India is unhappy with a recommendation to set up a mechanism to monitor the human rights records of Commonwealth countries, arguing that the 54-nation group simply does not have the finances to take on such a task which is already being done by other authorities within the group, as well as the United Nations.
Instead, the Commonwealth would do well to focus its limited resources on the development needs of its smaller States, Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai told journalists here, indicating that the Indian government is likely to oppose the move at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meet (CHOGM) in Australia this weekend, which will be attended by Vice-President Hamid Ansari. Over the last two years, a group of 11 Eminent Persons have been deliberating on ways “to sharpen the impact, strengthen the networks, and raise the profile of the Commonwealth.” Of their 106 recommendations, the one that has generated the most attention seems to be the suggestion to set up a democratic values and human rights monitor.
“The responsibilities spelt out in this would seem to undermine the role of both the Secretary-General and the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group itself which is dealing precisely with these issues,” said Mr. Mathai. “It seems to be a duplication of what the United Nations is already doing through its rapporteurs…While we support the important values of the rule of law, democracy and human rights, we believe the Commonwealth should focus on strengthening existing institutions rather than creating new ones.”
Pointing out that the suggestion came at a time when the group faced “budgetary difficulties,” Mr. Mathai said he had raised the issue in New York.
“I asked them where the money was going to come from, and they said that it could be done through a re-allocation of resources,” he said. The real focus of the Commonwealth should be on development challenges, especially of smaller States, he said, adding that since the current financial allocation had been agreed upon after extensive consultation at the Heads of Government level, it was “not appropriate” to make a change now.
In fact, India is the largest member — and one of the largest contributors to the Commonwealth budget, shelling out over a million pounds for the technical cooperation fund alone. Almost a million pounds more are given to help run the Secretariat and other Commonwealth schemes each year.
Apart from discussions regarding social and economic development, climate change, food and energy security as part of the official summit, CHOGM provides the opportunity for more informal consultations and bilateral meetings.
The Vice-President is expected to meet Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, to discuss a wide range of bilateral issues, including Australia's uranium sales policy.