CHRI at CHOGM 2005
Andrew Galea Debono
Consultant, Commonwealth Advocacy, CHRI
CHRI was bustling
with activity in the days preceding the Commonwealth Heads of
Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Malta last November. Apart from
taking advantage of the meeting for promoting human rights issues
both through the media and through meetings with government delegations,
CHRI also had two major events to organise.
The first was the Commonwealth Human Rights Forum (CHRF), which was held over two days on 20 and 21 November at the St. James Cavalier Centre in Valletta. The theme of the forum was ‘Networking for Human Rights in the Commonwealth’, linking it to the main theme of the CHOGM. The focus was particularly on the importance of creating more space for civil society to perform their work within the Commonwealth.
Secondly, CHRI held the international
launch of its 2005 CHOGM report, ‘Police Accountability: Too Important
to Neglect, Too Urgent to Delay’. CHRI was represented in Malta
by staff from the Delhi Headquarters, as well as by members of
its Advisory Commission (AC) who gathered in Malta for the annual
AC meeting in the same week as CHOGM.
left: Sam Okudzeto, Clare Doube & Murray Burt
of the CHRF would have been smooth had it not been for the decision
of the Maltese Immigration Police to refuse entry visas to a number
of participants from specific countries, which were deemed source
countries for ‘illegal immigration’. Potential participants from
Uganda, Nigeria, Pakistan, Ghana and Bangladesh, amongst other
countries, were refused entry for no specific reason. Apart from
this unfortunate side issue, the Forum was a big success, bringing
together 48 participants from Australia, Bangladesh, Cameroon,
Canada, Fiji, Ghana, India, Jamaica, Maldives, Malta, Sierra Leone,
Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda, and the UK. Representatives
of the former Commonwealth country Zimbabwe also participated
in the meeting. The participants included human rights activists,
members of human rights non-governmental organisations (NGOs),
members of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs), and members
of the media. A representative of the Commonwealth Secretariat
was also present as an observer. The success of the Forum was
largely a result of the hard work put in by the organisers from
CHRI, collaborating partners and Amnesty International Malta Group.
The Forum would not have been possible without financial support
from the Commonwealth Foundation and the British Council.
CHRI and the Forum
were given much coverage by the local and international media,
particularly during the opening and closing sessions where the
Chair of the Commonwealth Foundation, Prof. Guido De Marco and
the Commonwealth Secretary General, Donald McKinnon, gave substantial
speeches on the importance of human rights and democracy within
the Commonwealth. The media highlighted the concern of the participants
of the Forum for specific countries such as Uganda and the Maldives
and also picked up on other human rights issues that were discussed.
The expert contributions
from speakers from around the Commonwealth, as well as the active
participation of all those who attended, led to a strong and focused
final statement which was forwarded to the Foreign Ministers and
Commonwealth Heads of Government. Following circulation of this
concluding statement, feedback was received from a number of government
delegations – indicating that they had noted the concerns raised.
The final communiqué was also sent to all members of the Commonwealth
Human Rights Network, many electronic networks and other contacts,
and placed on CHRIs website. Since then, much positive feedback
has been received, and many of those who received the communiqué
also promised to forward it on to contacts of their own.
Some of the key
recommendations from the Forum included the need for a formal
report-back to the next CHOGM on the implementation of commitments
for human rights made by the Heads of State during this CHOGM;
that governments should ensure that human rights norms are not
compromised using national security as an excuse; that the Commonwealth
Ministerial Action Group should investigate the situations in
Uganda and the Maldives, and that the Commonwealth should stay
engaged with Zimbabwe; that there should be a Commonwealth Expert
Group on the future of policing; and that the Commonwealth should
agree that all members should offer a standing invitation to UN
Rapporteurs and other UN investigators as a commitment to transparency.
CHRI took advantage
of the media-frenzy that surrounded the CHOGM. Press releases
about the CHRF and the Police Accountability Report launch, as
well as the final communiqué of the CHRF, were sent to
the media. This ensured that many of the recommendations from
the Forum found their way into the press, thus reaching wide audiences.
At least 50 press articles in Commonwealth countries such as Australia,
Malta, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Kenya, Maldives, Fiji, the United
Kingdom, Bangladesh and South Africa and also some non-Commonwealth
countries such as Switzerland, UAE and Qatar mentioned CHRIs
participation at the events around CHOGM, or the events it organised.
Regional newspapers such as the Pacific Magazine also mentioned
CHRI. There are around 500 mentions of the Commonwealth Human
Rights Forum on the Internet when doing an online search, showing
wide online interest and coverage of the event. Several news websites
from various countries and regions mentioned CHRI due to the Forum,
report launch, or participation in other events such as the Commonwealth
Peoples Forum and the Commonwealth Youth Forum. To urther
promote human rights, CHRI representatives conducted additional
radio and television interviews.
Members of the
CHRI team took part in the Commonwealth Peoples Forum (CPF),
which was organised by the Commonwealth Foundation, attending
workshops and constructively participating in the formulation
of the final communiqué of the CPF. CHRI also facilitated
the involvement of participants of the Commonwealth Human Rights
Forum in the CPF. The concluding statement of the CHRF was fed
into the CPF processes through the report-back procedure, ensuring
that wider Commonwealth civil society was aware of the meeting
and its recommendations. Many recommendations from the CHRF were
reflected in the CPF communiqué, which was officially presented
to the Foreign Ministers at the roundtable held the day before
the CHOGM itself.
A member of CHRIs
team was invited to speak at the Commonwealth Youth Forum (CYF).
Touching on issues of good governance and active citizenship from
a human rights perspective, this speech enabled the message of
human rights to reach a group of over 100 youths from around the
Commonwealth. The CYF aimed to promote the values and principles
of the Commonwealth by supporting young people as active citizens
and change-makers contributing to the development of their communities
and the Commonwealth.
made an ongoing effort to advocate for its human rights concerns
and to promote its ideas for the betterment of the human rights
situation in the Commonwealth. Immediately prior to the meeting
of the Commonwealth Foreign Ministers, meetings were held with
four government delegations and phone calls and emails were sent
to many more, ensuring that CHRIs human rights concerns
reached as far up the government ladder as possible. Follow-up
by official delegations on some of CHRIs recommendations
has already started, particularly on the idea of establishing
a Commonwealth Expert Group on Policing, to ensure that the efforts
put in by CHRI and partners around the CHOGM will have an impact
for time to come.
Newsletter, Spring 2006
Doube , CHRI;
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Acknowledgement: Many thanks to all contributors
Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative
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