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The Academy
What We Do

Our Thematic Approach

The nature of the CPA's approach is guided by a number of cross-cutting themes. Based on existing work but also in line with its updated Strategic Plan 2022-2025, the CPA will pursue its work in the following fields:

Sustainable Development

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) remain critical for parliaments and as sovereign institutions they are critical for achieving the SDGs. The CPA, alongside international organisations, like UNDP remain passionately committed to supporting Commonwealth parliaments in achieving the 2030 Global Goals whilst driving SDG16 to ensure parliaments are responsive, stable, participatory and inclusive across all core functions. These commitments are reflected across all CPA programmes and activities. Most notably the CPA Benchmarks for Democratic Legislatures. See more on our Institutional Strengthening work here. 

In recent years, a strong focus of our work has been on supporting small jurisdictions on sustainable economic development. In early 2019, the CPA Small Branches delivered a Workshop on Sustainable Economic Development in partnership with the Parliament of Malta. Structured as a committee inquiry, parliamentarians in attendance determined that parliamentarians needed to remain committed and at the forefront of developments. Read the concluding report here. The CPA will continue to support small legislatures in delivering these recommendations in the coming years. 

COVID-19 & Building Back Better

The outbreak of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) has had an unprecedented global impact. Its spread has plunged countries across the world into a state of emergency. As of January 2021, 1.9 million people have died across the world with almost 90 million people being infected. Beyond the devastatingly high death-toll, the pandemic has resulted in a major global economic downturn, burdensome restrictions on international and domestic travel, high levels of unemployment and the suspension of many national public services, from the closure of schools to suspending types of healthcare.

The need for people, behaviours, rules and institutions to rapidly adapt has been essential. Commonwealth parliaments and parliamentarians have had to grapple with many different issues both to implement emergency health measures whilst at the same time looking at new ways to conduct debates, scrutinise and pass legislation, hold parliamentary committees and question the actions of their governments. Many have succeeded, but some still struggle to function effectively.

At the dawn of 2021, there is optimism in the air. In a number of countries new vaccines have been developed and introduced to their populations. The hope is that some form of normality will return. However attention now needs to be drawn towards post-COVID recovery, and in a parliamentary context, a return to old ways of working. But is that enough?

Over the course of 2021 the CPA, alongside partner organisations will continue to look closely at what parliaments and parliamentarians across the Commonwealth should do now. Should virtual and hybrid parliaments cease? Should greater institutional efforts be made to mitigate future risks to pandemics? Should committees be established to focus on economic recovery and to investigate COVID-19 failures by the executive? Should laws which were introduced to tackle the spread of COVID-19 finally be repealed? And what steps should parliaments take to ensure longer and broader challenges are not further undermined by COVID-19, from climate change to meeting the SDGs?

Originally published in April 2020, the CPA will update its landmark CPA Toolkit for Commonwealth Parliaments and Legislatures on the COVID-19 Pandemic and Delivering Parliamentary Democracy in 2021 to incorporate the post-COVID period and overcoming the challenges considered above. The CPA will also deliver a number of regional webinars with Commonwealth parliamentarians and international experts to feed into this updated publication.

Human Rights

A commitment to human rights is a core principle of the Commonwealth. Its importance is made clear in the Commonwealth Charter and other Declarations, such as the 1991 Harare Declaration and the 1971 Singapore Declaration of Commonwealth Principles, which were agreed by Commonwealth member states. In addition, there are numerous international and regional human rights principles, commitments and protocols that the majority of CPA Branches have pledged their commitment to, for example the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

In recent years, there have been important initiatives seeking to strengthen the work of parliamentarians in the promotion and protection of human rights both within the Commonwealth and in the wider international community. The Preamble to the CPA Constitution highlights our shared commitment to working together “irrespective of gender, race, religion or culture” and to have “respect for the rule of law and individual rights and freedoms”.

Between 2014 and 2016, the CPA and the Commonwealth Secretariat held a series of seminars on “The Role of Parliamentarians in the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights” which resulted in three regional declarations – the Mahé Declaration (Africa), the Pipitea Declaration (Australia and Pacific) and the Kotte Declaration (Asia). The implementation of these three Declarations provides a powerful foundation upon which we can build upon at a Branch level, a Regional level and Globally. Most recently, in 2018 the CPA, alongside the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Universal Rights Group, supported the publication of “The Global Human Rights Implementation Agenda: the role of National Parliaments”. This document recognised the crucial role of parliamentarians in helping to design national legal frameworks and international instruments that enable human rights to be promoted and protected. It is important that the CPA’s work on human rights is taken forward with support from all nine Regions and that we take the opportunity to learn from examples of best practice including the work of Parliamentary Committees and cross-party groups on human rights in many Commonwealth jurisdictions.

Climate Change & Biodiversity

The contemporary challenge from climate change is a global concern, its impact touches every nation on earth. Despite contributing least to global greenhouse gas emissions, it is however, the small states and territories of the Commonwealth and beyond who will suffer disproportionately from its effects. In continuation of its long history engaging with small Legislatures, the CPA, through its CPA Small Branches network, has supported and empowered small states and territories, and their parliamentarians, to tackle the significant issues which face them, including climate change.

Although combatting climate change requires the support of the international community, the CPA believes that small states and their Parliamentarians can play, and have played, a crucial role in tackling this challenge. In February 2020, the CPA Small Branches developed a Climate Change Toolkit for Parliamentarians. Download a copy here. 

The development of the toolkit began in 2018, when Commonwealth Parliamentarians from eight CPA Branches representing five CPA Regions met for the CPA Small Branches Climate Change Workshop at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Nairobi, Kenya. Parliamentarians engaged with top-tier experts from the United Nations and formulated policy recommendations for legislators across the Commonwealth. Given the recent momentum that the climate change agenda has gained globally, the former Chairperson of the CPA Small Branches Network, Hon. Angelo Farrugia, Speaker of the Parliament of Malta, suggested the creation of an up-to-date, practical guide for legislators featuring the latest climate science, and with practical guidance for small state Parliamentarians embarking upon effective climate change action. The toolkit was also helped by contributions from CPA Small Branch Parliamentarians at the climate change workshop session during the 37th CPA Small Branches Conference, held in September 2019, in Kampala, Uganda.

As part of its new Strategic Plan, climate change and biodiversity will remain at the forefront of its work in coming years. We will pursue this in partnership with others working in this important sphere including UNDP, UNEP, UNFCCC, UNESCO, IRENA, Climate Parliament, Parliamentarians for Global Action and many more.

In utilising such partnerships, in August 2020, the CPA in collaboration with UNESCO’s Small Islands and Indigenous Knowledge Section convened to online webinars to highlight the role of legislators and decision-makers in Small Island Developing States (SIDS) on biodiversity and the Sustainable Development Agenda. The webinars aimed to build the knowledge of Commonwealth Parliamentarians and policy makers in small jurisdictions and to highlight the multilateral agreements and global instruments within UNESCO’s mandate of education, natural sciences, social and human sciences, culture, communication and information.

Videos of the two webinars are available below.

In mainstreaming these issues, the CPA will also step up our efforts to ensure our operations are more environmentally sustainable. This will include an increased use of virtual meetings where possible to reduce air travel, a reduction in the number of physical publications and printed materials and a reinforcement of our paperless policy for governance meetings.

International Humanitarian Law

Parliamentarians play a significant role in working with the Executive and others to promote International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and to ensure its effective implementation. This requires Parliamentarians and parliamentary staff to be well-informed. This handbook has been specifically designed by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) and the British Red Cross to help achieve this goal, taking into account the specific legal traditions and practices, and values, of Commonwealth countries.

The CPA, founded in 1911, is one of the oldest established organisations in the Commonwealth. It brings together Members, regardless of gender, race, religion or culture, who are united by a community of interest, respect for the rule of law and individual rights and freedoms, and by the pursuit of the positive ideals of parliamentary democracy. It brings Parliamentarians and parliamentary staff together to exchange ideas among themselves and with experts in various fields, to identify benchmarks of good practices and new policy options they can adopt or adapt in the governance of their societies.

The history of IHL is intertwined with the history of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. It is a statutory responsibility of all National Red Cross and National Red Crescent Societies – as neutral humanitarian auxiliaries to their respective governments – to help disseminate knowledge of IHL and to ensure respect for its provisions. Since its establishment in 1870, the British Red Cross has worked in this capacity to support the British Government in matters related to IHL. Additionally, the British Red Cross works in partnership with other organisations, such as the CPA and the Commonwealth Secretariat, to promote IHL in other fora.

In modern armed conflicts, IHL is invoked by a number of different actors, including politicians, UN organs, NGOs, domestic and international media outlets, and, of course the combatants themselves. Especially in our fractured media environment, it can be difficult to find resources related to the rules of war that offer a comprehensive, understandable and objective assessment of where the law stands today.

We hope that you will find the information contained in this handbook useful to your important work as Parliamentarians and parliamentary staff.

To access the International Humanitarian Law Handbook for Commonwealth Parliamentarians please click here.

Technology and Innovation

We will address the digital divide within our membership and the wider Commonwealth through additional support and technical assistance programmes where appropriate. We will also look to increase the IT awareness, training and resources available for CPA members and staff to grow digital capacity and ensure we are all agile and flexible when faced with new challenges.

As part of the CPA's 110th Anniversary in 2021, the CPA will be organising a Virtual Conference on the 4th Industrial Revolution. The Conference will be held between the 5 and 9 July 2021. This Conference will imagine how the Commonwealth and parliaments will change and evolve over time. How will the '4th Industrial Revolution' impact upon the lives of current and future generations within and across the Commonwealth and importantly, how will parliamentarians and parliaments stay ahead of the curve? In the short-term, will technological advancement prove as viable solutions to current challenges, from ending global poverty, climate change and meeting the SDGs, to preventing future global pandemics.

If anything, the COVID-19 global pandemic has highlighted the need for those in power to play closer attention to scientists, researchers, statisticians and innovators. The Conference will also encourage and advocate for parliaments to embrace innovation and change rather than being limited to acting as bastions of tradition and history. Parliaments will need to legislate, regulate and scrutinise complex and advance technical changes in years to come, from the use of bioengineering to artificial intelligence as well as ensure greater access to science and technology specialists. This project will help parliamentarians increase their understanding of the issues and how they can ensure they are exploited in a safe, beneficial and coordinated way.

Gender, Equality and Diversity
Youth

The CPA continue to prioritise the role and interests of young people within its work and operations. We will uphold and promote youth participation in politics and will support young Parliamentarians in their new roles through, amongst other mechanisms, encouraging their participation in Post-Election Seminars, enrolling in the CPA Parliamentary Academy and creating mentoring opportunities with CPA alumni.

Beyond our core membership, we pay particular attention to engaging and educating young people on democracy and the role of Parliament. We will build upon the successful Commonwealth Youth Parliaments (CYP) of recent years and look to maximise the impact and reach of the future CYPs, virtual and physical, to encourage youth involvement in political processes and in turn embed the voices of younger generations within the work of the CPA.

We will increase our focus on the citizenship and awareness raising work we undertake with schools and pupils across the Commonwealth by bolstering the CPA Roadshow programme and strengthening the informative and educational resources we create for young people, particularly around key events such as Commonwealth Day and International Day of Democracy.

Within the CPA Secretariat, we will continue to explore the possibility of an internship programme to allow for greater opportunities for young people to work within a Commonwealth setting and gain the skills and experience necessary for more substantive future roles.

We will also look to expand upon potential partnerships with the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Association of Commonwealth Universities and others in empowering young people in leadership and increasing the capacity of Parliaments to respond to their needs and priorities.

For more information, head to our Youth Engagement section.