The Commonwealth is home to two billion citizens of all faiths and ethnicities and includes some of the world's largest, smallest, richest and poorest countries. Over half of its citizens are 25 or under.
Member countries come from six regions: Africa (19); Asia (8); the Americas (3); the Caribbean (10); Europe (3); and the South Pacific (11).
Most recent members are: Rwanda - admitted at the 2009 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting; Cameroon; and Mozambique - the first country with no historical or administrative association to the Commonwealth to join.
The association has roots as far back as the 1870s. It was reconstituted in 1949 when Commonwealth Prime Ministers met and adopted the ‘London Declaration’ where it was agreed all member countries would be “freely and equally associated.”
Beliefs and Values:
The Commonwealth believes the best democracies are achieved through partnerships – of governments, business, and civil society.
Beyond the ties of history, language and institutions, members are united through the association’s values of: democracy, freedom, peace, the rule of law and opportunity for all.
These values were agreed and set down by all Commonwealth Heads of Government at two of their biennial meetings (known as CHOGMs) in Singapore in 1971 and reaffirmed in Harare in 1991.
The values are protected at government level by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), a rotating group of nine Foreign Ministers, which assesses the nature of any infringement and recommends measures for collective action from member countries. It can suspend or recommend to Heads of Government that a member country be expelled. When countries are suspended, the Commonwealth makes every effort to bring them back into the fold.
While CMAG represents one aspect of the Commonwealth’s commitment to democratic principles, many more discreet interventions are made through ‘good offices’ work, where specially appointed representatives conduct quiet diplomacy to help prevent or resolve conflicts and build dialogue and democratic structures.
Heads of Government and ministers responsible for; education, environment, civil society, finance, foreign affairs, gender affairs, health, law, tourism and youth all meet regularly. This ensures that Commonwealth policies and programmes represent views of members and gives governments a better understanding of each other’s goals.
HM Queen Elizabeth II is Head of the Commonwealth. Kamalesh Sharma, current Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, is the principal global advocate for the Commonwealth and Chief Executive of the Secretariat.
There are three intergovernmental organisations:
Commonwealth Secretariat - executes plans agreed by Commonwealth Heads of Government through technical assistance, advice and policy development;
Commonwealth Foundation - helps civil society organisations promote democracy, development and cultural understanding;
Commonwealth of Learning - encourages the development and sharing of open learning and distance education.
The Commonwealth values citizen-to-citizen links as much as contacts between member governments. Its worldwide network of around 90 professional and advocacy organisations continues to grow. A third of these are based outside the UK. They work at local, national, regional or international levels and play crucial roles in policy, political or social aspects of Commonwealth life. The Commonwealth Games Federation, which manages the four-yearly multi-sport event, is one such organisation.
Commonwealth countries work together in a spirit of co-operation, partnership and understanding. Openness and flexibility are integral to the Commonwealth's effectiveness. Emphasis on equality has helped it play leading roles in decolonisation, combating racism and advancing sustainable development in poor countries. This support network of countries and organisations is involved in a diverse range of work, from helping trade negotiations, building the small business sector, encouraging women entrepreneurs, supporting the quality and quantity of teachers, and increasing understanding of HIV/AIDS.
Commonwealth ideas have been taken up by the World Bank on Small States, by the World Health Organization on the migration of doctors and nurses, by the International Labour Organization on the migration of teachers. Its support and expertise have been enlisted by the European Union (EU) and the African Union on building governance in Africa, and by the EU and the Pacific Islands Forum on building governance in the Pacific.
The Commonwealth is part of the world that it serves, sharing the same interests as those of its citizens: democratic freedom and economic and social development.