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Commonwealth Secretary-General addresses UN Human Rights Council

29 February 2012
“Our determination is to see ambition and aspiration translated into practical outcomes”

“Human rights challenges confront our members, as they do all people and governments.

“Our Commonwealth approach is to agree to shared goals despite our variety and to provide support in achieving these in partnership – our determination is to see ambition and aspiration translated into practical outcomes.”

These were the words of Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma as he addressed members of the UN Human Rights Council on the Commonwealth’s commitment to human rights, at its 19th session in Geneva, Switzerland, on Wednesday, 29 February.

With one-fifth of the Council’s members sharing membership with the Commonwealth, Mr Sharma said their presence can continue to be a force for a stronger, more unified voice, based on the Commonwealth’s shared values.

“The pursuit of shared values by the Commonwealth since its Singapore Declaration of 1971, consolidated and raised in the Affirmation of Commonwealth Values and Principles in 2009, has meant a sedimentation of the culture of democracy in our member states over decades. And that in turn has aided many regions of the Commonwealth in the goal-setting of their own regional and national values.

“The Affirmation introduced a shared commitment on human rights, ‘for all without discrimination on any grounds’.”

Mr Sharma said Commonwealth leaders had raised the level of expectations of themselves when in 2011 they authorised the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) – which deals with serious or persistent violations of Commonwealth values, including the systematic violation of human rights - to become more proactively and positively engaged.

The Commonwealth Secretariat has a Small States Office in Geneva, which provides a base for delegations and enables them to establish a diplomatic presence in the region for bilateral accreditation in Europe and to the many multilateral organisations in the city, including the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, World Trade Organization, the World Health Organization, the UN Human Rights Council, and the International Labour Organization.

He added that the Commonwealth continues to contribute to global efforts on a range of human rights issues, including climate change; early and forced marriage; inclusive education and sustainable employment for persons with disabilities; the elimination of police brutality and addressing the culture of impunity; improving custodial care and management through working with prisons training institutions; and opposing discrimination or stigmatisation on any grounds, including those of sexual orientation.

He also highlighted the Commonwealth’s support to its member countries in preparing for the Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process, which reviews and assesses the human rights records of all UN member states every four and a half years.

The Commonwealth Secretariat’s Human Rights Unit is currently holding regional workshops this month and next, to aid member states with implementing the UPR recommendations of the Human Rights Council.

Mr Sharma concluded: “This is our consistent vision: the vulnerable, the strong, the large, the small, all sharing the same ground and moving towards a collective destination; each gaining from the mutual trust and respect accorded to one another in advancing the cause of their citizens in their everyday lives.”