HYDERABAD, India, Feb. 7 /CNW/ - Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh
Sharma has praised India's justice system for being the guardian of the
nation's constitution. He said the Indian Supreme Court has played a
pivotal role in interpreting and championing human rights.
Sharma applauded the landmark decision of the New Delhi High Court in
July 2009, which decriminalised homosexual acts conducted in private by
consenting adults. The Secretary-General said this was clear evidence
of the judiciary's commitment to securing human rights for all, on the
basis of non-discrimination.
"In July 2009, Justice Shah of the Delhi High Court took the landmark
decision to decriminalise homosexual acts conducted in private by
consenting adults in this country, progressively addressing a legal
legacy of the British colonial era that continues to affect more than
three quarters of Commonwealth countries long after Britain itself has
moved on," Sharma said.
"International legal standards require that constitutions should be
treated as living documents. Many Commonwealth countries are challenged
with reconciling Commonwealth principles of dignity and equality and
non-discrimination as well as the fundamental Commonwealth value of
respect for fundamental human rights on one hand, with issues of unjust
criminalisation found in inherited current domestic legislation in this
area, on the other."
The Secretary-General delivered the keynote address to hundreds of
Commonwealth lawyers, judges and civil society at the 17th Commonwealth
Law Conference in the Indian city of Hyderabad on Sunday (6 February
2011). He said it was a pleasure to be speaking in his own country.
Mr Sharma, a career Indian diplomat, said the Commonwealth is a
Commonwealth of laws and central to that is respect for the rule of
law. He however added that the mixture of home-grown 'customary and
religious laws' has not always addressed the needs of the core
Commonwealth constituency of the vulnerable - most notably children,
women and others who are disadvantaged.
Religious laws, he said, can sometimes undermine the very values of
freedom and tolerance which the Commonwealth holds dear.
Pointing to the Trinidad and Tobago Affirmation of Commonwealth Values
and Principles which was adopted in 2009, the Secretary-General said
that member countries affirmed that their country's legislature,
executive and judiciary are the guarantors of the rule of law and
access to justice. They also declared that an independent judiciary is
fundamental to the rule of law and is enhanced by effective,
transparent, ethical and accountable governance.
Addressing the theme of the Commonwealth Law Conference, which was
'Meeting the challenges of emerging economies in keeping the rule of
law,' the Commonwealth Secretary-General stressed that both democracy
and development are important to achieving sustainability.
The Secretary-General was accompanied by Akbar Khan, the Commonwealth
Secretariat's Director of Legal and Constitutional Affairs, who also
participated on a panel discussing 'International Courts and Tribunals
versus Local Justice Initiatives - the best method of achieving
The Commonwealth Law Conference is organised by the Commonwealth Lawyers
Association, an international non-profit association of lawyers from
across the Commonwealth.
Its aim is to maintain and promote the rule of law throughout the
Commonwealth by ensuring that an independent and efficient legal
profession and an independent judiciary, with the highest standards of
ethics and integrity, serve the people of the Commonwealth.
SOURCE The Commonwealth Secretariat
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