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On 22 November 2015, PHROM co-hosted a side-event to the Commonwealth Heads of Governments Meeting (CHOGM), in conjunction with: Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, aditus foundation, CIVICUS, Integra Foundation, Jesuit Refugee Service and Malta LGBTIQ Rights Movement. The event was supported by the Open Society Justice Initiative.

The focus of the event was Goal 16 of the newly agreed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), “to promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies”, which for the first time commits all governments to conjoin justice and development. The meeting brought together civil society from all over the Commonwealth, and provided an overview of the SDGs, along with the opportunity to gain deeper understanding of Goal 16 and its relevance and importance to civil society and the Commonwealth.

The meeting also provided the opportunity to explore the possibility of collaborations and a potential coalition with the aim of creating a forum within which activities and practices could be shared, in order to ensure the Commonwealth plays a key role in achieving Goal 16.

The event aimed to communicate a strong message to the Commonwealth of the vital importance in engaging with civil society, as well as promoting and protecting it in order to achieve Goal 16. The event also served as a call for the Commonwealth to uphold the values of the Commonwealth Charter and to use the SDGs as an opportunity for the Commonwealth to be a leading voice internationally in peace, justice and equality.

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Dr. Neil Falzon (aditus foundation Director) opening the event.

The event was opened by Dr. Neil Falzon, Director of aditus foundation and Maja Daruwala, Director of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI). Dr. Falzon pointed out that whilst side-events provide many opportunities, civil society’s lack of representation and consequential lack of voice at official events is a continual concern. Dr. Falzon also highlighted the event as an opportunity for Malta to consider ways to become less Euro-centric in its approach and engage with the similarities in challenges faced by NGOs globally.

Discussing the relationship between civil society and the Commonwealth, Ms. Daruwala stressed the importance of civil society being able to present evidence to governments in support of arguments, and emphasised the goal of sending a strong message to the Commonwealth. Ms. Daruwala also pointed to the new Secretary General and Malta as Chair of the Commonwealth as a positive context within which to build value and leverage the thousands of Civil Society Organisations of the Commonwealth.

After this, four panel discussions ensued, consisting of experts from diverse human rights-related civil society organisations, from across the Commonwealth, along with extensive question and answer sessions. The session finished with an audience participation session, and a speech from the Maltese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Maria Camilleri.

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Maja Daruwala (CHRI).

The outcome of the event was a series of recommendations including how civil society in Malta and across the Commonwealth can work together to build a strong mobilised network focusing on Goal 16, and maintain dialogue with the Commonwealth to ensure it becomes the key organisation pushing for implementation of the SDGs.

The full Outcome Report of the event can be read here.