Perth, Australia (PANA) - The three-day Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) kicks off on Friday in Perth, Australia, with the issues of food security, climate change, establishment of an independent Commission to monitor human rights and reforms taking the front burner.
The Commonwealth of Nations is a voluntary association of 54 independent sovereign states headed by with British monarch Queen Elizabeth II.
Members states of the Commonwealth include 19 from Africa, three from Europe, twelve in North America, one in South America, eight in Asia, and eleven in Oceania (including one suspended member, Fiji).
The members have a combined population of 2.1 billion people (almost a third of the world population) with 1.17 billion of the population domiciled in India.
President Goodluck Jonathan, along with other leaders of the Commonwealth, is already in Perth, Australia, ahead of the meeting, to be declared open by the Queen.
Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, who addressed journalists ahead of the formal opening ceremony, said the summit would also discuss the promotion of effective natural resource management through greater transparency and through better governments.
It is also to discuss the measures needed to eradicate diseases such as polio and HIV and to address other prevalent diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis.
Kudd, who addressed journalists along with the Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma, said the “discussions in Perth would focus on some of the most serious challenges facing individual Commonwealth nations as well.
''I've referred already to food security; I've referred to climate change. I've referred also to sustainable economic growth. However, the challenges of health and therefore the threat which communicable diseases and non-communicable diseases represent to the peoples of the Commonwealth will be at the forefront of our agenda as well, together with the challenges of education.
Critics have labelled the 62-year-old Commonwealth “an anachronistic relic of the British Empire.”
But Sharma rejected the label of of a decaying relic, insisting that the body is reinventing itself by placing greater emphasis on the economic opportunities it offers members.
Sharma, who stated that the Commonwealth has “a proven track record of positive achievements”, noted that it was one of the first organisations to raise concerns about developing world debt.
“Seven of the top eight nations on international good governance indexes were from the Commonwealth. This cannot be by accident, it is a result of the sedimentation of the culture of democracy over time, which Commonwealth members have been able to generate. I'm convinced this is going to be a landmark CHOGM in respect of what it puts in place on reform, renewal and resilience," he said.
Meanwhile, controversy has erupted over the host of the 2013 CHOGM, scheduled to be held in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
Amnesty International chief Salil Shetty Thursday criticised the Commonwealth nations for allowing Sri Lanka to have hosting rights, with the allegations of war crimes against it still unresolved.
Human rights groups said they have new evidence showing Sri Lankan troops committed war crimes during its fight against ethnic Tamil separatists in 2009.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has threatened to boycott the next meeting in Sri Lanka in 2013 over human rights problems.
-0- PANA MON/SEG 27Oct2011