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Global issue 12

Examining the context in which the Commonwealth leaders drafted the Harare Declaration in 1991,Richard Bourne commonwealth networkThe Long View Understanding the spirit of the times looks at how its scope, innovation and effectiveness were received at the time – and how this evaluation has evolved in retrospect and provided the foundation for further progress It is important to distinguish the Harare Commission of Commonwealth experts Declaration of 1991 with how it is viewed that could examine abuses and demand re- in contemporary history. At the time it was dress. The Harare Declaration seemed very a disappointment to many human rights thin by comparison. campaigners, including myself, then di- Furthermore, within Africa, there was a rector of the non-governmental Common- realisation that much more had to be done. wealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI). In Just prior to the summit, there was a three- retrospect, it has given the Commonwealth, day conference in Harare on human rights and member governments, a possibly unde- in Commonwealth Africa. It was supported served status as an international pioneer for by Zimbabwe’s Legal Resources Centre, democracy, the rule of law and fundamental the Southern African Development Organi- human rights. Many, observing the rifts in sations Network, and CHRI. A number of commitments really are. Credit: Sue Ream CC BY 3.0 Hastings Banda – remained dirty words.human rights activists attended cloaked insuch guises as social welfare personnel,because ‘human rights’ – in countries likeMalawi, still ruled by its ‘president for life’,-The context for the Harare Declaration 2011–12 over the proposal for a Commis sioner for Democracy, the Rule of Law and Human Rights, would ask how deep such was two-fold: the end of the Cold War with It is unlikely that, without subsequent the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and the events, so much would have been heard beginning of a negotiated end to apartheid, of the Harare Declaration. That it came to with the release of Nelson Mandela who People atop the Berlin Wall near the Brandenburg represent a distinctive thrust for the Com- Gate in November 1989 came to the Harare summit as a guest. As monwealth in the 1990s was due especially the declaration stated, “Internationally, the some campaigners, was the commitment to the cruelty and ham-handedness of the world is no longer locked in the iron grip to “democratic processes and institutions continuing military dictatorship in Niger- of the Cold War”. This was a moment of which reflect national circumstances” as ia, which reached a nadir under General socio-economic as well as political opti- well as to the rule of law and fundamental Abacha. After Harare, the Commonwealth mism. The declaration continued, “In the human rights. In a way, these commitments Secretariat, under Chief Anyaoku, looked last twenty years, several Commonwealth at ways of realising the aims of the declara- countries have made significant progress in This was a moment of tion. economic and social development.” In the non-governmental world, the Around the world there was criticism of socio-economic as well as CHRI, despite its disappointments and one-party and military regimes, of which political optimism because of its concern for rights on the there had been several in the Common- ground, decided to consolidate its campaign wealth in the 1970s and 80s. Over the Zim- and moved its head office to New Delhi. It babwean border, in Zambia, a lively multi- were not an enormous advance on the Sin- sent a fact-finding mission to Nigeria, led party election campaign was under way as gapore Declaration of 1971. It was the con- by Flora MacDonald, which published the Commonwealth leaders met in Harare. The text that had changed. report ‘Nigeria: Stolen by Generals’. When opposition to Kenneth Kaunda’s UNIP par- Why were these unexceptional state- the Abacha regime, in a deliberate chal- ty was built on a coalition of unions, profes- ments criticised? There were two main rea- lenge to the Commonwealth, executed Ken sional bodies and students not dissimilar to sons. First, interested civil society feared Saro-Wiwa and his fellow Ogoni activists the opposition to the military regime in Ni- that leaders had no intention of acting on in the middle of the 1995 summit, heads geria. Kaunda had to leave the Harare con- them – that on the flight home they would established the Commonwealth Ministerial ference to return to the election, in which be quickly forgotten – the frequent fate of Action Group (CMAG). This was a rules his party was defeated – ending the rule of international statements. Secondly, there committee with the ability to suspend non- one of the key presidents of the previous 30 was particular concern that democracy re- compliant governments. While this is not years. flecting national circumstances would give the place to describe what happened there- The Harare Declaration contained all too much wriggle-room to advocates of after, it was a genuinely progressive and manner of commitments – from the trans- guided or even one-party democracy. pioneering move at that time, designed to fer of wealth from developed to developing From the human rights side, an interna- give teeth to the Harare Declaration. countries and education for all, to effective tional group chaired by Flora MacDonald, population policies and the importance of former Canadian foreign minister, had Richard Bourne, Senior Fellow at the Institute free trade. But what caught the attention called for a full-scale Commonwealth Hu- for Commonwealth Studies of commentators, and was attacked by man Rights Declaration, backed up by a globalfourth quarter 2012 www.global-briefing.org l81


Global issue 12
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