The Commonwealth, originally called the British Commonwealth of Nations, is an association of sovereign and independent states that formally made up the British Empire. It is an evolving organization and most of the states and dependencies that formerly made up the British Empire are now its members.
Origin of an idea of a Commonwealth of Nations
The idea of a Commonwealth of Nations comprising Great Britain, the dominions and other territories of the British Empire was first accepted at the Imperial Conference of 1926. In 1931, the Statute of Westminster recognized the status of the dominions and defined relations between the British Crown and the dominions. In 1947, the office of the dominions was abolished and the Secretary of the Commonwealth assumed charge.
Commonwealth Day: It is an opportunity to promote understanding on global issues, international co-operation and the work of Commonwealth organizations which aim to improve the lives of citizens. It is celebrated on the second Monday in March every year.
Constitution of Commonwealth
The Commonwealth has no written constitution. However, most of the countries of the Commonwealth have common Constitutional features. The members are bound together bycornmon ideals and interest.
All members have an equal say regardless of the size or economic stature. This ensures even the smallest member countries have a voice in shaping. All members subscribe to the Commonwealth's values and principles outlined in the Commonwealth Charter.
Criteria of Membership
As many as 53 member countries, which include 30% of the world's people, constitute the Commonwealth. Its members are autonomous countries associated with Britain, equal in status and in no way subordinate to one another. Members of the Commonwealth are represented in other Commonwealth countries by diplomatic officers called High Commissioners, in place of the Ambassador who represent Non-Commonwealth countries.
Head of the Commonwealth
The British monarch Queen Elizabeth II is the symbolic head of the Commonwealth. The Queen is the head of state in the UK and its associated states, colonies, and dependencies, where she is represented by Governors or Lt. Governors. Other member nations have their own heads of state, but acknowledge the Queen as the head of the Commonwealth.
The Commonwealth has no permanent members as in the case of the UN. Its Secretariat operates from London; is an international body at the service of all the member countries and provides a central organization for Commonwealth activities. The secretariat, situated at Marlborough House, Pall Mall, and London is headed by a Secretary-General.
Secretary-General: The Commonwealth Secretariat is the central body which has served the Commonwealth of Nations since its establishment in 1965, and responsible for representing the Commonwealth publicly. It is headed by the Commonwealth Secretary-General who is appointed by the Commonwealth Heads of Government for a tenure of 4 years (renewable once). The position was created after the 14th Commonwealth Prime Ministers Conference in London in 1965. Since then, the following persons have held the post:
1. Arnold Smith (Canada) from July 1965 to 30 June 1975.
2. Sir Shridath Ramphal (Guyana) from r July 1975 to 30 June 1990.
3. Chief Emeka Anyaoku (Nigeria) from 1 July 1990 to 31 March 2000.
4. Sir Don McKinnon (New Zealand) from 1 Apri12000 to 31 March 2008.
5. Kamalesh Sharma (India) 1 April 2008 (incumbent).
Important meetings of the Commonwealth
The Commonwealth Family
It is a network of associations, organizations and charities affiliated to the Commonwealth of Nations. Although associated with the Commonwealth, they are not fully a part of it and membership is on voluntary basis from within the membership of the Commonwealth. They are designed to advance the principles and policies of the Commonwealth itself. Some important affiliated organizations are listed here under.
Purpose and Objectives of Commonwealth
Commonwealth members belong to international bodies-regional, political and economic. Yet in all their international relations, the Commonwealth is a link between them and complements other forms of co-operation within the diversity. All members of Commonwealth hold certain common principles and it is by pursuing these ideals and principles that the Commonwealth is able to influence international society for the benefit of mankind.
Countries that left the Commonwealth
Ireland and Myanmar (Burma) left the Commonwealth when they became Republics in 1948. South Africa withdrew in 1961 and Pakistan in 1972 when Bangladesh was recognized and included in the Commonwealth (Pakistan rejoined as tilt 49th member of the Commonwealth in 1989).
Fiji was expelled from the Commonwealth follow a military takeover of the country in 1987. South Africa joined the Commonwealth as the 51st member in May 1994.
Zimbabwe's membership was suspended in 2001 on the grounds of alleged human rights violations by the government. In response, Zimbabwe's government terminated its membership in 2003. On 3 October 2011 after 48 years of membership, the Gambia became themes recent nation to withdraw from the Commonwealth.