Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting

“Commonwealth must confront its weaknesses”, say civil society

With five weeks to go until the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) inPerth, Australia, civil society leader Shantal Munro Knight will address
Foreign Ministers from Commonwealth member states at a special meeting in New
York. Presenting the 2011 Civil Society Statement that draws on the views of nearly 300 representatives, she will urge Commonwealth governments to include civil society in their decision making.

“The Commonwealth,” details the statement, “must confront its own weaknesses.”
It highlights the disconnect between the Commonwealth’s high level policy
making and those at the grass roots which “hampers effective action”.

Crucially Ministers have an opportunity to respond to these views in the
communiqué that they will produce from the CHOGM in Perth in October. It is
this communiqué that will set the policy agenda for the Commonwealth.

The statement includes demands to Heads of Government to:

• Create an independent Commonwealth Commissioner on Democracy and the Rule of
Law;

• Enhance the power and presence of the voice of women at all levels of
Commonwealth institutions and processes;

• Commit to programmes that mitigate the HIV and AIDS pandemic, including
decriminalising same-sex sexual conduct;

• Contribute to the safeguarding of traditional cultures;

• Protect human rights defenders across the Commonwealth.

Munro-Knight considers this audience to be the first step on the road to a
fully inclusive Commonwealth. “Failure to include citizens in decision making
processes makes for slow and ineffective change” said Munro-Knight who has been
vocal around the Caribbean. She has spent time mobilising citizens to feed into
what she cites as a ‘very important process’ and an ‘opportunity that comes
only once every two years’. “We must continue to show why governments need
civil society. We make things happen, we create the change, we are the ones
affected by the issues in the world. So we need to be listened to.”