CHOGM potential not quite reached

CHOGM has come and CHOGM has gone with much talk about the lack of any tangible results that warrant the expense of bringing 53 of the world’s leaders together, especially in the area of human rights. However, the impact of campaigning by thousands of Oxfam and Make Poverty History supporters did pay off on the host country Australia who came forward with three initiatives on polio, food security and on moving forward with the Doha round.

I attended the Commonwealth People’s Forum and the buzz word for CHOGM was ‘potential,’ usually prefixed with the word ‘great’ or ‘unreached’. An example of this is the CHOGM Eminent Persons Group working to get support for a CHOGM Human Rights watchdog – a terrific idea that was unfortunately watered down to become a series of ministerial meetings.

CHOGM was, however, a great rallying point for Make Poverty History and Oxfam who kept the issues alive with the public and in the media. Thousands of supporters were involved in a variety of actions from flash-mobs, juggling acts, forums, dinners and training workshops to stalls, press conferences, concerts, speaking events, and even the unveiling a statue representing the Millennium Development Goals.

I was involved in organising MPH stalls to get the public to sign the MPH/GCAP letter to the CHOGM leaders supporting action on the MDGs, particularly those relating to health. As the MPH delegate at the CHOGM people’s forum I met with activist from 53 other countries and chaired a workshop on International Trade and Finance. Then switching to my Oxfam hat I organised a climate change action (together with the Australian Youth Climate Coalition) that involved the en mass reading of a letter asking CHOGM leaders calling for action on climate change and spelling out the message in giant letters. Earlier in the week I was also lucky enough to meet Greg Combet and present him with the letter.

While there were no big wins from CHOGM as a group, the effect of campaigning was not wasted on the Australian Government who used CHOGM as a backdrop for three major announcements that were very welcome. This first was an extra $50million funding to eradicate polio ,the second, an initiative to create a Food Security Centre and the third was an announcement to take development issues forward to the G20, where Julia Gillard raised some well received ideas on rekindling the Doha round.

There was such great energy at CHOGM and being the host country it certainly refocused Australia’s efforts on development who have a high regard for the meeting. Kevin Rudd said CHOGM is a place where world leaders build resolve on global issues such as climate change which come to fruition at other global meetings such as UNFCCC where he said CHOGM countries played an important role in pushing for a Global Climate Fund.

However, outwardly CHOGM still appears to be very much a work in progress. Until CHOGM embraces progress in the area of human rights and meaningful engagement with civil society it will continue to be considered something of a lame duck in the world of international meetings.

The next CHOGM has ‘Women as agents of change’ as its theme. With 2 billion people across 6 continents represented within CHOGM, let us hope that this time it lives up to its great potential, not just behind-the scenes, but fulfilling its potential as a global champion of development and human rights issues.