Human rights abuses in Zimbabwe and Gambia by authorities have brought to the fore once again the issues of protection of citizens' rights within the Commonwealth, one of the issues that the Commonwealth has jurisdiction on.
The others are the promotion of democracy and the rule of law. The gravity of the human rights abuses by the regimes in Zimbabwe and the Gambia should focus people's minds on the issues in a general way. Such abuses, it should be made clear, deserve the much attention from leaders of the Commonwealth.
It is clear that Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe enjoys the monopoly over rights abuses and other crimes against humanity in violent political situations - as we have seen in recent months. The Commonwealth must stand to end such impunity. But the Commonwealth can only act if the county whose nationals are violated does not act against the transgressors of these aspects of international law.
The Commonwealth could play an important role in curbing abuses of international law in Africa. In the continuing abuses that have taken place in parts of the continent in the recent past, we have witnessed a high degree of impunity. Having said that, we would like to point out that African countries have, over the years, become parties to the various international legislations that have been drawn up to protect fundamental freedoms and human rights of the individual.
Some of these include the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of 1948; the Geneva Conventions of 1949 for the Amelioration of Conditions of War and the Protection of Civilians and War Victims; and the Convention against Torture, and other Cruel, Inhuman of Degrading Treatment or Punishment of 1984.
To top it all is Africa's own safeguard against human rights abuses: the African Court of Human and Peoples' Rights. But, alas, the Court is not functioning. Why? Well, it will become operational only after 15 member states have ratified the Charter setting up the Court. However, only two countries have done so while 23 have ratified the Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court, even though the African Court's Charter has been around longer that that of the ICC.
It is obvious that there is a singular lack of political will among African leaders to give the continent legal weight to tackle its own cases of human rights abuses so that there is no passing the buck to the "international community" to deal with African violations of human rights law.
That is exactly what has happened in the case of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, which have asked the ICC to investigate violations of international humanitarian and human rights law in these countries. Perhaps, the case of Zimbabwe and the Gambia deserve much attention because the impede on the principles of democracy and human rights and undermines the rule of law.