Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative
CHRI Home   Contact Us
Volume 13 Number 1
New Delhi, Spring 2006

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.

From left: Sam Okudzeto, Clare Doube & Murray Burt

The organisation 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 CHRI’s 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 CHRI’s 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 People’s 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 People’s 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 CHRI’s 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.

Meanwhile, CHRI 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 CHRI’s human rights concerns reached as far up the government ladder as possible. Follow-up by official delegations on some of CHRI’s 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.

CHRI Newsletter, Spring 2006

Editors: Mary Rendell & Clare Doube , CHRI;
Print: Chenthil Paramasivam ,
Web Developer: Swayam Mohanty, CHRI.
Acknowledgement: Many thanks to all contributors

Copyright Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative

Published by Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, B-117, 1st Floor, Sarvodaya Enclave, New Delhi - 110017, India
Tel: +91-11-26850523, 26864678; Fax: +91-11-26864688; Email:

The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) is an independent international NGO mandated to ensure the practical realisation of human rights in the Commonwealth.