23 October 1997


ARTICLE 19 delegation to Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting challenges leaders to do more for human rights

Incident details


(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - ARTICLE 19 is laying down a challenge to the
Commonwealth's leaders as they prepare for discussions in
Edinburgh, Scotland: show the world that you are paying more than
lip service to human rights.

Giving ARTICLE 19's delegation a unique perspective in Edinburgh
at the time of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting
(CHOGM) will be two Nigerian women, human rights activists who
are campaigning for the release of relatives and others in prison
in Nigeria.

Frances D'Souza, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19, said: "It is
clear that the governments of a number of Commonwealth countries
- not just those under observation by the Ministerial Action
Group - are getting away with murder, despite their 1991
commitment to the Harare Declaration.

"ARTICLE 19 calls for the Heads of Government to use this Meeting
to ensure that these serious infringements of international law
and the Commonwealth's own principles are addressed at once.

"Firm and transparent mechanisms must be implemented at this
year's meeting to establish criteria for admittance to the
Commonwealth; to elaborate the principles outlined in the Harare
Declaration; and to oblige countries to report regularly on their
progress in improving human rights standards," she concluded.

Specific examples of ARTICLE 19's concerns about freedom of
expression in the Commonwealth aside from the Nigeria, Sierra
Leone and the Gambia, countries already under scrutiny by the
Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, include:

  • Serious democratic abuses and lack of press freedom in Cameroon,
    which was admitted to the Commonwealth in 1995.

  • The re-admission of Fiji to the Commonwealth under a leader who
    seized power from a democratically elected government.

  • State-sponsored political violence in Kenya, which is
    disenfranchising large numbers of opposition voters.

    ARTICLE 19 urges the British government to honour its commitment
    to press for expansion of the Harare Declaration on the subject
    of freedom of expression. This is particularly urgent given the
    fact that few Commonwealth countries are beyond reproach when it
    comes to respecting all the elements of freedom of expression,
    which include legislation ensuring freedom of information, right
    to freedom of assembly, and a free and independent media.

    ARTICLE 19's presence at CHOGM will be enhanced by two visitors
    from Nigeria. Mrs Bose Mbah and Ms Nike Ransome-Kuti are active
    human rights campaigners who have relatives imprisoned in
    Nigeria, in appalling conditions, on trumped-up charges. They
    will provide a unique perspective on the steps they believe the
    Commonwealth should take to help guarantee a transition to
    democracy in Nigeria.

    Appended to this press release is a list of press briefings that
    ARTICLE 19 will hold during the CHOGM meeting.

    1. Thurs October 23, 12.00am, West Drawing Room
    Press briefing (with International Press Institute).

    Richard Carver, ARTICLE 19's Head of Africa Programme will
    outline the chief concerns over the Commonwealth, with
    particular emphasis on the countries under observation
    by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group.

    2. Thurs October 23, 15.30-17.30, West Drawing Room (F4)
    Symposium - Freedom of Expression and the Commonwealth (with
    International Press Institute)

    An in-depth look at what the Commonwealth Harare Declaration
    means, if and how it is being implemented, and how this could be
    strengthened. Speakers include Frances D'Souza, Executive
    Director of ARTICLE 19.

    3. Fri October 24, 11.00-12.30, The Queen's Hall, Clerk St.
    Amnesty event - 'From the Dungeons to the Sky', prose and poetry
    readings and commentary

    Nike Ransome-Kuti (Nigerian lawyer, Research Director at Media
    Rights Agenda) will address the problems of freedom of expression
    in Nigeria, particularly addressing the plight of journalists and
    other writers.

    4. Fri October 24, 17.30-18.15, West Smoke Room
    Press briefing (with Scottish PEN)

    Comment and analysis of the first day of CHOGM's proceedings.
    Release of new information relating to CHOGM countries. Comment
    by Nigerian human rights workers.

    5. Mon October 26, venue and time to be confirmed
    Final press briefing on CHOGM Communique

    ARTICLE 19 materials (press packs, reports on various CHOGM
    countries) will be available all day Thursday 23 Oct in the West
    Drawing Room, from ARTICLE 19 staff, or from the NGO press office
    in the Assembly Rooms.

  • Source

    ARTICLE 19: Global Campaign for Free Expression
    6-8 Amwell Street
    EC1R 1UQ
    United Kingdom
    info (@) article19.org
    Fax:+44 20 7278 7660
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