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Volume 13 Number 1
New Delhi, Spring 2006

Commonwealth Human Rights Forum (CHRF):
A Human Institution with a Challenging Purpose

Mandi Manga Obase
President, Royal Commonwealth Society, Cameroon

Malta was the centre of focus for many Commonwealth organisations from 16 to 27 November 2005. The island was full of diplomatic noise and colours in the name of conferences and workshops.

The second CHRF provided an exciting environment to discuss common concerns between participants representing human rights initiatives from across the Commonwealth: big, small, rich, poor, able, and disabled. The Forum brought to life the Queen’s 1973 Commonwealth Day message that “the Commonwealth is not for government or statesmen alone. It is for all the people of our Commonwealth”.

As President of the Royal Commonwealth Society of Cameroon, I would like to explain why we joined the Commonwealth Human Rights Network and attended CHRF. We believe our troubled world needs volunteers who will work for peace keeping, human rights and conflict resolution. The impact conflict has had on Africa is a key factor in our growing involvement. In Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, The Gambia and other non-Commonwealth African countries, conflict has affected not only the military forces, but a large number of civilians, children and the aging. This conflict has caused many to be displaced from their homes while others have died seeking refuge in neighboring countries. This has affected people’s attitudes and ability to interrelate and the psychological wounds will take longer to heal than the physical wounds.

We live in a society of inequality, injustice, and tyranny where violations of human rights are far too frequent. Gross imbalances continue to deprive major portions of our population of the benefits of this technological age. The primary challenge is finding ways to redress these imbalances as this is a pre-requisite for obtaining sustainable peace.

With conflict surrounding us, I believe the Royal Commonwealth Society of Cameroon is on track by joining the Network and attending CHRF as it is an inspiring forum for debate, a place for contact between civil society organisations (CSOs) and above all, a human institution with a challenging purpose.

My presence at the Forum gave me the opportunity to meet the Commonwealth Secretary General. We had an informal conversation about establishing an effective human rights structure in Cameroon and I took the opportunity to remind him of the terrible incident at the University of Buea where two students were killed by police. I also talked with Mr Jarvis Matiya, Acting Head of the Human Rights Unit of the Commonwealth Secretariat. He mentioned that the HRU is helping Cameroon to set up a new human rights institution, and I suggested that the new structure will lose meaning if independent civil society representatives are not included in the Commission and if the structure does not clearly stipulate partnership with CSOs.

Other distinguished participants I met during my time in Malta included Richard Bourne, Associate and former Head of the Commonwealth Policy Studies Unit, Maja Daruwala, Director of CHRI, and Michael Ellman, International Federation for Human Rights. .

Networking for human rights was what occupied my mind while attending the Forum and I began envisioning my country in a different way. I thought of a Cameroon in which freedom, respect for human dignity and absence of torture are its greatest export and I thought about how this might be accomplished.

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.

After reading some of CHRI’s publications I thought up a human rights project called ‘Cameroon Human Rights NGO Networking’. The prime objective of this project is to create a network of human rights NGOs, and set up a body to monitor the Government, proactively defend human rights and work towards preventing abuse and torture. The project will help produce reports and statistics on human rights and torture in Cameroon.

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.

CHRI Newsletter, Spring 2006

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

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