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The Commonwealth of Nations

The Commonwealth of Nations, normally referred to as the Commonwealth and formerly known as the British Commonwealth, is an intergovernmental organisation of fifty-four independent member states. All but two of these countries (Mozambique and Rwanda) were formerly part of the British Empire, out of which it developed.

The member states cooperate within a framework of common values and goals as outlined in the Singapore Declaration. These include the promotion of democracy, human rights, good governance, the rule of law, individual liberty, egalitarianism, free trade, multilateralism, and world peace.

The Commonwealth is not a political union, but an intergovernmental organisation through which countries with diverse social, political, and economic backgrounds are regarded as equal in status.

Activities of the Commonwealth are carried out through the permanent Commonwealth Secretariat, headed by the Secretary-General, and biennial meetings between Commonwealth Heads of Government. The symbol of their free association is the Head of the Commonwealth, which is a ceremonial position currently held by Queen Elizabeth II. Elizabeth II is also monarch, separately and independently, of sixteen Commonwealth members, which are known as the "Commonwealth realms".

The Commonwealth is a forum for a number of non-governmental organisations, collectively known as the Commonwealth Family, which are fostered through the intergovernmental Commonwealth Foundation. The Commonwealth Games, the Commonwealth's most visible activity, are a product of one of these organisations.

These organisations strengthen the shared culture of the Commonwealth, which extends through common sports, literary heritage, and political and legal practices. Due to this, Commonwealth countries are not considered to be "foreign" to one another. Reflecting this, diplomatic missions between Commonwealth countries are designated as High Commissions rather than embassies.

Objectives and activities

The 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 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 globalization."

The Commonwealth website lists its areas of work as: Democracy, Economics, Education, Gender, Governance, Human Rights, Law, Small States, Sport, Sustainability, and Youth.

The Commonwealth has long been distinctive as an international forum where developed economies (such as the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Singapore, and New Zealand) and many of the world's poorer countries seek to reach agreement by consensus. This aim has sometimes been difficult to achieve, as when disagreements over Rhodesia in the late 1960s and 1970s and over apartheid in South Africa in the 1980s led to a cooling of relations between the United Kingdom and African members.

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) and Honiara (Solomon Islands).

Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting

The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, abbreviated to CHOGM, is a biennial summit meeting of the heads of government from all Commonwealth nations. Every two years the meeting is held in a different member state, and is chaired by that nation's respective Prime Minister or President, who becomes the Commonwealth Chairperson-in-Office.

Year Date City & Country Chairperson
1971 14 Jan – 22 Jan Singapore Lee Kuan Yew
2 Aug – 10 Aug Ottawa, Canada Pierre Trudeau
1975 29 April – 6 May Kingston, Jamaica Michael Manley
1977 8 June – 15 June London, United Kingdom James Callaghan
1979 1 Aug – 7 Aug Lusaka, Zambia Kenneth Kaunda
1981 30 Sep – 7 Oct Melbourne, Australia Malcolm Fraser
1983 23 Nov – 29 Nov Goa, India Indira Gandhi
1985 16 Oct – 22 Oct Nassau, Bahamas Lynden Pindling
1986 3 Aug – 5 Aug London, United Kingdom Margaret Thatcher
1987 13 Oct – 17 Oct Vancouver, Canada Brian Mulroney
1989 18 Oct – 24 Oct Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Mahathir bin Mohamad
1991 16 Oct – 21 Oct Harare, Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe
1993 21 Oct – 25 Oct Limassol, Cyprus George Vasiliou
1995 10 Nov – 13 Nov Auckland, New Zealand Jim Bolger
1997 24 Oct – 27 Oct Edinburgh, United Kingdom Tony Blair
1999 12 Nov – 14 Nov Durban, South Africa Thabo Mbeki
2002 2 March – 5 March Coolum, Australia John Howard
2003 5 Dec – 8 Dec Abuja, Nigeria Olusegun Obasanjo
2005 25 Nov – 27 Nov Valletta, Malta Lawrence Gonzi
2007 23 Nov – 25 Nov Kampala, Uganda Yoweri Museveni
2009 27 Nov – 29 Nov Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago Patrick Manning
2011 28 Oct - 30 Oct Perth, Australia Julia Gillard
2013 15 - 17 Nov Colombo, Sri Lanka Mahinda Rajapaksa
2015 27 – 29 Nov Mellieha, Malta Joseph Muscat
2018 19 – 20 April London, United Kingdom Theresa May
2020 To Be Announced Rwanda TBA

Last updated on: 21/10/2019


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