The Commonwealth - In More Detail

The Commonwealth is a unique organisation of 54 member states representing all the races, religions and cultural diversity of humankind. Its membership encompasses developed and developing countries from all corners of the globe and with populations at all levels of economic development. The Commonwealth came into being in 1947 shortly after the world’s nations, emerging from a devastating world war, made the historic decision to establish the United Nations and from its inception, the Commonwealth has played a strong role as a global and supportive organisation.

This period saw the beginning of the end of the British Empire, and membership of the Commonwealth increased as the decolonisation process unfolded in the second half of the twentieth century. This shared past, enabled countries to remain together as a family because of the natural connections based on a shared heritage in language, culture, law, and education. These links have facilitated key developments that shaped the Commonwealth – not least the agreement that on independence countries could become republics. There are now more republics than realms.

The Commonwealth’s important role in promoting international dialogue and cooperation has been recognised by the number of countries with no links to the old Empire that have joined the Commonwealth. These include Namibia, Mozambique, and Rwanda.

The Commonwealth has played an increasingly important role in the search for solutions of some of the world’s most intractable problems. For instance, it played a major role in the international campaign against racism in Southern Africa, which led to the end of apartheid and the birth of a democratic South Africa as well as independence of Zimbabwe. It has also made a major contribution to global debates on international economic issues by producing expert group reports on world financial and trading arrangements, and the increasing debt of developing countries.

The first discussion by world leaders of the looming crisis caused by climate change took place at the meeting of Heads of Government in (?) when the first alarm was raised of the existential threat which faced its small island states by sea level rise by Prime Minister of the newly independent Maldives. This led to an Expert Group Report which member states introduced at the UN General Assembly meeting in (?).

As the Commonwealth has evolved, its role has expanded under the leadership of the Commonwealth Secretariat, which was established in 1965 to provide the association with an administrative hub to service meetings, promote consultation and other forms of cooperation. The launch in 1971 of the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation to assist member states in carrying out their development initiatives was an early pioneer of technical cooperation among developing countries as it was able to finance the deployment of experienced specialists from developed countries throughout the Commonwealth.

The Commonwealth Foundation was established in 1965 to promote the development of links between professionals in member states and also to support non-governmental organisations, promote the arts and culture and latterly civil society. In 1988, the Commonwealth of Learning, another pan-Commonwealth organisation was established to encourage the development and sharing of open learning and distance education, resources and technology.

During its existence, the Commonwealth has emphasised the importance of the equality of all the world’s races, religions and cultures. It is recognised as one of the world’s strongest opponents of racism. It has promoted democracy and good governance in its member states by monitoring elections and providing technical assistance to assist them in strengthen democratic processes and institutions. Internationally and among its members, it has rigorously advocated for human rights and gender equality, and it has promoted the special needs of small states and has been a determined negotiator at meetings to shape the global economic system.

The Commonwealth of today is about democracy, human rights and the rule of law. It is unique among the world’s international groupings in that it declared the key principles which it expects member governments to adhere to. These principles, agreed in the Harare Declaration by leaders at their meeting in 1991, set out the expectation that democracy and constitutional rule underpin the governance of all member states. The abrogation of these principles will lead to suspension and eventual expulsion from the Commonwealth. The behaviour of member states is monitored by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group , established at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Auckland, New Zealand in 1995 and empowered to deal with serious violations of the fundamental principles and is empowered to assess the nature of infringements and recommend collective Commonwealth action.