Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland has made her inaugural speech at the High Level Segment of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland.
She told delegates to the 34th Regular Session this evening that the Commonwealth was committed to working collaboratively on human rights with the United Nations.
"We in the Commonwealth value our partnership with Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Group of Friends of SIDS of which we are a member, to facilitate participation in the work of the Council by member states which do not have a permanent presence in Geneva, through the Commonwealth Small States Office," said the Secretary-General.
Secretary-General Scotland announced that Commonwealth Day on 13 March would be the start of a year long celebration of 'A Peace-building Commonwealth'.
She continued, "Our focus for the month of March will be on ending all forms of domestic violence, with a view to mitigating the far-reaching social and economic impact of violence which disproportionately affects women and girls. For unless there is peace in the home, there can never be peace in our communities.
"This focus expresses our Commonwealth priority which is to leave no one behind and accelerate progress on gender equality and the empowerment of women as part of our effort to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. We therefore, welcome the incorporation into this Council’s programme of an annual day of discussion on women’s human rights."
Every year about 15 million girls are married before they are 18, and around 60 per cent live in the Commonwealth.
"Last October, the OHCHR expert meeting on child marriage underscored the important role of parliamentarians as champions and advocates on the prevention and elimination of this practice," said the Secretary-General.
"We look forward to convening with OHCHR a discussion on child marriage to coincide with the presentation of the outcomes from the expert meeting at the Council’s 35th session."
Freedom of religion or belief were cornerstones of democratic societies, she told delegates and were important for the enjoyment of all human rights, fundamental to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
Secretary-General Scotland affirmed the continual strengthening of national human rights institutions and that it remained a strategic priority of the Commonwealth Secretariat. She also pledged to enhance the engagement between the Commonwealth and the UN Human Rights Council.
"We continue to support the work of the Commonwealth Forum of National Human Rights Institutions, which will hold its annual meeting next week in the margins of the Annual Conference of the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions.
"There is great scope for parliaments to contribute to the work of the Human Rights Council."
The Secretary-General concluded that the Commonwealth had made a substantive contribution to human rights, helping to establish and strengthen regional parliamentary networks and caucuses.