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Democracy and Equality In The Commonwealth

Democracy and Equality In The Commonwealth of Nations
By Radha D’Souza

A Western reporter once asked Mahatma Gandhi what he thought of Western civilisation. Gandhi in his well-known wry humour said, “it is a great idea”. Indeed going by the events in CHOGM Western democracy continues to remain a “great idea”.

John Howard, the Australian Prime Minister could be accused of all the “crimes” that Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe is accused of. He manipulated the media, resorted to racist propaganda and outright lies to win elections.

Manufactured photographs of Tampa refugees throwing children into the sea were used to manipulate the media and whip up racist hysteria in Australia. Young children, some as young as five, many orphans, are held in barbed wired detention centres.

All this comes on the heels of the Human Rights Commission reports on the Stolen Generation and sustained crimes over a long period against Aboriginal peoples. It is ironic that the CHOGM meeting seeking sanctions against Zimbabwe took place in Howard’s Australia.

Australia does not have to deal with any of the problems that the African states, including Zimbabwe, face. It does not have to deal with a long history of colonisation that altered the structure of society and imposed a deep schism within society; the most important of these being the land question and the urban rural divisions in society.

Australia has the approval of the “international community” to continue to occupy aboriginal land in the name of “rule of law”. After all, it was the ingenuity of “rule of law” that helped Britain claim Australia as “terra nullius”.

Revenue from South Asia was used to settle British populations on aboriginal lands with the sanction of the “international community” (read European community”) the same community that wants to see sanctions on Mugabe. Barring a few Australian voices who demand sanctions against Australia for violation of human rights and electoral fraud, the NGO community internationally has not picked up the cue and supported the Australian protesters.

Had “Third World” voices protested about human rights abuse and electoral fraud, the NGO networks world-wide would have been activated and we would have seen protests in the capitals of Europe and America demanding sanctions against the country concerned.

A former Dutch Prime Minister, Prof. Gerbrandy, told the Dutch Parliament only Christian nations were capable of distinguishing between justice and injustice, between wars that were forbidden, and wars that were not. He seriously doubted if a Mohammedan or a Hindu could grasp the essence of aggression. Fifty years down the track the mind-set of politicians seems to have changed little.

Prof. Verzijl, an expert on international law writing about the Asian states seeking to join the UN, said the new states operate with “ legal concepts extracted from, or lying at the basis of, modern international law without having first duly mentally digested them, which necessarily results in the distortion and misunderstanding of elementary legal issues such as the limitations of national sovereignty and the sphere of domestic jurisdiction”.

What are the “limitations of national sovereignty and the sphere of domestic jurisdiction”? At least some of us are trying to digest the “idea”, but the more we try the more blurred it looks.

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