From the Commonwealth Secretary-General

Kamalesh Sharma

At this time of continuing economic global stresses, the importance of trade is seen even more clearly as a crucial tool in stimulating growth and development. So, too, is the importance of all possible assistance and effort being shared, coordinated and advanced with common purpose.

UNCTAD, the World Trade Organisation and the International Trade Centre are at the heart of multilateral efforts to create improved conditions for global trade. I regularly meet with the heads of all those organisations to advance common goals, and again met them with the very practical purpose of strengthening cooperation between them and the trade-related capacity we intend to build in the Commonwealth Small States Office, which we opened in Geneva in May last year.

Another purpose of my visit to Geneva was to address a Commonwealth event organised in association with the Quadrennial Conference of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent. This gave us the opportunity to examine ways of working more closely with the International Committee and with national Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Commonwealth countries.

Our focus was on areas of common concern, such as disaster management and food security, where technical and practical support offered by our respective networks helps protect the vulnerable, speed recovery from the setbacks of natural, economic or political crises, and build resilience. Together we do work of similar importance in building national capacities on humanitarian law – relating to everything from narcotics and child trafficking to dealing with elements of ‘uncivil society’ that tend to emerge quickly in times of crisis and uncertainty.

The ICRC and the Commonwealth both have important roles in convening to promote international cooperation on humanitarian protection and the rule of law. We each work alongside governments to help strengthen national institutions and capacity and work with them as trusted partners. We know the importance of establishing a climate of trust in which our delicate work is best advanced and most likely to yield results, bringing positive outcomes and long-lasting benefit.

This striking feature of the way we engage, usually without fanfare, is important in the context of the changes agreed by leaders at the recent Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). The Perth CHOGM was a watershed and will long be remembered for the reform and renewal springing from it. The outcomes agreed are truly momentous, most of all the bold adoption by leaders of reform of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), which has been a priority for me.

Commonwealth heads of government have raised the level of expectations placed upon themselves, authorising CMAG to become positively engaged as well as enlarging the scope of CMAG’s remit so that the Commonwealth can be a partner in ensuring credibility of elections, an independent judiciary, freedom of the media and strengthening of democratic institutions.

Thanks to the wide consultation and welcome review of the Commonwealth undertaken by the Eminent Persons Group (EPG), bold decisions were also made at CHOGM 2011 on the way we operate in a number of other areas. Of the Group’s 106 recommendations, the vast majority were either adopted outright, accepted in principle or referred for further assessment by foreign ministers. Leaders agreed that there should be a Charter of the Commonwealth, and there will now be consultation in member countries so that the process of formulating the Charter is broad and open.

The EPG laid special emphasis on our being a ‘Commonwealth of the People’, and I am confident that we will see the continuing process of reform and renewal of our work and mechanisms bringing the ambitions of the inter-governmental Commonwealth and the expectations of the people’s Commonwealth together in ever closer and more dynamic harmony.

About the author:
Kamalesh Sharma

Kamalesh Sharma is the Commonwealth Secretary-General


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