Ministers and attorneys-general from more than 30 Commonwealth countries are in Gaborone, Botswana, for the start of the 2014 Commonwealth Law Ministers Meeting. The meeting is taking place under the theme: 'Consolidating the Rule of Law and Human Rights in the Commonwealth'.
A shared legal tradition among Commonwealth countries makes this triennial event unique in the legal calendar. Countries from five continents are represented, and topics being discussed include cybercrime, international co-operation in criminal matters and the rule of law in the post-2015 development agenda.
Opening the conference, Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma said it was good to see the Commonwealth Law Ministers Meeting back in Africa, nearly ten years after Ghana hosted it in 2005. The United Kingdom followed in 2008 and Australia in 2011.
Mr Sharma said the wide geographical range of countries showed the global reach and rich diversity of the association. He said: "The Commonwealth indeed has no centre and no periphery. Where it meets is its heart. That heart beats strongest in Botswana tonight."
"We can rightly feel a sense of achievement when we reflect on the innovative work and co-operation between our member states on so many crucial aspects of justice, jurisprudence, and the rule of law - and above all on the separation of powers, which is central to our Commonwealth understanding of how democracy, development and respect for diversity are protected and advanced."
In his keynote address, Vice President Ponatshego Kedikilwe of Botswana expressed gratitude for the technical assistance his country had received from the Commonwealth Secretariat for the development of sentencing policy. He said: "The project is now in its second phase and is progressing well. The project also looks at the appropriateness of alternative sentencing for particular categories of offenders such as gender, mental health and youth."
Earlier, Minister of Defence, Justice and Security Dikgakgamatso Ndelu Seretse welcomed delegates to the meeting, saying: "In a world where religion, social and economic development, as well as political ideologies are being defined, the responsibility and responsiveness of governments to the needs of their citizens, is now, more than ever, measured against their ability to assume obligations and duties under international law to respect, to protect and to deliver on human rights."
Senior officials of law ministries from the Commonwealth began their deliberations on Monday, 5 May. Their role is to advise ministers about the substantive issues under discussion at the three-day meeting.
On Sunday, Legal Aid Botswana and the Attorney-General's Chambers hosted a side event to explore a proposal to establish an international dispute resolution centre in Botswana's capital.