The Commonwealth joins the world in seeking to promote and protect “human rights defenders who act to end discrimination” – the United Nations theme for today’s International Human Rights Day, 10 December 2010.
To do so, its foundations are in place: the values which unite it; and the diversity which has so wide and embracing a reach. It is those values and that diversity which allow it to work with its member countries, and to achieve with them, in partnership.
Human rights – based on dignity, equality and non-discrimination – are central to the Commonwealth’s values, and its Heads of Government encouraged it to promote and protect them further, when they last met in Port of Spain in November 2009.
Human rights are the concern of all humanity. The Commonwealth can address human rights as a community not just of governments, but also of civil society organisations – and peoples.
Ending discrimination relies on an active civil society that encourages debate, builds understanding, and advocates for change. Human rights defenders shine a spotlight on violations and promote improvements. They speak out on issues of discrimination and stigmatisation, often at great personal risk to themselves and their families. On International Human Rights Day, we applaud their commitment, and honour their achievements. We recognise their important role in demanding government accountability and transparency, and the fulfilment of human rights obligations.
Defending human rights and ending discrimination is not, though, the sole preserve of civil society. It falls ultimately to governments. And – across the globe – political commitments on human rights often fall short of reality.
The world has seen the Commonwealth take an implacable stand on human rights – particularly when it set its face against racism, and especially apartheid. Yet discrimination against marginalised groups continues in the Commonwealth, and further afield. We must work with renewed vigour to combat all forms of discrimination, so that all people of the Commonwealth can live in dignity, equality and rights.