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Cameron 'hopeful' over rights deal

Prime Minister David Cameron said he was still hopeful that Commonwealth leaders can achieve "good progress" on tougher human rights protections amid warnings that a summit of Commonwealth leaders is headed for failure.

Talks went on into last night between representatives from the 54 member countries on a range of issues, including a highly-critical internal report which warned the organisation was failing to stand up for basic rights.

One of the key demands in the report by the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) - the creation of a charter setting out Commonwealth principles - has been backed by the biannual meeting in Perth, Australia.

But there appeared to be little prospect of significant progress on another - the introduction of a commissioner to police human rights and democracy - to the frustration of the EPG. The EPG's UK member, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, warned that the Commonwealth's purpose and relevance were being thrown into question by its seeming "indifference" to widespread abuses.

Meanwhile, chairman Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the Malaysian former prime minister, said that without backing of the reforms the summit "will be remembered not as the triumph it should be, but as a failure".

Asked about Sir Malcolm's warning as he emerged from the second of three sessions of talks, Mr Cameron insisted: "I think we will make good progress on this excellent report.

"The Commonwealth is an organisation based on important values about freedom and democracy and rights and it's important that we state those values clearly and that's what the new charter is going to be all about.

"Of course, the Commonwealth is an organisation that proceeds on the basis of consensus so everyone has to agree and so sometimes things take some time. But I think this report is good and I think the lion's share of it will be put into action and the Commonwealth will be stronger because of it."

Commonwealth heads of state decided against formally publishing the EPG report, leaving the document to be distributed by the group itself. Sir Malcolm is said to have branded the decision a "disgrace".

A British source stressed that Mr Cameron had fought for publication. "We were trying to apply pressure, as were Australia and the Canadians. But it is an organisation that works by consensus."


From Belfast Telegraph