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Monday, 3 April, 2000, 06:53 GMT 07:53 UK
Democracy challenge for Commonwealth chief
Don McKinnon
McKinnon: Human rights high on agenda
The new secretary-general of the Commonwealth, Don McKinnon, takes up his post formally on Monday, his main task being to make the 54-nation organisation "more relevant and useful" to its 1.6 billion citizens.

This was the stated aim of a review agreed by Commonwealth heads of government at their summit in Durban last November.

Mr McKinnon, the former New Zealand foreign minister, has also put human rights and democracy high on his agenda.

He has spoken of his determination to uphold the Harare declaration - the set of democratic principles agreed by the Commonwealth in 1991 at a meeting in the Zimbabwean capital.

Zimbabwe tensions

Zimbabwe itself is now one of the countries which could come under the scrutiny of Commonwealth leaders, amid international concerns that the government is interfering with the right to peaceful protest as an election approaches.
Demonstrator arrested in Harare
Concerns over political freedom in Zimbabwe
Mr McKinnon has said he was "not at all happy" at the current tension but that it was too early to talk of suspending Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth.

"We do want to see a good free and fair election take place in Zimbabwe," he insisted, but said that a confrontational approach to Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe could prove counter-productive.

Pakistan question

The issue of Pakistan also remains unresolved - the country was suspended from Commonwealth activities after October's military coup.

The outgoing secretary-general, Chief Emeka Anyouku, held the job for 10 years, and was prominent in the campaign to give the organisation a more active role in supporting democracy.

But critics say the Commonwealth is not tough enough on some of the practices of its members, especially given the high ideals it espouses.

At its Durban summit, the organisation shied away from tougher guidelines on monitoring democracy in member states.

BBC correspondent Nick Childs says Mr McKinnon got the job of secretary-general in large part because

  • he was well known in Commonwealth circles
  • took a prominent role in dealing with Nigeria when it was suspended from the organisation
  • won plaudits for his mediation between the different factions in the civil war in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea.

In an organisation with a large majority of developing countries, his championing of debt relief for poorer states undoubtedly also helped his candidacy.

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See also:

03 Apr 00 | World
Guide to the Commonwealth
12 Nov 99 | Africa
Commonwealth elects new leader
14 Nov 99 | Africa
Commonwealth condemns Pakistan
15 Nov 99 | Africa
The real Commonwealth Summit
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