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Global Issue 15

Health professionals challenge governments to update mental health legislation Ministers debate mental health-care provision in Geneva Seminar reviews empire’s contribution to the modern world www.global global thi rd quar ter 2013 -br ief ing.org l 81 commonwealth network Colloquia One in five Commonwealth member states has mental health legislation that was enacted before 1960, before modern medical treatments became available, a report has found. These laws, dating back more than half a century, also predate many of the international human rights instruments that are now in force. The report by the Commonwealth Alliance of Health Professionals (CAHP), ‘Mental Health: a Legislative Framework to Empower, Protect and Care’, was presented at the annual Commonwealth Health Ministers Meeting Partners’ Forum in Geneva on 19 May. It recommended that old legislation be reformed and that “Commonwealth member states must involve persons with mental disorders and care-givers, apart from other stakeholders, in the mental health law reform process”. “Mental health legislation in many Commonwealth member states is out-dated and does not fulfil member states’ international human rights obligations,” the reports’ authors wrote. Commonwealth Foundation Director Vijay Krishnarayan said: “While we recognise the importance of dialogue and gatherings like this we are much more interested in the action and consequences that follow. “I particularly welcome the commitment by CAHP member organisations to follow up in countries where the need for improvements in mental health legislation has been recognised. It is very encouraging that regional organisations including CARICOM, SADC, WAHO and ECSA have already indicated an interest in the outcomes.” The annual Commonwealth Health Ministers Meeting took place ahead of the 66th World Health Assembly and the theme ‘Mental health: towards economic and social inclusion’ was explored in a number of discussions about stigmatisation of people with mental health challenges and the need for inclusion and participation in socio-cultural and economic activities. The meeting also saw the launch of the Commonwealth Secretariat’s Commonwealth Health Partnerships 2013 publication, featuring new research and articles on the subject of mental health. The book reflects some of the issues discussed at the meeting, such as the need to raise public awareness of mental health issues and improve access to mental health treatment. Rosamund West © PAHO/WHO A conference on the British Empire’s legacy heard speaker Lord Carrington give a robust defence of the empire, focusing on its contribution to post-independence political stability and economic growth. Providing an alternative viewpoint, Sir Ron Sanders gave a clear-eyed exposition of the social and environmental damage of the British imperial ‘moment’ in the Caribbean, challenging modern tendencies to excessive romanticisation of legacies of colonial governance. The ICwS/OSPA Conference on The Legacy of Empire, held at London’s Senate House on 20 May, was a well-attended occasion, with an impressive range of speakers on the variety of lasting impacts of Britain’s imperial encounters. Dr Kwasi Kwarteng gave a spirited opening address, drawing on his recent book Ghosts of Empire, emphasising the role of decision makers and people on the ground with power. Professor Joseph Ayee, the current Emeka Anyaoku visiting chair of Commonwealth Studies, followed this with reflections on legacies of institutions, infrastructure and political cultures, both positive and negative. The subsequent sessions, ‘The view from India and Africa’, ‘The Mediterranean and the Caribbean’, and ‘The view from the UK’ were devoted to the lived experiences of transitions from empire to independence from leading politicians, policy makers and opinion formers. Speakers included Surendra Nihal Singh, Dr Martin Aliker, Mr Simon Zukas, Dr Henry Frendo and Lord Boateng. Dr Harshan Kumarasingham and Anson Chan emphasised constitution building, and difficulties of negotiated transition – in Hong Kong’s particular case, this process is very much ongoing. Each session generated lively interventions and comments from the floor from the wide range of former colonial civil servants. While the overall focus and tone of the event was decidedly that of practitioners and contemporary observers, rather than academic analysis and presentations of new interpretations of legacies of empire, the varied and complicated legacies of British imperial engagement with its ‘wider world’ came through clearly. The conference also benefitted from adept chairing by Professors Rob Holland and Peter Hennessy. A full video recording of the event will soon be available via the ICwS website and the Institute also plans to publish a complete transcript in conjunction with OSPA. Dr Sue Onslow is the senior research fellow, oral history of the Commonwealth Project, Institute of Commonwealth Studies


Global Issue 15
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