The Commonwealth’s heads of government were gathered in Zimbabwe on this date in 1991 for their biannual meeting. With Nelson Mandela now released from prison, the leaders sought ways to keep up the pressure on South Africa to end apartheid and make the transition to majority rule.
Britain’s Prime Minister, John Major, held private meetings with Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney before the summit and both leaders participated in a joint press conference on October 15. 1991.
“More and more the evolution of foreign policy will see us witness the sweeping away of any totalitarian regimes and the primacy of human rights,” Mulroney told reporters when questioned about linking foreign aid with the human rights records of recipient nations. “This is what will dominate the spectrum, dominate the concerns of national governments …. Canada, like any national government, reserves the right to terminate completely any aid where it feels that that would be appropriate. We did it in the Commonwealth when Idi Amin came to power in Uganda; we have done it recently in Haiti, where we want the illegal occupation and usurpation of the Presidency of Haiti to end. I signaled to President Mitterrand in Houston in 1990 that Canada would not attend a summit of Francophone nations held in Zaire because of the human rights policies there – this was a year and a half ago.”
“I think that what you can reasonably expect is a very strong commitment and an endorsement of the primacy of human rights and the indispensable priority that it must be given not only in the Commonwealth but in other institutions around the world,” Mulroney added. “I think you can probably expect as well that more and more governments are going to factor that in a major way into all of their foreign policy decisions including aid decisions.”
Both Mulroney and Major held private talks with Nelson Mandela during the summit. You can read a transcript of the press conference at this link: johnmajorarchive.org.uk/1991/10/15/mr-majors-joint-doorstep-interview-with-brian-mulroney-15-october-1991/
Arthur Milnes is an accomplished public historian and award-winning journalist. He was research assistant on The Rt. Hon. Brian Mulroney’s best-selling Memoirs and also served as a speechwriter to then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper and as a Fellow of the Queen’s Centre for the Study of Democracy under the leadership of Tom Axworthy. A resident of Kingston, Ontario, Milnes serves as the in-house historian at the 175 year-old Frontenac Club Hotel.
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