On 20 June 2022, representatives of the 54 nations that together constitute the Commonwealth will convene in Kigali, Rwanda for one week for the 26th Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). Held for the first time since 2018 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, PEN International calls on all Commonwealth countries to avail of this important opportunity to publicly recommit themselves to protecting freedom of expression, as expressed within the Commonwealth Charter.
The Commonwealth Charter defines the common values and principles binding its members, articulating a clear commitment to internationally recognised human rights norms and the right to freedom of expression specifically.
However, all too often these stated commitments remain rhetorical and aspirational in practice, with considerable gaps in the implementation of effective protections for freedom of expression at the national level, resulting in the silencing of critical opinions and the persecution of those who peacefully express dissenting views across Commonwealth nations.
With the 26th CHOGM taking place in Rwanda, a country that has frequently received strong criticism for its poor human rights record and relentless persecution of government critics, it is vital that Commonwealth countries send a clear and unified signal on member states’ domestic and international obligations to the right to freedom of expression, and the CHOGM is a fitting opportunity to do so.
As the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting takes off in Kigali today, PEN International wishes to bring to the attention of the delegates two cases of writers at risk, with a call to them to raise these cases of grave concern with the representatives of the two Commonwealth countries, Rwanda and India.
“The failure of Rwandan authorities to fully account for the whereabouts of the young poet and spoken word artist, Innocent Bahati, 16 months after he suspiciously went missing, and the relentless persecution of academic and writer, Hany Babu by the Indian authorities are emblematic of the two Commonwealth member countries’ blatant violation of the Commonwealth Charter and their international human rights obligations. That this year’s CHOGM is being hosted by one of these nations is an opportunity for peers to renew the Commonwealth’s commitment to freedom of expression by engaging with the Rwandan and Indian authorities on these two cases”, said Burhan Sonmez, President of PEN International.
PEN International believes that a gathering like CHOGM is also a moment for Commonwealth peers to hold one another accountable in line with the Commonwealth Charter. If the authorities of India and Rwanda observed the Charter, Hany Babu would not be facing egregious persecution and violation of his human rights; and Innocent Bahati would not remain unaccounted for 14 months after he disappeared in suspicious circumstances.
PEN International Urges CHOGM delegates gathered in Kigali from 20 – 25 June 2022 to live and exercise the spirit and word of the Commonwealth Charter and demand that justice is urgently and unconditionally done for Hany Babu and Innocent Bahati by Commonwealth members, India and Rwanda respectively.
For further information on Innocent Bahati please contact Nduko o’Matigere, Africa Programme Coordinator at PEN International, Unit A, Koops Mill, 162-164 Abbey Street, London, SE1 2AN, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
For further information on Hany Babu please contact Ross Holder, Asia Programme Coordinator at PEN International, Unit A, Koops Mill, 162-164 Abbey Street, London, SE1 2AN, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, email: email@example.com