Zimbabwe rejected by Commonwealth human rights body

ZIMBABWE, the bad pupil of this year's Commonwealth summit, was thrown off the committee that polices human rights in the 54-nation body yesterday. But undemocratic and oppressive regimes won a reprieve when the conference failed to agree on concrete ways to clamp down on human- rights abuses.

At the end of the biennial Commonwealth conference, during which Zimbabwe's President, Robert Mugabe, accused Britain of being run by "gay gangsters", his country lost its chairmanship and its membership of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (C-Mag), which is made up of eight Foreign Ministers, including Robin Cook of Britain.

The Commonwealth failed to establish an expanded remit that would have allowed the action group to put pressure on member states to respect political freedoms, the media and the judiciary. Despite the lack of progress on human rights, the heads of government pledged to lead the fight against the "global emergency" caused by the spread of HIV/Aids.

While Mr Cook talked up the achievements of the conference in expanding C-Mag's remit on human rights, diplomats and Commonwealth officials were less effusive.

Emeka Anyaoku, the group's outgoing secretary general, said that while there was no rejection of the proposal to expand the group's role, the idea would be referred to a new 10-nation body, including Zimbabwe, charged with preparing a document on "the challenges of the new century", for presentation at the next meeting of Commonwealth heads of government, in Canberra, Australia, in 2001.