South Africa has demonstrated its inconsistent international human rights position by opposing the setting up of a human rights monitoring structure at the weekend’s Commonwealth Heads Of Government Meeting (CHOGM).

Activists had hoped that human rights issues, including the rights of gay and lesbian people in Commonwealth countries, would be dealt with by the 54 member states at the gathering in Perth, Australia.

A key proposal, recommended by the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) – set up to reform and strengthen human rights in the Commonwealth – was to implement a Commissioner for Democracy, the Rule of Law and Human Rights.

The Commissioner’s role would be to monitor the human rights status of Commonwealth countries and to recommend “remedial action”.

A decision on the matter was, however, postponed for further consideration following opposition by countries including India, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa (represented by President Jacob Zuma), and Sri Lanka.

They also opposed the publishing of the 106 recommendations of the EPG report, apparently over concerns about the report’s “imperial overtones”.

The Commonwealth furthermore chose not to make any comment on the plight of gays and lesbians in member countries that criminalise homosexuality despite public criticism by Australia, Britain and Canada.

Over forty Commonwealth nations, nearly all of them former British colonies, currently criminalise same-sex relationships with lengthy jail terms. They comprise over half of the world’s countries that continue to outlaw homosexuality.

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