By Salma Yusuf –
CHOGM 2013: Commonwealth Peoples Forum set to connect Sri Lanka with Global Conversation on post – 2015 Development
Salma Yusuf in conversation with Vijay Krishnarayan, Director, Commonwealth Foundation on the upcoming Commonwealth Peoples Forum to be held at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit
By Salma Yusuf –
Could you share with us the objectives of your visit to the country?
Delegates of the Commonwealth Foundation arrived in Sri Lanka for three specific reasons. Firstly, to work with Sri Lankan counterparts to review logistical and technical arrangements for the Commonwealth Peoples Forum which is scheduled to be held in Hikkaduwa from 10 through 14 November 2013.
Secondly, to raise the profile of preparations and activities undertaken in preparation of the summit among Sri Lankan civil society organizations and other partners including government departments. Thirdly, and perhaps most important, we have used the visit to develop a programme for the Commonwealth Peoples Forum that is relevant to issues raised by civil society organizations across the Commonwealth and highlights those raised by Sri Lankan civil society organizations as well.
What is the Commonwealth Peoples Forum?
It is the largest gathering of civil society organizations on the calendar of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth Foundation has a mandate to bring civic voice to the Commonwealth Ministerial processes.
What would that mean in practice?
In practice, it means the organizing of civil society input in such a manner that it can be fed into a meeting with Ministers. For example, Commonwealth Education Ministers met in Mauritius last year and the Womens’ Affairs Ministers met in Bangladesh last month. The Commonwealth Peoples Forum has been brining civil society together in the wings of CHOGM since it was first held in Harare and now the process is a part of the CHOGM summit.
What is the Commonwealth Foundation and how would you describe its role in the Commonwealth?
The Commonwealth Foundation is an inter-governmental agency, established by Commonwealth Heads of Government in 1965. The Commonwealth Foundation is funded by and reports to Commonwealth Member States. It is essentially the Commonwealth agency for civil society. The Foundation recognizes the importance that the Commonwealth attaches to civic voice and people-to-people linkages. It also recognizes that the Commonwealth is as much an association of people as it is an association of governments.
In the context of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit and the Commonwealth Peoples Forum, how is the concept of ‘civil society’ defined?
For the Commonwealth Foundation, civil society is defined as the interaction and relationships between organizations outside the family, outside of government and outside of business. It now encompasses a wide spectrum of entities including community based organization, faith-based groups, trade unions, media organizations, development agencies, and policy advocates.
This is a central part of the Commonwealth’s world view which is expressed in the Commonwealth Charter which was adopted and signed by the Commonwealth Secretary General in December 2012.
What are your impressions of civil society engagement in Sri Lanka, particularly in the backdrop of the upcoming summit in November?
It is clear from out interaction with civil society in Sri Lanka that the CHOGM and associated gatherings are keenly anticipated. As the host country, Sri Lanka determines the theme of CHOGM. As a result of the several rounds of discussions with Sri Lankan partners, we have arrived at the subject of development and inclusion as the topic for the Commonwealth Peoples Forum.
Undoubtedly, these are extremely topical for civil society organizations both in Sri Lanka and across the Commonwealth.
Are there specific benefits accrued to Sri Lanka as host of the Commonwealth Peoples Forum in the wings of CHOGM?
The Commonwealth Peoples Forum provides an opportunity to connect Sri Lanka with the global conversation currently taking place on the future of development and ways it can be made more inclusive.
In September 2013, the United Nations General Assembly will see the international community review the status of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and discuss the future shape of internationally agreed development goals post-MDGs in 2015.
We envisage the majority of delegates to the Commonwealth Peoples Forum as being from Sri Lanka and therefore the agenda will need to speak, in part atleast, to the Sri Lankan experience. We also see this as an opportunity to build the capacity of civil society organizations and enable them to be articulate their vision for the future of Sri Lankan development.
You mentioned the broad themes for the Commonwealth Peoples Forum as being development and inclusion. Would these subjects be explored from a Sri Lankan perspective, a Commonwealth perspective or international perspective?
Themes suggested by Sri Lankan civil society organizations for discussion at the Commonwealth Peoples Forum include reconciliation, reconstruction, inclusive and participatory governance for development, and women’s empowerment and gender equality. We will ofcouse be exploring these themes and others in a Commonwealth context. In practice, this will mean bringing experiences from other Commonwealth countries and experiences to Sri Lanka so that Sri Lankan colleagues can exchange and learn as well as share their own experiences with counterparts.
Important to mention is that the Commonwealth Peoples Forum will also feature what we call ‘learning journeys’ which will be opportunities for civil society organizations outside Colombo to showcase their work at the event. For example, civil society organizations in the North can exhibit its work in relation to reconciliation and reconstruction and those in the South can exhibit its work in relation to women’s economic empowerment.
Although the event will be based in Hikkaduwa on 11th, 12th and 13th November, provision has been made for these ‘learning journeys’ to take place on the 14th of November as a platform for mutual learning and exchange.
In the light of the United Nations review to be held September 2013, how significant do you envisage the Commonwealth Peoples Forum to be?
The Commonwealth Peoples Forum in 2013 provides one of the first opportunities for civil society across the Commonwealth to discuss the outcomes of the United Nations General Assembly meeting which will be held in September 2013. It will be one of the first opportunities where civil society across the Commonwealth are able to determine its own contribution to the design, implementation and monitoring of those goals.
The Commonwealth Foundation has taken soundings from civil society organization in 18 Commonwealth countries including Sri Lanka to gauge their aspirations for the future of development. The aim is to bring the conclusion of that work to share with civil society that will gather at the Commonwealth Peoples Forum.
Are there specific outputs envisaged from the Commonwealth Peoples Forum or are they expected to evolve organically?
We have a planned output in mind, namely, the Commonwealth Civil Society Position on post-2015 Development Architecture. We hope that this document will act as a resource for civil society organizations across the Commonwealth as they organize to participate in their own countries, regions and internationally.
Adopted and signed on 14 December 2012
We the people of Commonwealth, Recognising that in an era of changing economic circumstances and uncertainty, new trade and economic patterns, unprecedented threats to peace and security, and a surge in popular demands for democracy, human rights and broadened economic opportunities, the potential of and need for the Commonwealth – as a compelling force for good and as an effective network for co-operation and for promoting development – has never been greater,
Recalling that the Commonwealth is a voluntary association of independent and equal sovereign states, each responsible for its own policies, consulting and co-operating in the common interests of our peoples and in the promotion of international understanding and world peace, and influencing international society to the benefit of all through the pursuit of common principles and values,
Affirming that the special strength of the Commonwealth lies in the combination of our diversity and our shared inheritance in language, culture and the rule of law; and bound together by shared history and tradition; by respect for all states and peoples; by shared values and principles and by concern for the vulnerable,
Affirming that the Commonwealth way is to seek consensus through consultation and the sharing of experience, especially through practical co-operation, and further affirming that the Commonwealth is uniquely placed to serve as a model and as a catalyst for new forms of friendship and co-operation in the spirit of the Charter of the United Nations,
Affirming the role of the Commonwealth as a recognised intergovernmental champion of small states, advocating for their special needs; providing policy advice on political, economic and social development issues; and delivering technical assistance,
Welcoming the valuable contribution of the network of the many intergovernmental, parliamentary, professional and civil society bodies which support the Commonwealth and which subscribe and adhere to its values and principles,
Affirming the validity of and our commitment to the values and principles of the Commonwealth as defined and strengthened over the years including:
the Singapore Declaration of Commonwealth Principles, the Harare Commonwealth Declaration, the Langkawi Declaration on the Environment, the Millbrook Action Programme, the Latimer House Principles, the Aberdeen Agenda, the Trinidad and Tobago Affirmation of Commonwealth Values and Principles, the Munyonyo Statement on Respect and Understanding, the Lake Victoria Commonwealth Climate Change Action Plan, the Perth Declaration on Food Security Principles, and the Commonwealth Declaration on Investing in Young People,
Affirming our core Commonwealth principles of consensus and common action, mutual respect, inclusiveness, transparency, accountability, legitimacy, and responsiveness,
Reaffirming the core values and principles of the Commonwealth as declared by this Charter
CLAUSE XV1: ROLE OF CIVIL SOCIETY
We recognise the important role that civil society plays in our communities and countries as partners in promoting and supporting Commonwealth values and principles, including the freedom of association and peaceful assembly, and in achieving development goals.
We are committed to ensuring that the Commonwealth is an effective association, responsive to members’ needs, and capable of addressing the significant global challenges of the future.
We aspire to a Commonwealth that is a strong and respected voice in the world, speaking out on major issues; that strengthens and enlarges its networks; that has a global relevance and profile; and that is devoted to improving the lives of all peoples of the Commonwealth.