Civil society scrutiny of rights records critical, say UK, Australia at HRC

Australia and the United Kingdom today, September 25 said they support civil society review of the


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Civil society scrutiny of rights records critical, say UK,  Australia at HRC
L-R: Sally Mansfield, Sanjoy Hazarika, Miriam Shearman, Ambassador of United Kingdom; Yashasvi Nain, Programme Officer, CHRI

Australia and the United Kingdom today, September 25 said they support civil society review of the human rights records of Commonwealth countries at the UN Human Rights Council as necessary, though a difficult task.

 

According to the British Ambassador and Deputy Permanent Representative to HRC at Geneva, Miriam Shearman, “It is good for all countries to be held accountable,”  responding to a detailed scrutiny by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, CHRI on how seven Commonwealth countries and members of the HRC had voted in the council, how their pledges matched the record of implementation. The countries were the UK, Australia, Pakistan, Rwanda, South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria. “There must never be reprisals against human rights defenders,” Ambassador Sherman added.

 

Echoing her words, Ambassador of Australia and Permanent Representative, Sally Mansfield appreciated the CHRI review, saying that while it was an “uncomfortable position to be judged”, it was important to stress that that “if we are not able to look at these candidly, then we’re losing an opportunity”.   Australia, she said, was a country with strong democratic traditions that would stand up to such scrutiny.

 


Diplomats from Pakistan and Rwanda also said that while they had different perceptions on a number of issues, they valued the process of review including the use of documentation in the public domain as well as official data.



Rwandan diplomat, Moses Rugema reflecting on his country’s experiences said that “genocide informs our work.”  He added that while Rwanda was “slightly uncomfortable with being ranked, we welcome accountability and scrutiny”.

 

In his remarks, Sanjoy Hazarika, International Director of CHRI, spoke of the “natural and necessary friction, a crackling tension between stakeholders and civil society. That is but natural. But it need not be confrontational.”  



He reminded governments that civil society groups were not “enemies of the state” and opposition to policies should “never be confused” with being anti-national, which he described as a “convenient label by many governments uncomfortable with demands for enhanced scrutiny for human rights accountability”.

 

Programme officer at CHRI’s International Advocacy Programme, and author of the report, Yashasvi Nain,  highlighted the major issues in the study, Easier Said Than Done, ‘Pledges and Performance: Holding Commonwealth members to account at HRC’.



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