Will Canada Host Commonwealth?

Top Uganda officials, including the foreign minister, deny there is a plan to move this year’s Commonwealth meeting away from the troubled East African country over concern about Queen Elizabeth’s safety—the queen traditionally opens the meeting.

At the same time a Commonwealth Secretariat official concerned with human rights wouldn’t confirm or deny reports in British media that plans are afoot to shift the November meeting of Commonwealth Heads Of Government Meeting (CHOGM) to South Africa.

The Black Star News has learned that Canada has also quietly let it be known that it could host the parley. But this offer is seen as unlikely to be accepted since an African country would be preferable if Uganda loses out.

“We do follow the situation in Uganda,” says Fatima Rabab, the Secretariat official who handles human rights matters, when asked about the reports in UK’s The Times that escalating repression in Uganda may force the meeting venue to shift out of concern by British officials for Queen Elizabeth II’s safety. “We regularly keep monitoring the situation.” Earlier this year Rabab expressed “shock” when Ugandan opposition lawmakers showed her a videotape of Uganda police violently breaking up a pro-democracy rally, using teargas.

When asked whether the Secretariat was considering a move away from Uganda in similar manner to when Zimbabwe’s membership was suspended over human rights abuse, Rabab responded sharply: “Don’t put those words in my mouth. Mine is only concerned with the humanrights, but not political issues. You need to address that question to the political department.”

“It is rubbish,” retorted Ugandan foreign minister, Sam Kutesa over reports of a venue shift over concern for the Queen’s safety. “They are incorrect reports. There is no country as of now lined up as a substitute to host the conference.”  

The official said saboteurs were trying to derail plans for the meeting. “I would advise Her Majesty to travel to Uganda and not to get worried.”

Plans are continuing as normal for the parley which brings together the British government and a collection of its former colonies. “Everything is fine and facilities have already been put in place and you can even look at the Commonwealth website,” the foreign minister said.

Uganda’s High Commissioner –a post equivalent to an ambassador – to the United Kingdom also chimed in to reject the news accounts. “I have communicated to the Commonwealth and Foreign Affairs Office and they denied the report. The Commonwealth has not confirmed the reports,” Joan Rwabyomere says.

“Those unsubstantiated reports are mere spin,” she adds. “I was in the country myself and I came back on Monday, the situation is not alarming.”

She further said, “The team in charge of verifying, expressed satisfaction of the preparations and the security concerns were not raised.”

Asked if in her capacity as High Commissioner she would recommend that Queen Elizabeth travel to Uganda, she said: “I can’t comment anymore. You had one question to ask.” 

Foreign diplomats accredited to Uganda r e c e n t l y criticized the deteriorating political conditions, with attacks against opposition political figures, and the government’s interference with the judiciary, which led to an en mass walkout by all the country’s judges earlier.

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