Origins of the concept and establishment of the term, in her address to Canada on in 1959, pointed out that the Confederation of Canada on 1 July 1867 had been the birth of the "first independent country within the British Empire". She declared: "So, it also marks the beginning of that free association of independent states which is now known as the Commonwealth of Nations." As long ago as 1884 , while visiting Australia, had described the changing British Empire, as some of its colonies became more independent, as a "Commonwealth of Nations". Conferences of British and colonial prime ministers occurred periodically from the first one in 1887, leading to the creation of the s in 1911. The Commonwealth developed from the imperial conferences. A specific proposal was presented by in 1917 when he coined the term "the British Commonwealth of Nations" and envisioned the "future constitutional relations and readjustments in essence" at the , attended by delegates from the Dominions as well as Britain. The term first received imperial statutory recognition in the of 1921, when the term ''British Commonwealth of Nations'' was substituted for ''British Empire'' in the wording of the oath taken by members of parliament of the Irish Free State.
Adoption and formalisation of the CommonwealthIn the at the 1926 Imperial Conference, Britain and its dominions agreed they were "equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by common allegiance to the Crown, and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations". The term " " was officially adopted to describe the community. These aspects to the relationship were formalised by the Statute of Westminster in 1931, which applied to Canada without the need for ratification, but Australia, New Zealand, and had to ratify the statute for it to take effect. Newfoundland never did, as on 16 February 1934, with the consent of its parliament, the government of Newfoundland voluntarily ended and governance reverted to direct control from London. Newfoundland later joined Canada as its tenth province in 1949. Australia and New Zealand ratified the Statute in and 1947 respectively. Although the Union of South Africa was not among the Dominions that needed to adopt the Statute of Westminster for it to take effect, two laws—the Status of the Union Act, 1934, and the Royal Executive Functions and Seals Act of 1934—were passed to confirm South Africa's status as a sovereign state.
Decolonisation and self-governanceAfter the ended, the British Empire was gradually dismantled. Most of its components have become independent countries, whether s or republics, and members of the Commonwealth. There remain the 14 mainly self-governing which retain some political association with the United Kingdom. In April 1949, following the , the word "British" was dropped from the title of the Commonwealth to reflect its changing nature. (also known as ) and (now part of the ) are the only states that were British colonies at the time of the war not to have joined the Commonwealth upon independence. Former British s and mandates that did not become members of the Commonwealth are Egypt (independent in 1922), Iraq (1932), (1946), (part of which became the state of Israel in 1948), (1956), (which united with the former in 1960 to form the ), (1961), (1971), (1971), (1971), and the (1971).
Declining rolesThe postwar Commonwealth was given a fresh mission by Queen Elizabeth II in her Christmas Day 1953 broadcast, in which she envisioned the Commonwealth as "an entirely new conception – built on the highest qualities of the Spirit of Man: friendship, loyalty, and the desire for freedom and peace". Hoped-for success was reinforced by such achievements as climbing Mount Everest in 1953, in 1954, and a solo circumnavigation of the globe in 1966. However, the humiliation of the of 1956 badly hurt the morale of Britain and of the Commonwealth as a whole. More broadly, there was the loss of a central role of the British Empire: the defence of the Empire. That role was no longer militarily or financially feasible, as Britain's withdrawal from Greece in 1947 had painfully demonstrated. Britain itself was now just one part of the military alliance, in which the Commonwealth had no role apart from Canada. The ANZUS treaty of 1955 linked Australia, New Zealand, and the in a defensive alliance, with Britain and the Commonwealth left out. The second major function of the Empire made London the financial centre of the system. After the Second World War, the British treasury was so weak that it could not operate independently of the United States. The loss of defence and financial roles, furthermore, undermined early 20th-century vision of a world empire that could combine Imperial preference, mutual defence, and social growth. In addition, Britain's cosmopolitan role in world affairs became increasingly limited, especially with the losses of India and Singapore. While British politicians at first hoped that the Commonwealth would preserve and project British influence, they gradually lost their enthusiasm, argues . Early enthusiasm waned as British policies came under fire at Commonwealth meetings. Public opinion became troubled as immigration from non-white member states became large-scale.
RepublicsOn 18 April 1949, Ireland formally became a republic in accordance with the Irish ; in doing so, it also formally left the Commonwealth. While Ireland had not actively participated in the Commonwealth since the early 1930s, other dominions wished to become republics without losing Commonwealth ties. The issue came to a head in April 1949 at a Commonwealth prime ministers' meeting in London. Under the , India agreed that, when it became a republic in January 1950, it would remain in the Commonwealth and accept the British Sovereign as a "symbol of the free association of its independent member nations and as such the Head of the Commonwealth". Upon hearing this, King told the Indian politician : "So, I've become 'as such'". Other Commonwealth countries that have since become republics while members, such as , and , have remained members. The London Declaration is often seen as marking the beginning of the modern Commonwealth. Following India's precedent, other nations became republics, or with their own monarchs. While some countries retained the same monarch as the United Kingdom, their monarchies developed differently and soon became essentially independent of the British monarchy. The monarch is regarded as a separate in each realm, even though the same person is monarch of each realm.
New CommonwealthPlanners in the interwar period, like Lord Davies, who had also taken "a prominent part in building up the League of Nations Union" in the United Kingdom, in 1932 founded the New Commonwealth Society, of whose British section became the president. This new society was aimed at the creation of an international air force to be an arm of the , to allow nations to disarm and safeguard the peace. The term 'New Commonwealth' has been used in the UK (especially in the 1960s and 1970s) to refer to recently decolonised countries, predominantly non-white and developing. It was often used in debates about from these countries. Britain and the pre-1945 dominions became informally known as the Old Commonwealth, or more pointedly as the ' Commonwealth', in reference to the so-called 'White Dominions'.
Plan G and inviting Europe to joinAt a time when Germany and France, together with Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, were planning what later became the , and newly independent African countries were joining the Commonwealth, new ideas were floated to prevent Britain from becoming isolated in economic affairs. British trade with the Commonwealth was four times larger than its trade with Europe. In 1956 and 1957 the British government under Prime Minister considered a "Plan G" to create a European free trade zone while also protecting the favoured status of the Commonwealth. Britain also considered inviting Scandinavian and other European countries to join the Commonwealth, so that it would become a major economic common market. At the time of the in 1956, in the face of colonial unrest and international tensions, French prime minister proposed to British prime minister that their two countries be joined in a "union". When that proposal was turned down, Mollet suggested that France join the Commonwealth, possibly with "a common citizenship arrangement on the Irish basis". These ideas faded away with the end of the Suez Crisis.
Head of the CommonwealthUnder the formula of the , Queen is the , a title that is by law a part of Elizabeth's royal titles in each of the s, the 15 members of the Commonwealth that recognise her as their . When the monarch dies, the successor to the crown does not automatically become the new head of the Commonwealth. However, at their meeting in April 2018, Commonwealth leaders agreed that should succeed his mother as head. The position is symbolic, representing the free association of independent members, the majority of which (34) are , and five have monarchs of different s ( , , , , and ).
Commonwealth Heads of Government MeetingThe main decision-making forum of the organisation is the biennial (CHOGM), where Commonwealth , including (amongst others) prime ministers and presidents, assemble for several days to discuss matters of mutual interest. CHOGM is the successor to the Meetings of Commonwealth Prime Ministers and, earlier, the s and Colonial Conferences, dating back to 1887. There are also regular meetings of finance ministers, law ministers, health ministers, etc. Members in arrears, as special members before them, are not invited to send representatives to either ministerial meetings or CHOGMs. The head of government hosting the CHOGM is called the chair-in-office (CIO) and retains the position until the following CHOGM. Since the most recent CHOGM, in the United Kingdom in 2018, the chair-in-office has been the . The next (26th) CHOGM was to have been held in , Rwanda, in June 2020. Owing to the pandemic, it was rescheduled to be held there in the week of 21 June 2021; but, because the pandemic has continued, the meeting has been postponed indefinitely. When it takes place, it will be accompanied by meetings of a Commonwealth Youth Forum, a Commonwealth Women's Forum and a Commonwealth People's Forum.
Commonwealth SecretariatThe , established in 1965, is the main intergovernmental agency of the Commonwealth, facilitating consultation and co-operation among member governments and countries. It is responsible to member governments collectively. The Commonwealth of Nations is represented in the by the secretariat as an . The secretariat organises Commonwealth summits, meetings of ministers, consultative meetings and technical discussions; it assists policy development and provides policy advice, and facilitates multilateral communication among the member governments. It also provides technical assistance to help governments in the social and economic development of their countries and in support of the Commonwealth's fundamental political values.Cook and Paxton, ''Commonwealth Political Facts'' (1978) part 3. The secretariat is headed by the , who is elected by the for no more than two four-year terms. The secretary-general and two deputy secretaries-general direct the divisions of the Secretariat. The present secretary-general is , from , who took office on 1 April 2016, succeeding of India (2008–2016). The first secretary-general was Arnold Smith of Canada (1965–75), followed by Sir of (1975–90), Chief of (1990–99), and of New Zealand (2000–2008).
Commonwealth citizenship and high commissionersInitially, Commonwealth countries were not considered to be "foreign" to each other as their citizens were s and then s. Citizenship laws have evolved independently in each Commonwealth country. For example, in Australia, for the purpose of considering certain constitutional and legal provisions no distinction is made between Commonwealth and foreign countries: in the case of '' '', other Commonwealth countries (specifically, the United Kingdom) were held to be 'foreign powers'; similarly, in ''Nolan v Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs'', the nationals of other Commonwealth realms were held to be 'aliens'. Nevertheless, some members treat resident citizens of other Commonwealth countries preferentially to citizens of non-Commonwealth countries (see ). Britain and several others, mostly in the Caribbean, grant Right of foreigners to vote, the right to vote to Commonwealth citizens who reside in those countries. The closer association amongst Commonwealth countries is reflected in the diplomatic protocols of the Commonwealth countries. For example, when engaging bilaterally with one another, Commonwealth governments exchange High commissioner (Commonwealth), high commissioners instead of ambassadors. In non-Commonwealth countries in which their own country is not represented, Commonwealth citizens may seek consular assistance at the British embassy although it is for the embassy to decide, in its discretion, whether to provide any. Other alternatives can also occur such as an emergency consular services agreement between Canada and Australia that began in 1986.
CriteriaThe criteria for membership of the Commonwealth of Nations have developed over time from a series of separate documents. The Statute of Westminster 1931, as a fundamental founding document of the organisation, laid out that membership required dominionhood. The 1949 ended this, allowing republican and indigenous monarchic members on the condition that they recognised the British monarch as "Head of the Commonwealth". In the wake of the wave of in the 1960s, these constitutional principles were augmented by political, economic, and social principles. The first of these was set out in 1961, when it was decided that respect for racial equality would be a requirement for membership, leading directly to the withdrawal of South Africa's re-application (which they were required to make under the formula of the London Declaration upon becoming a republic). The 14 points of the 1971 Singapore Declaration dedicated all members to the principles of world peace, liberty, , egalitarianism, equality, and free trade. These criteria were unenforceable for two decades, until, in 1991, the Harare Declaration was issued, dedicating the leaders to applying the Singapore principles to the completion of decolonisation, the end of the Cold War, and the end of apartheid in South Africa. The mechanisms by which these principles would be applied were created, and the manner clarified, by the 1995 Millbrook Commonwealth Action Programme, which created the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), which has the power to rule on whether members meet the requirements for membership under the Harare Declaration. Also in 1995, an Inter-Governmental Group was created to finalise and codify the full requirements for membership. Upon reporting in 1997, as adopted under the Edinburgh Declaration, the Inter-Governmental Group ruled that any future members would have to have a direct constitutional link with an existing member. In addition to this new rule, the former rules were consolidated into a single document. These requirements are that members must accept and comply with the Harare Declaration, Harare principles, be fully sovereign states, recognise the monarch of the s as the head of the Commonwealth, accept the English language as the means of Commonwealth communication, and respect the wishes of the general population with regard to Commonwealth membership. These requirements had undergone review, and a report on potential amendments was presented by the Committee on Commonwealth Membership at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2007, 2007 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. New members were not admitted at this meeting, though applications for admission were considered at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2009, 2009 CHOGM. New members must "as a general rule" have a direct constitutional link to an existing member. In most cases, this is due to being a former colony of the United Kingdom, but some have links to other countries, either exclusively or more directly (e.g. Samoa to New Zealand, Papua New Guinea to Australia, and Namibia to South Africa). The first member to be admitted without having any constitutional link to the British Empire or a Commonwealth member was Mozambique in 1995 following its first democratic elections and South Africa's re-admission in 1994. Mozambique was a former Portuguese colony. Mozambique's controversial entry led to the Edinburgh Declaration and the current membership guidelines. In 2009, Rwanda became the second Commonwealth member admitted not to have any such constitutional links. It was a Belgian United Nations Trust Territories, trust territory that had been a German colony until World War I. Consideration for its admission was considered an "exceptional circumstance" by the . Rwanda was permitted to join despite the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) finding that "the state of governance and human rights in Rwanda does not satisfy Commonwealth standards”, and that it “does not therefore qualify for admission". CHRI commented that: "It does not make sense to admit a state that already does not satisfy Commonwealth standards. This would tarnish the reputation of the Commonwealth and confirm the opinion of many people and civic organisations that the leaders of its governments do not really care for democracy and human rights, and that its periodic, solemn declarations are merely hot air."
MembersThe Commonwealth comprises 54 countries, across all inhabited continents. The members have a combined population of 2.4 billion people, almost a third of the world population, of whom 1.4 billion live in India or 94% live in Asia and Africa combined. After India, the next-largest Commonwealth countries by population are Pakistan (227 million), (213 million), Bangladesh (167 million), and the United Kingdom (68 million). Tuvalu is the smallest member, with about 12,000 people. The land area of the Commonwealth nations is about , or about 21% of the total world land area. The two largest Commonwealth nations by area are Canada at and Australia at . The status of "Member in Arrears" is used to denote those that are in arrears in paying subscription dues. The status was originally known as "Special membership of the Commonwealth of Nations, special membership", but was renamed on the Committee on Commonwealth Membership's recommendation. There are currently no Members in Arrears. The most recent Member in Arrears, Nauru, returned to full membership in June 2011. Nauru has alternated between special and full membership since joining the Commonwealth, depending on its financial situation.
Economy of member countriesIn 2019, the Commonwealth members had a combined gross domestic product of over $9 trillion, 78% of which is accounted for by the four largest economies: United Kingdom ($3.124 trillion), India ($3.050 trillion), Canada ($1.652 trillion), and Australia ($1.379 trillion).
ApplicantsIn 1997 the Commonwealth Heads of Government agreed that, to become a member of the Commonwealth, an applicant country should, as a rule, have had a constitutional association with an existing Commonwealth member; that it should comply with Commonwealth values, principles and priorities as set out in the Harare Declaration; and that it should accept Commonwealth norms and conventions. South Sudanese politicians have expressed interest in joining the Commonwealth. A senior Commonwealth source stated in 2006 that "many people have assumed an interest from Israel, but there has been no formal approach". The State of Palestine is also a potential candidate for membership. President Yahya Jammeh unilaterally withdrew The Gambia from the Commonwealth in October 2013. However, 2016 Gambian presidential election, newly elected president Adama Barrow returned the country to the organisation in February 2018. Other eligible applicants could be any of the remaining inhabited
SuspensionMembers can be suspended "from the Councils of the Commonwealth" for "serious or persistent violations" of the Harare Declaration, particularly in abrogating their responsibility to have democratic government. Suspensions are agreed by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), which meets regularly to address potential breaches of the Harare Declaration. Suspended members are not represented at meetings of Commonwealth leaders and ministers, although they remain members of the organisation. was suspended between 11 November 1995 and 29 May 1999, following its execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa on the eve of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 1995, 1995 CHOGM. Pakistan was the second country to be suspended, on 18 October 1999, following the 1999 Pakistani coup d'état, military coup by Pervez Musharraf. The Commonwealth's longest suspension came to an end on 22 May 2004, when Pakistan's suspension was lifted following the restoration of Constitution of Pakistan, the country's constitution. Pakistan was suspended for a second time, far more briefly, for six months from 22 November 2007, when Musharraf 2007 Pakistani state of emergency, called a state of emergency. Zimbabwe was suspended in 2002 over concerns regarding the electoral and land reform policies of Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front, ZANU-PF government, before it withdrew from the organisation in 2003. On 15 May 2018, Zimbabwe applied to rejoin the Commonwealth. The declaration of a Republic in Fiji in 1987, after 1987 Fijian coups d'état, military coups designed to deny Indo-Fijians political power, was not accompanied by an application to remain. Commonwealth membership was held to have lapsed until 1997, after discriminatory provisions in the republican constitution were repealed and reapplication for membership made. Fiji has since been suspended twice, with the first imposed from 6 June 2000 to 20 December 2001 after 2000 Fijian coup d'état, another coup. Fiji was suspended yet again in December 2006, following 2006 Fijian coup d'état, the most recent coup. At first, the suspension applied only to membership on the Councils of the Commonwealth. After failing to meet a Commonwealth deadline for setting a date for national elections by 2010, Fiji was "fully suspended" on 1 September 2009. The secretary-general of the Commonwealth, , confirmed that full suspension meant that Fiji would be excluded from Commonwealth meetings, Commonwealth Games, sporting events and the technical assistance programme (with an exception for assistance in re-establishing democracy). Sharma stated that Fiji would remain a member of the Commonwealth during its suspension, but would be excluded from emblematic representation by the secretariat. On 19 March 2014 Fiji's full suspension was amended to a suspension from councils of the Commonwealth by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, permitting Fiji to join a number of Commonwealth activities, including the Commonwealth Games. Fiji's suspension was lifted in September 2014. The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group fully reinstated Fiji as a member following 2014 Fijian general election, elections in September 2014. Most recently, during 2013 and 2014, international pressure mounted to suspend Sri Lanka from the Commonwealth, citing grave human rights violations by the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. There were also calls to change the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2013 from Sri Lanka to another member country. Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper threatened to boycott the event, but was instead represented at the meeting by Deepak Obhrai. UK Prime Minister David Cameron also chose to attend. These concerns were rendered moot by 2015 Sri Lankan presidential election, the election of opposition leader Maithripala Sirisena as president in 2015.
TerminationAs membership is purely voluntary, member governments can choose at any time to leave the Commonwealth. Pakistan left on 30 January 1972 in protest at the Commonwealth's recognition of breakaway Bangladesh, but rejoined on 2 August 1989. Zimbabwe's membership was suspended in 2002 on the grounds of Human rights in Zimbabwe, alleged human rights violations and deliberate misgovernment, and Zimbabwe's government terminated its membership in 2003. The Gambia left the Commonwealth on 3 October 2013, and rejoined on 8 February 2018. The Maldives withdrew from the Commonwealth on 13 October 2016. The Minister of Foreign Affairs (Maldives), Maldivian Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that "the Commonwealth has not recognised [...] the progress and achievements that the Maldives accomplished in cultivating a culture of democracy in the country and in building and strengthening democratic institutions". The Ministry also cited the Commonwealth's "punitive actions against the Maldives since 2012" after the allegedly forced resignation of Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed among the reasons for withdrawal. The Ministry characterized the decision to withdraw as "difficult, but inevitable". Following the election of Ibrahim Mohamed Solih as president in November 2018, the Maldives announced its intention to reapply to join the Commonwealth. They rejoined on 1 February 2020. Although heads of government have the power to suspend member states from active participation, the Commonwealth has no provision for the expulsion of members. Until 1948, there was a consensus among the existing half-dozen Commonwealth members that s that became a republic would cease to be members but the situation changed in 1948 when newly independent India announced its intention to become a republic on 1 January 1950 although it wished to remain in the Commonwealth. This was granted. Now, the majority of the Commonwealth members, including all those from Africa, are republics or have their own native monarch. Ireland withdrew from participation in the Commonwealth in the 1930s, attending its last Commonwealth governmental heads' meeting in 1932. For some years Ireland considered itself to be a republic outside the Commonwealth but the Commonwealth considered Ireland to still be a Commonwealth member. Its treatment as a member ended on 18 April 1949 when Irish legislation that the Commonwealth chose to regard as having caused Ireland to become a republic became law. It is the only country whose membership terminated without any declaration withdrawing from the organisation. Instead, it was (with its own tacit support) excluded from the organisation. South Africa was barred from continuing as a member after it became a republic in 1961, due to hostility from many members, particularly those in Africa and Asia as well as Canada, to its policy of racial apartheid. The South African government withdrew its application to remain in the organisation as a republic when it became clear at the 1961 Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference that any such application would be rejected. South Africa was re-admitted to the Commonwealth in 1994, following its 1994 South African general election, first multiracial elections that year. The transfer of sovereignty over Hong Kong in 1997 ended the territory's status as a part of the Commonwealth through the United Kingdom. Non-sovereign states or regions are not permitted to become members of the Commonwealth. The government of the People's Republic of China has not pursued membership. Hong Kong has nevertheless continued to participate in some of the organisations of the #Commonwealth Family, Commonwealth family, such as the Commonwealth Lawyers Association (hosted the Commonwealth Lawyers Conference in 1983 and 2009), the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (and the Westminster Seminar on Parliamentary Practice and Procedures), the Association of Commonwealth Universities and the Commonwealth Association of Legislative Counsel, as well as the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC).
Objectives and activitiesThe Commonwealth's objectives were first outlined in the 1971 Singapore Declaration, which committed the Commonwealth to the institution of world peace; promotion of representative democracy and individual liberty; the pursuit of equality and opposition to racism; the fight against poverty, ignorance, and disease; and free trade. To these were added opposition to discrimination on the basis of gender by the Lusaka Declaration of 1979, and environmental sustainability by the Langkawi Declaration of 1989. These objectives were reinforced by the Harare Declaration in 1991. The Commonwealth's current highest-priority aims are on the promotion of democracy and development, as outlined in the 2003 Aso Rock, Aso Rock Declaration, which built on those in Singapore and Harare and clarified their terms of reference, stating, "We are committed to democracy, good governance, human rights, gender equality, and a more equitable sharing of the benefits of globalisation." The Commonwealth website lists its areas of work as: democracy, economics, education, gender, governance, human rights, law, small states, sport, sustainability, and youth. Through a separate voluntary fund, Commonwealth governments support the Commonwealth Youth Programme, a division of the Secretariat with offices in Gulu (Uganda), Lusaka (Zambia), Chandigarh (India), Georgetown, Guyana, Georgetown (Guyana) and Honiara (Solomon Islands).
CompetenceIn recent years, the Commonwealth has been accused of not being vocal enough on its core values. Allegations of a leaked memo from the Secretary General instructing staff not to speak out on human rights were published in October 2010. The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2011 considered a report by a Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group (EPG) panel which asserted that the organisation had lost its relevance and was decaying due to the lack of a mechanism to censure member countries when they violated human rights or democratic norms. The panel made 106 "urgent" recommendations including the adoption of a Charter of the Commonwealth, the creation of a new commissioner on the rule of law, democracy and human rights to track persistent human rights abuses and allegations of political repression by Commonwealth member states, recommendations for the repeal of LGBT rights by country or territory, laws against homosexuality in 41 Commonwealth states and a ban on forced marriage. The failure to release the report, or accept its recommendations for reforms in the area of human rights, democracy and the rule of law, was decried as a "disgrace" by former British Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind, a member of the EPG, who told a press conference: "The Commonwealth faces a very significant problem. It's not a problem of hostility or antagonism, it's more of a problem of indifference. Its purpose is being questioned, its relevance is being questioned and part of that is because its commitment to enforce the values for which it stands is becoming ambiguous in the eyes of many member states. The Commonwealth is not a private club of the governments or the secretariat. It belongs to the people of the Commonwealth." In the end, two-thirds of the EPG's 106 urgently recommended reforms were referred to study groups, an act described by one EPG member as having them "kicked into the long grass". There was no agreement to create the recommended position of human rights commissioner, instead a ministerial management group was empowered with enforcement: the group includes alleged human rights offenders. It was agreed to develop a charter of values for the Commonwealth without any decision on how compliance with its principles would be enforced. The result of the effort was that a new Charter of the Commonwealth was signed by Queen Elizabeth on 11 March 2013 at Marlborough House, which opposes "all forms of discrimination, whether rooted in gender, race, colour, creed, political belief or other grounds".
Economic data by member
PostwarDuring the Second World War, the Commonwealth played a major role in helping British finances. Foreign exchange reserves were pooled in London, to be used to fight the war. In effect Britain procured £2.3 billion, of which £1.3 billion was from India. The debt was held in the form of British government securities and became known as "sterling balances". By 1950, India, Pakistan and Ceylon had spent much of their sterling, while other countries accumulated more. The sterling area that included all of the Commonwealth except for Canada, together with some smaller countries especially in the Persian Gulf. They held their foreign-exchange in sterling, protecting that currency from runs, and facilitating trade and investment inside the Commonwealth. It was a formal relationship with fixed exchange rates, and periodic meetings at Commonwealth summits to coordinate trade policy, and domestic economic policies. Britain ran a trade surplus, and the other countries were mostly producers of raw materials sold to Britain. However the commercial rationale was gradually less attractive to the Commonwealth. Access to the growing London capital market, however, remained an important advantage to the newly independent nations. As Britain moved increasingly close to Europe, however, the long-term ties began to be in doubt.
UK joins the European Economic CommunityBy 1961, with a sluggish economy, Britain repeatedly tried to join the European Economic Community, but this was repeatedly vetoed by Charles de Gaulle. After his death, Accession of the United Kingdom to the European Communities, entry was finally achieved in 1973. Queen Elizabeth was one of the few remaining links between the UK and the Commonwealth. She tried to reassure the other countries that the Commonwealth family was joining forces with the Europeans, and that the new links would not replace the old Commonwealth ties based on historical attachments, which were too sacred to break. Historian Ben Pimlott argues that she was mistaken, for joining Europe "constituted the most decisive step yet in the progress of severance of familial ties between Britain and its former Empire....It reduced the remaining links to sentimental and cultural ones, and legal niceties." The newly independent countries of Africa and Asia concentrated on their own internal political and economic development, and sometimes their role in the Cold War. The United States, international agencies, and the Soviet Union became important players, and the British role receded. Indeed, the British considered the newly independent countries burdensome and were themselves alienated from traditional imperialism. Many former colonies saw Britain as a declining loner and preferred a prosperous Britain linked to a prosperous Europe. The dominions saw their historic ties with Britain were rapidly fraying. The Canadian economy increasingly focused on trade with the United States, and had less to do with Britain or other Commonwealth nations. Internal Canadian disputes revolved around the growing American cultural economic presence, and the strong force of Quebec nationalism. In 1964 the Flag of Canada, Maple Leaf flag replaced the Canadian Ensign to the Great Canadian Flag Debate, sorrow of many Anglophiles—it was "the last gasp of empire". Australia and New Zealand were in deep shock but kept a low profile not wanting to alienate London. Nevertheless, the implications of British entry into Europe: :seemed shattering to most Australians, particularly to older people and conservatives. In fact the United Kingdom, as Australia's chief trading partner, was being very rapidly replaced just at this time by the United States and an economically resurgent Japan, but most people were scarcely aware of this.... It was feared that British entry into the Common Market was bound to mean abolition, or at least scaling down, of preferential tariff arrangements for Australians goods.
TradeAlthough the Commonwealth does not have a multilateral trade agreement, research by the Royal Commonwealth Society has shown that trade with another Commonwealth member is up to 50% more than with a non-member on average, with smaller and less wealthy states having a higher propensity to trade within the Commonwealth. At the 2005 Summit in Malta, the heads of government endorsed pursuing free trade among Commonwealth members on a bilateral basis. Following its vote in June 2016 to leave the EU, some politicians in the United Kingdom have suggested the idea as an alternative to its Member state of the European Union, membership in the , however it is far from clear that this would either offer sufficient economic benefit to replace the impact of leaving the EU or be acceptable to other member states Although the EU is already in the process of negotiating free trade agreements with many Commonwealth countries such as India and Canada, it took the EU almost ten years to come to an agreement with Canada, due to the challenge associated with achieving the necessary EU-wide approvals.
Commonwealth FamilyCommonwealth countries share many links outside government, with over a hundred Commonwealth-wide non-governmental organisations, notably for sport, culture, education, law and charity. The Association of Commonwealth Universities is an important vehicle for academic links, particularly through scholarships, principally the Commonwealth Scholarship, for students to study in university, universities in other Commonwealth countries. There are also many non-official associations that bring together individuals who work within the spheres of law and government, such as the Commonwealth Lawyers Association and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.
Commonwealth FoundationThe is an intergovernmental organisation, resourced by and reporting to Commonwealth governments, and guided by Commonwealth values and priorities. Its mandate is to strengthen civil society in the achievement of Commonwealth priorities: democracy and good governance, respect for human rights and gender equality, poverty eradication, people-centred and sustainable development, and to promote arts and culture. The Foundation was established in 1965 by the Commonwealth Heads of Government, Heads of Government. Admittance is open to all members of the Commonwealth, and in December 2008, stood at 46 out of the 53 member countries. Associate Membership, which is open to associated states or overseas territories of member governments, has been granted to Gibraltar. 2005 saw celebrations for the Foundation's 40th Anniversary. The Foundation is headquartered in Marlborough House, Pall Mall, London. Regular liaison and co-operation between the Secretariat and the Foundation is in place. The Foundation continues to serve the broad purposes for which it was established as written in the Memorandum of Understanding.
Commonwealth GamesThe , a multi-sport event, is held every four years; the 2014 Commonwealth Games were held in Glasgow, Scotland, and the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Queensland, Gold Coast, Australia. Birmingham is set to be the host for 2022 Commonwealth Games. As well as the usual athletic disciplines, as at the Summer Olympic Games, the games include sports particularly popular in the Commonwealth, such as bowls, netball, and rugby sevens. Started in 1930 as the Empire Games, the games were founded on the Olympic model of amateurism, but were deliberately designed to be "the Friendly Games", with the goal of promoting relations between Commonwealth countries and celebrating their shared sporting and cultural heritage. The games are the Commonwealth's most visible activity and interest in the operation of the Commonwealth increases greatly when the Games are held. There is controversy over whether the games—and sport generally—should be involved in the Commonwealth's wider political concerns. The 1977 Gleneagles Agreement was signed to commit Commonwealth countries to combat apartheid through discouraging sporting contact with South Africa (which was not then a member), whilst the 1986 Commonwealth Games, 1986 games were boycotted by most African, Asian, and Caribbean countries for the failure of other countries to enforce the Gleneagles Agreement.
Commonwealth War Graves CommissionThe Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) is responsible for maintaining the war graves of 1.7 million service personnel that died in the First and Second World Wars fighting for Commonwealth member states. Founded in 1917 (as the Imperial War Graves Commission), the commission has constructed 2,500 war cemetery, war cemeteries, and maintains individual graves at another 20,000 sites around the world. The vast majority of the latter are civilian cemeteries in Britain. In 1998, the CWGC made the records of its buried online to facilitate easier searching. Commonwealth war cemeteries often feature similar horticulture and architecture, with larger cemeteries being home to a Cross of Sacrifice and Stone of Remembrance. The CWGC is notable for marking the graves identically, regardless of the rank, country of origin, race, or religion of the buried. It is funded by voluntary agreement by six Commonwealth members, in proportion to the nationality of the casualties in the graves maintained, with 75% of the funding coming from Britain.
Commonwealth of LearningThe Commonwealth of Learning (COL) is an intergovernmental organisation created by the Commonwealth Heads of Government, Heads of Government to encourage the development and sharing of open learning/distance education knowledge, resources and technologies. COL is helping developing nations improve access to quality education and training.
Commonwealth Local Government ForumThe Commonwealth Local Government Forum (CLGF) is a global local government organisation, bringing together local authorities, their national associations and the ministries responsible for local government in the member countries of the Commonwealth. CLGF works with national and local governments to support the development of Democracy, democratic values and good local governance and is the associated organisation officially recognised by Commonwealth Heads of Government as the representative body for local government in the Commonwealth. CLGF is unique in bringing together central, provincial and local spheres of government involved in local government policy and decision-making. CLGF members include local government associations, individual local authorities, ministries dealing with local government, and research and professional organisations who work with local government. Practitioner to practitioner support is at the core of CLGF's work across the Commonwealth and within the region, using CLGF's own members to support others both within and between regions. CLGF is a member of the Global Taskforce of Local and Regional Governments, the formal partner of the UN Major Group of Local Authorities.
CultureMany Commonwealth nations possess traditions and customs that are elements of a shared Commonwealth culture. Examples include common sports such as cricket and rugby football, rugby, driving on the left, the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy, common law, List of countries by English-speaking population, widespread use of the English language, List of countries where English is an official language, designation of English as an official language, Military rank, military and naval ranks, and the use of British rather than American spelling conventions (see English in the Commonwealth of Nations).
SportMany Commonwealth nations play similar sports that are considered quintessentially British in character, rooted in and developed under British rule or hegemony, including cricket, association football, football, rugby football, rugby and netball. This has led to the development of friendly national rivalries between the main sporting nations that have often defined their relations with each other. Indeed, said rivalries preserved close ties by providing a constant in international relationships, even as the Empire transformed into the . Externally, playing these sports is seen to be a sign of sharing a certain Commonwealth culture; the adoption of Rwanda Cricket Association, cricket at schools in Rwanda is seen as symbolic of the country's move towards Commonwealth membership.
LiteratureThe shared history of British presence has produced a substantial body of writing in many languages, known as Commonwealth literature. The Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies has 11 branches worldwide and holds an international conference every three years. In 1987, the Commonwealth Foundation established the annual Commonwealth Writers' Prize "to encourage and reward the upsurge of new Commonwealth fiction and ensure that works of merit reach a wider audience outside their country of origin". Prizes are awarded for the best book and best first book in the Commonwealth; there are also regional prizes for the best book and best first book in each of four regions. Although not officially affiliated with the Commonwealth, the prestigious annual Booker Prize, Man Booker Prize, one of the highest honours in literature, used to be awarded only to authors from Commonwealth countries or former members such as Ireland and Zimbabwe. Since 2014, however, writers of any nationality have been eligible for the prize providing that they write originally in English and their novels are published by established publishers in the United Kingdom. There had been a few important works in English prior to 1950 from the then . From 1950 on, a significant number of writers from the countries of the Commonwealth began gaining international recognition, including some who migrated to the United Kingdom. The South African literature, South African writer Olive Schreiner's famous novel ''The Story of an African Farm'' was published in 1883 and New Zealand literature, New Zealander Katherine Mansfield published her first collection of short stories, ''In a German Pension'', in 1911. The first major novelist, writing in English, from the Indian English literature, Indian sub-continent, R. K. Narayan, began publishing in England in the 1930s, thanks to the encouragement of English novelist Graham Greene. Caribbean literature, Caribbean writer Jean Rhys's writing career began as early as 1928, though her most famous work, ''Wide Sargasso Sea'', was not published until 1966. South Africa's Alan Paton's famous ''Cry, the Beloved Country'' dates from 1948. Doris Lessing from Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, was a dominant presence in the English literary scene, frequently publishing from 1950 on throughout the 20th century. She won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2007. Salman Rushdie is another post-Second World War writer from the former British colonies who Migrant literature, permanently settled in Britain. Rushdie achieved fame with ''Midnight's Children'' (1981). His most controversial novel, ''The Satanic Verses'' (1989), was inspired in part by the life of Muhammad. V. S. Naipaul (born 1932), born in Trinidad, was another immigrant, who wrote among other things ''A Bend in the River'' (1979). Naipaul won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2001. Many other Commonwealth writers have achieved an international reputation for works in English, including Nigerian literature, Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe, and playwright Wole Soyinka. Soyinka won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1986, as did South African novelist Nadine Gordimer in 1995. Other South African writers in English are novelist J. M. Coetzee (Nobel Prize 2003) and playwright Athol Fugard. Kenyan literature, Kenya's most internationally renowned author is Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, who has written novels, plays and short stories in English. Poet Derek Walcott, from Saint Lucia in the Caribbean, was another Nobel Prize winner in 1992. An Australian literature, Australian, Patrick White, a major novelist in this period, whose first work was published in 1939, won in 1973. Other noteworthy Australian writers at the end of this period are poet Les Murray (poet), Les Murray, and novelist Peter Carey (novelist), Peter Carey, who is one of only four writers to have won the Man Booker Prize, Booker Prize twice.
Political systemDue to their shared constitutional histories, several countries in the Commonwealth have similar legal and political systems. The Commonwealth requires its members to be functioning democracies that respect and the . Most Commonwealth countries have the bicameral Westminster system of parliamentary system, parliamentary democracy. The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association facilitates co-operation between legislatures across the Commonwealth, and the Commonwealth Local Government Forum promotes good governance amongst local government officials. Most Commonwealth members use common law, modelled on English law. The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council is the supreme court of 14 Commonwealth members.
SymbolsThe Commonwealth has adopted a number of symbols that represent the association of its members. The English language is recognised as a symbol of the members' heritage; as well as being considered a symbol of the Commonwealth, recognition of it as "the means of Commonwealth communication" is a prerequisite for Commonwealth membership. The flag of the Commonwealth consists of the symbol of the Commonwealth Secretariat, a gold globe surrounded by emanating rays, on a dark blue field; it was designed for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 1973, second CHOGM in 1973, and officially adopted on 26 March 1976. 1976 also saw the organisation agree to a common date on which to commemorate Commonwealth Day, the second Monday in March, having developed separately on different dates from Empire Day celebrations.
RecognitionIn 2009, to mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Commonwealth, the Royal Commonwealth Society commissioned a poll of public opinion in seven of the member states: Australia, Canada, India, Jamaica, Malaysia, South Africa and the United Kingdom. It found that most people in these countries were largely ignorant of the Commonwealth's activities, aside from the , and indifferent toward its future. Support for the Commonwealth was twice as high in developing countries as in developed countries; it was lowest in Britain.
Commonwealth AnthemAlso to mark the 60th anniversary (Diamond Jubilee) of the Commonwealth in 2009, the Commonwealth Secretariat commissioned Paul Carroll to compose "The Commonwealth Anthem". The lyrics of the Anthem are taken from the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Commonwealth has published the Anthem, performed by the Commonwealth Youth Orchestra, with and without an introductory narrative.
See also* Anglosphere * Community of Portuguese Language Countries, an equivalent grouping of Portuguese language, Portuguese-speaking countries and territories * English-speaking world * Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, La Francophonie * List of country groupings * List of multilateral free-trade agreements * List of Commonwealth of Nations countries by GDP * List of Commonwealth of Nations prime ministers * Organization of Ibero-American States * Representatives of the Commonwealth of Nations * Special Relationship, the common name for the United Kingdom–United States relations, relations between the United Kingdom and the United States
Further reading* Ashton, Sarah R. "British government perspectives on the Commonwealth, 1964–71: An asset or a liability?." ''Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History'' 35.1 (2007): 73–94. * Bloomfield, Valerie. ''Commonwealth Elections 1945–1970'' (1976). * Cook, Chris and John Paxton. ''Commonwealth Political Facts'' (Macmillan, 1978). * Hall, H. Duncan. "The genesis of the Balfour declaration of 1926." ''Journal of Commonwealth & Comparative Politics'' 1.3 (1962): 169–193. * Holland, Robert F. ''Britain and the Commonwealth Alliance, 1918-39'' (Springer, 1981). * * Lloyd, Lorna. ''Diplomacy with a difference: the Commonwealth Office of High Commissioner, 1880–2006'' (Brill, 2007). * McIntyre, W. David. "The strange death of dominion status." ''Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History'' 27.2 (1999): 193–212. * McIntyre, W. David. ''The commonwealth of nations: Origins and impact, 1869–1971'' (U of Minnesota Press, 1977); Comprehensive coverage giving London's perspective on political and constitutional relations with each possession. * McIntyre, W. David. ''A Guide to the Contemporary Commonwealth'', Palgrave, 2001. . * McIntyre, W. David. "The Unofficial Commonwealth Relations Conferences, 1933–59: Precursors of the Tri-sector Commonwealth." ''Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History'' 36.4 (2008): 591–614. * Madden, Frederick and John Darwin, eds. ''The Dependent Empire, 1900–1948: Colonies, Protectorates, and the Mandates'' (1994) 908 p
Primary sources* Madden, Frederick, ed. ''The End of Empire: Dependencies since 1948: Select Documents on the Constitutional History of the British Empire and Commonwealth: The West Indies, British Honduras, Hong Kong, Fiji, Cyprus, Gibraltar, and the Falklands'' (2000