I can’t say that I did extensive research on this, but I did review the Charter and asked a couple friends to chime in. It seems that there was general consensus amongst the group of us.
So, what does the Commonwealth mean to me?
Queen Elizabeth II – obviously! What else is there?
On a serious note, and apart from good ‘ole Queenie, the Commonwealth and its meaning to me has never really been something of much consideration – apart from CHOGM 2009 (held in Trinidad and Tobago) and the odd International Relations assignment/reference.
The Commonwealth, it seems, can easily be considered that twice removed, slightly stuffy Great Aunt that everyone sends a Christmas card to because, well, why not?
However, I am a firm believer in the Commonwealth and what it stands for. The mere fact that the Commonwealth represents the unity of several nations with a shared, direct or indirect, history – Queen Lizzie and her minions, represents something that I believe is ever so necessary. I have to agree that it may have begun as “a bad thing, but led to good”.
In the words of a friend, “Like any organization, the Commonwealth is an evolving thing, and though it does need work in several aspects, it's an integral part of the modern world”.
The Commonwealth, to me, represents collaboration between distant relatives, who recognise their shared history and roots, and have attempted to improve. In modern times, it forms the basis for country-country linkages at the diplomatic level, but more importantly at the 'grass-roots' level. A simple example is the Queen’s Young Leaders Programme, which connects young people of the Commonwealth, who collaborate to achieve much better things – correcting the wrongs of the past. We must appreciate the importance of such, more so than the very public diplomatic connections. It is the behind-the-scenes collaboration that encourages me to believe in the Commonwealth and what it can achieve.
Which of the Commonwealth values and principles do I hold as most important?
There’s no other choice for me – the Importance of Young People in the Commonwealth. This is because my work surrounds ensuring that young people are recognised as crucial - after all, we are the ones affected by the major decisions. The simple inclusion of young people as one of the 16 Core Values and Principles is a strong and progressive step in the right direction. Young people have a lot to offer (have a look at the QYLP) and are definitely capable of enacting change (again, have a look at the QYLP). We have a voice, and it is the inclusion in such policy that forms the foundation for positive outcomes.
It seems, however, that the goals and principles have played it safe in an attempt to appease the vastly different (but similar) Commonwealth nations – totally understandable. However, I think it’s high time we move away from such appeasing policies toward more action-based policies. A simple example is that fact that there is nothing LGBT+ related that is clearly stated. Yes, it may fall under “other grounds” of the Human Rights principle, but leaders need to be willing to state the problems that exist so that they can be addressed effectively. LGBT+ issues are rampant in the Commonwealth nations, and should have been stated clearly under Human Rights.
All in all, the Commonwealth acts a “positive unifying factor” for the nations involved. It offers a positive platform for collaboration. For Trinidad and Tobago the Commonwealth has seemed to facilitate, however limited, a push toward including and sustaining several aspects of the Charter.
There seems to be the need for further use of the Commonwealth as a platform or tool to facilitate more impactful discussions on issues such as human rights. Also, greater emphasis may need to be placed on ensuring that member states are held accountable for the actions they take after signing the Charter. What are the penalties? How Is the Charter properly enforced?
But, there’s lots of hope when we consider the passion of the young people around the Commonwealth. The important part is that they be given the opportunity to improve an entity that has facilitated interesting work.
Disclaimer: Written light-heartedly. No disrespect meant. Blame it on the monkeys.