Commonwealth leaders have committed to stepping up the fight against violent extremism by countering the appeal of terrorist groups and their ability to radicalise and recruit new fighters.

At the end of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting yesterday, leaders called for “strong national, regional and international action and cooperation” to counter the threat, which they said was not associated with any one race or religion.

Such action would take the form of partnerships between governments and grassroots civil society organisations working in affected areas, as well as the sharing of prevention and justice strategies between states.

A dedicated Commonwealth counter-terrorism unit was set up and is expected to be strengthened in the coming months.

“The core of the Commonwealth approach is to concentrate on whittling down the demand by making youths unreceptive to destructive philosophies,” outgoing Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma said.

According to Mr Sharma, leaders gave a clear signal on practical solutions to tackle the social conditions responsible for grievances and alienation, particularly among women and young people.

“It is necessary to respect the depth of their multiple identities, not reduce them to a single identity and to offer strong counter-narratives through media and education,” he said.

Leaders from 53 Commonwealth countries returned home yesterday after two days of talks in which climate change featured high on the agenda ahead of a key summit in Paris this week.

Climate high on agenda ahead of Paris talks

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said during a closing press conference that the “convergence and near-unanimity” that had been achieved on the issue boosted chances of a deal being reached in the French capital.

Commonwealth calls for a binding agreement, however, suffered a blow after reports that France was ready to back down on the climate accord containing legally binding emissions reduction targets to appease the US.

Dr Muscat said that, while he preferred to wait for the final negotiations, it would be “delusional” to think a deal would be workable without the involvement of key players.

We go to Paris with the clear understanding that we need change to avert disaster

Ghanaian President John Mahama, however, said it would be “a big disappointment” if measurable, targeted, binding measures were not agreed upon.

“Scientists can debate whether climate change is a reality, but countries in the Pacific and the Caribbean cannot afford the luxury of that argument,” said Freundel Stuart, Prime Minister of Barbados.

“We go to Paris with the clear understanding that we need change to avert disaster.”

Meanwhile, Dr Muscat also welcomed the election of Baroness Patricia Scotland as the Commonwealth’s first female Secretary General, which he called a strong signal to countries where equality was still lacking.

“There can be no degrees of equality; race, gender and sexuality are all linked,” he said.

“I know there are a number of member countries that don’t share this view but, at least, we have started a very constructive discussion,” he said.

LGBT issues were conspicuously absent from the CHOGM agenda, even though consensual homosexual activity is still illegal in 40 Commonwealth countries, a point that has been made by the incoming Secretary General.

The subject was, however, raised for the first time in the People’s Forum.

The broader topic of human rights, a serious issue in many Commonwealth countries, was addressed only in vague terms in the leaders’ declaration, which urged members “to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms”.

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