Policy Centre - not an official body - goes further.

It suggests a Commonwealth commissioner on good governance, who would draw up detailed criteria in areas like elections, the independence of judges, corruption and freedom of expression.

The commissioner would have the power to refer offending governments to the Ministerial Action Group. They would be on an "at risk" register, and those which did not make significant progress by 2003 should be suspended from the Commonwealth.

The report singles out four countries which it says fall short of democratic standards in various ways - Zimbabwe, Kenya, Zambia and Sri Lanka.

Proposals under discussion

The Foreign Policy Centre is an independent think-tank, though it has British government patronage.

British officials said the four countries mentioned were all democracies and their human rights records were better than many in the world.

However, the officials said the themes dealt with in the report were being discussed.

Britain and some other Commonwealth countries would like the democratic principles set out in the Harare Declaration of 1991 to be fleshed out with a lot more detail. The officials described them as woolly.

But other governments will resist a mandate for what they would see as systematic interference in their internal affairs.

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