Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland today followed in the footsteps of WE Gladstone, Theodore Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and a long line of distinguished scientists, scholars and statesmen to deliver the Romanes Lecture at the University of Oxford.
The annual tradition, which dates back to 1892, is Oxford’s principal public lecture. From the podium, Secretary-General Scotland took the audience on a journey through the Commonwealth’s proud history, which includes spearheading international action against apartheid in South Africa and creating a global platform to address climate change.
These past achievements, she said, set the stage for the future: a set of innovative and effective initiatives to improve the lives of the Commonwealth’s 2.4 billion citizens.
Describing the Commonwealth as the “soul” of international relations, she urged members to take full advantage of their shared language and governance systems. She said: “It is up to all of us, Commonwealth citizens, governments and institutions of member states - in partnership with friends and neighbours in the wider international community - to understand its potential, to use it, and to make the most of its promise for a safer, more inclusive, and more sustainable future for all.”
Outlining her vision to deliver positive change in the 52-member intergovernmental organisation, she announced the launch of key initiatives such as a new unit to counter violent extremism and the Commonwealth Office of Criminal and Civil Justice Reform. She also laid out strategies to end violence against women, empower young people, tackle climate change, boost trade and prosperity, address corruption and encourage peace and security.
These issues, the Secretary-General stressed, contribute to the ‘five Ps’ of the Sustainable Development Goals - People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace and Partnerships. They will also become the overarching themes shaping Commonwealth support to its members. “By offering support to strengthen and stabilise national institutions, and by providing targeted and practical assistance to help all member states to reach the objectives they set themselves, the Commonwealth can be a steadying anchor in these turbulent times,” she said.
The inspiration for her vision, she added, is the Commonwealth Charter, which was adopted by Heads of Government in December 2012 and signed by the Queen in March 2013. Secretary-General Scotland pointed out that “the sixteen articles of the Charter – ranging from Democracy, through Tolerance, Respect and Understanding to Gender Equality and Young People - prefigure the seventeen goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”