Small Navigation Menu

Primary Menu

Britain in the Commonwealth: the 1997 Edinburgh Summit Witness Seminar

Citation: Onslow, Sue and Kandiah, Michael (2018) Britain in the Commonwealth: the 1997 Edinburgh Summit Witness Seminar. Witness Seminar Programme . Institute of Commonwealth Studies, London.

1997 Edinburgh Summit Witness Seminar Publication (1).pdf

Creative Commons: Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0

The meeting in Edinburgh in 1997 was the last occasion on which Britain hosted the Commonwealth heads’ meeting, and the discussions covered a range of important issues for the future direction of the association which remain relevant and highly topical: the great step forward on trade, business and investment; the denouement of the Nigerian crisis and the willingness to impose sanctions; the return of Fiji and the presence of President Nelson Mandela; the elevation of HM the Queen into the summit itself; the start of a visible Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) presence; and discussion on possible new members. This is the third in a series of witness seminars organized by the Institute of Commonwealth Studies. The first focused on the formation and work of the Eminent Persons Group of 1986 and the outcome and impact of the EPG’s visit to apartheid South Africa. The second addressed the role and functions of the Commonwealth Secretariat since 1965 and was held on June 2013. This seminar is being organized in collaboration with King’s College, London. Since 1986, the ICBH Witness Seminar Programme has conducted nearly 100 witness seminars on a variety of subjects: most recently, the ICBH’s witness seminar series has examined the work of UK Embassies/High Commissions in Washington, Moscow, New Delhi, Pretoria and the Caribbean. These witness seminars have been well received by both practitioners, and the academic community who have increasingly come to see that it is important to examine and analyse the function of British overseas missions, as well as to capture the perspective of contemporary actors of recent events. The significance of history and the importance of gathering and utilizing oral history interviews have also been identified in the report of the Foreign Affairs Committee, The Role of the FCO in UK Government (published 29 April 2011). In oral evidence, Foreign Secretary William Hague stated: ‘history is vitally important in knowledge and practice of foreign policy’. He further stated, ‘One of the things that I have asked to be worked up is a better approach to how we use the alumni of the Foreign Office, [and]… continue to connect them more systematically to the Foreign Office.’ He went on to say: ‘these people who are really at the peak of their knowledge of the world, with immense diplomatic experience, then walk out of the door, never to be seen again in the Foreign Office.’ In terms of the Commonwealth, the Institute of Commonwealth Studies’ extensive collection of interviews with leading Commonwealth figures in the modern Commonwealth, contains a number of important interviews of those who were involved in the 1997 Edinburgh summit. However, the role and insights of leading British figures and diplomats is absent and needs to be collected, particularly as British officials prepare again to host a Commonwealth summit, and the UK government moves into the Chair-in-Office role until the 2020 Malaysian summit. For these reasons it is important to gather the memories of those FCO alumni who worked on the preparatory arrangements for the 1997 Edinburgh meeting, together with the recollections of senior Commonwealth diplomats, over a period in which the UK’s relationship within the Commonwealth continued to evolve.

Creators: Onslow, Sue (0000-0003-0998-3632) and Kandiah, Michael (0000-0002-7037-4230) and
Subjects: History
Human Rights & Development Studies
Divisions: Institute of Commonwealth Studies
Collections: Commonwealth Oral History Project
  • 19 March 2018 (published)


View details