Key events and meetings

Petra Cooke

Collaborating on human rights

The Commonwealth is working with the International Committee of the Red Cross to help advance measures for the humanitarian protection of citizens during periods of conflict. Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma attended the 31st International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in Geneva from 28 November to 1 December 2011. At a side event, he reiterated that Commonwealth leaders had given their support for renewed efforts to strengthen humanitarian protection during the 2011 Heads of Government Meeting in Perth, Australia. Areas of collaboration include assisting states with ratifying various weapons-related treaties, and putting in place domestic laws to help them fulfil their obligations under such treaties.

A catalyst for promoting disability rights

On 11-12 January, 42 participants from 14 Commonwealth countries met in London for the Expert Roundtable on Inclusive Education and Sustainable Employment for Persons with Disabilities in the Commonwealth. They examined and shared their experiences of promoting inclusive education – the process of enabling all children to learn within mainstream school systems without segregation – and sustainable employment for the disabled.

Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General Mmasekgoa Masire-Mwamba said the meeting has acted as an important catalyst, sensitising Commonwealth members and encouraging them to advocate for the rights of persons with disabilities. The outcomes of the roundtable will lead to the development of a best practice publication to help Commonwealth countries improve their implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Celebrating the Diamond Jubilee

Representatives of Commonwealth member governments, organisations, civil society and other partners met in London on 17 January to discuss their plans to mark HM Queen Elizabeth II’s 60 years as head of the Commonwealth. They discussed a number of initiatives forming a unified tribute with five facets – a ‘Commonwealth Jubilee Diamond’ – each highlighting an aspect of the Queen’s leadership of the Commonwealth and ensuring an enduring legacy for Commonwealth citizens. The activities will focus on i) women and leadership; ii) connecting cultures; iii) education and understanding among young people; iv) youth and service; and v) learning, through the endowment of Diamond Jubilee scholarships.

Sharma visits Malawi, Rwanda and Ethiopia

The Commonwealth Secretary-General held talks with political and civil society leaders during a nine-day trip to Africa that took him to Malawi, Rwanda and Ethiopia from 21 to 30 January. Sharma met and briefed Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika [now deceased] about current developments in the Commonwealth Secretariat following mandates from the 2011 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth. In Rwanda, the Secretary-General met President Paul Kagame and was invited to a graduation ceremony at the National University of Rwanda at Butare, where he was awarded an honorary doctorate. The Secretary-General also attended the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from 28 to 30 January.

Promoting women entrepreneurs

Nine women entrepreneurs from Africa and the Caribbean secured orders from some of Europe’s largest traders during their attendance at Spring Fair International from 5 to 9 February, in Birmingham, UK. The women were selected from over 60 applicants to market their products at Europe’s largest buyers fair, through sponsorship from the Commonwealth Secretariat. The project aims to raise the capacity of businesswomen to access wider markets. These entrepreneurs now hope to use the knowledge they gained to help other women in business within the Commonwealth to break into the global market.

Ministers seek new ways to manage ocean resources

Commonwealth ministers responsible for environmental issues have called for new ways of protecting and utilising resources from the world’s oceans in a sustainable manner while unlocking their full potential as a means of creating jobs and improving livelihoods. During the annual meeting of the Commonwealth Consultative Group on Environment in Nairobi, Kenya, on 20 February, ministers agreed to intensify efforts to foster a greater understanding of the value of ocean resources in national development. They also recognised the importance of working with institutions, businesses and local resource users, and the need to seek agreement on common objectives and goals for ocean management. In the lead-up to the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), they asked the Commonwealth Secretariat to share experiences among member states on integrated ocean governance, recognising that some are leaders in these approaches.

Secretary-General addresses UN Human Rights Council

Addressing members of the UN Human Rights Council at its 19th session in Geneva on 29 February, the Commonwealth Secretary General stated, “Human rights challenges confront our members, as they do all people and governments… Our Commonwealth approach is to agree to shared goals despite our variety, and to provide support in achieving these in partnership – our determination is to see ambition and aspiration translated into practical outcomes.” Sharma also said that Commonwealth leaders had raised the level of expectations when, in 2011, they authorised the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group – which deals with serious or persistent violations of Commonwealth values, including the systematic violation of human rights – to become more proactively and positively engaged. He added that the Commonwealth continues to contribute to global efforts on a range of human rights issues.

About the author:

Petra Cooke, Online Content Writer and Editor, Commonwealth Secretariat


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