Key events and meetings

Petra Cooke

Commonwealth facilitates Sri Lanka human rights training

Staff from the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) completed a Commonwealth workshop on how to conduct national inquiries in compliance with international human rights standards on 4 July. 

John Walters, National Ombudsman of Namibia, led the three-day event in Colombo, which was attended by more than 50 staff from the HRCSL. Namibia’s Office of the Ombudsman is an ‘A’ accredited institution, compliant with the Paris Principles that relate to the status and functioning of national institutions for the protection and promotion of human rights. 

Justice Priyantha Perera, chairperson of the HRCSL, said the workshop had been beneficial: “The facilitation has been very comprehensive in building our knowledge, and we are pleased that so many have been able to participate. 

The Commonwealth Secretariat’s Acting Head of Human Rights, Karen McKenzie, added: “We have had positive and constructive engagement by all participants. They have demonstrated a keen commitment to strengthening their capacity and taking a stronger leadership role on human rights protection, promotion and advocacy both nationally and internationally. 

“The Commonwealth Secretariat will continue to provide technical, financial, monitoring and oversight support.” 

T. Kanagaraj, HRCSL regional co-ordinator for Jaffna, said the workshop had helped enhance teamwork among HRCSL staff members. He added: “I appreciated the opportunity we had to spend time with the regional co-ordinators to share our experiences between the regions.” 

The workshop took place in parallel with a visit by Commonwealth Deputy Secretary General Mmasekgoa Masire-Mwamba to review arrangements for the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo in November. 

Masire-Mwamba met with the Sri Lankan Minister of External Affairs, Professor G. L. Peiris, Judge Priyantha Perera and members of the CHOGM 2013 Taskforce. 

In his last two official visits to Sri Lanka in September 2012 and February this year in preparation for CHOGM, Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma committed to providing technical assistance to the HRCSL.


Deputy Secretary-General: civic education key to upholding Commonwealth values

Civic education is an effective way of deepening democracy, development, rule of law, respect for human rights and diversity, says Mmasekgoa Masire-Mwamba, Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General. 

Addressing a forum of more than 2,000 national and regional leaders, young people, civil society groups, students and religious leaders at the first International Colloquium on Civic Education and National Integration in Yaoundé, Cameroon in July, Masire-Mwamba said that civic education equips citizens with information and knowledge about their roles, rights and responsibilities. 

She cited Cameroon as a good example of how to put this into action, as the country has convened a nationwide discussion on national integration. 

“Cameroon has not only taken practical and tangible steps to embrace Commonwealth values, but this forum clearly demonstrates that Cameroon gets the spirit of the Commonwealth,” she said. 

With more than 200 languages, and both an anglophone and francophone identity, Cameroon’s diversity is “a microcosm of the Commonwealth itself”, she added. 

“The Commonwealth family is home to over two billion citizens and is made up of the world’s largest and smallest, richest and poorest members. In such a context of diversity, it is even more imperative to cultivate and promote good civic habits.” 

The Deputy Secretary-General called on young people to participate fully in civic education and national integration activities to secure a peaceful and harmonious future. 

“It is critical that we involve young people, who are the majority in most of our countries, including Cameroon, so that they can fully appreciate their roles, rights and responsibilities. I often say that we are living in a world of young people, with a few sprinklings of grey hairs of old people,” she said. 

Masire-Mwamba said that since Cameroon joined the Commonwealth in 1995, there has been fruitful co-operation in the areas of strengthening election management through support to Elections Cameroon, enhancement of the justice sector, youth development and enterprise and strengthening of public institutions and the human rights commission. 

She thanked Cameroon for its effective participation in Commonwealth events, notably the last meeting of youth affairs ministers in Papua New Guinea, which the country’s minister attended. 

Opening the conference, the Prime Minister of Cameroon, Philmon Yang, thanked the Commonwealth for participating in the forum, and said the country looked forward to discussing best practice across the membership. 

The forum – the International Colloquium on Civic Education and National Integration – was addressed by cabinet ministers, religious leaders, representatives from the international community, the diaspora, students and tribal leaders. 

Bidoung Mpkatt, Cameroon’s minister responsible for civic education and youth affairs, whose office organised the three-day meeting, said the objective is to develop strategies and mechanisms to “further sharpen in every Cameroonian a civic and patriotic spirit and to always promote harmonious living”.


Youth representatives call for specific youth goal

Young people attending a meeting at the Commonwealth Secretariat to review the UN High-Level Panel Report on the Post 2015 Development Agenda have called for a specific goal focused on the empowerment and development of young people. While commending the High-Level Panel for maintaining focus on sustainable development and poverty eradication, and for its consultative approach, they said the report could have been stronger in addressing the needs and potential of young people. 

The meeting took place in June and was convened by Commonwealth youth leaders. Participants included youth advocates and UKbased students from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Europe. 

In their recommendations, they said it was not enough to assume the inclusion of young people within the proposed development goals and called for a youth-specific goal. 

The UN High-Level Panel was convened by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to advise on the development agenda beyond 2015. Its report entitled ‘A new global partnership: eradicate poverty and transform economies through sustainable development’ sets out five key changes that nations should make to continue on a strong development path after 2015, when the Millennium Development Goals come to an end. In their outcomes document, the young people stressed that “the world is faced with a potentially disenfranchised youth cohort, pervasive inequality, and inadequate social, political and economic spaces for young people”.


Commonwealth heads of public service meet in Botswana

Heads of public service from 19 African Commonwealth countries met in Gaborone, Botswana, in July to explore ways of improving the interaction between politics and public service to foster sustainable development in their countries. 

The meeting marked the tenth anniversary of the Forum of Commonwealth Heads of African Public Service. 

The Commonwealth Secretariat’s Governance and Institutional Development Division initiated the forum, which has run every year since 2004. 

Its objective is to bring together public service leaders to converse, network and share best practice on contemporary issues in public sector management and service delivery. 

The meeting in Gaborone opened with a keynote speech from Vice President Ponatshego Kedikilwe of Botswana and remarks by Commonwealth Deputy Secretary General Mmasekgoa Masire-Mwamba. 

This year’s forum had the theme: ‘Improving the political-administrative interface to achieve sustainable development’. 

In her opening remarks, Masire-Mwamba said that a strong and effective public service is crucial to facilitating achievement of national development goals. 

“The theme of this year’s forum is important, particularly now as the world is awakening to Africa’s potential for economic prosperity. 

“We need to demonstrate we are doing our part to realise this potential and are committed to moving our countries from poverty to prosperity,” she said. 

She added that for sustainable development to be achieved in Africa, politicians, public sector leaders and leaders from other sectors have to work in collaboration for the common good. 

The meeting drew participants from Botswana, Cameroon, The Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. 


About the author:

Petra Cooke, writer and editor, Commonwealth Secretariat Communications and Public Affairs Division


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