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Commonwealth of Nations

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The Commonwealth of Nations,
[2] commonly known as the Commonwealth
(formerly the British Commonwealth),
is an intergovernmental organisation of 53
member states that were mostly territories of the former British Empire.
[4] The
Commonwealth operates by intergovernmental consensus of the member states,
organised through the Commonwealth Secretariat and Non­governmental organisations,
organised through the Commonwealth Foundation.
The Commonwealth dates back to the mid­20th century with the decolonisation of the
British Empire through increased self­governance of its territories. It was formally
constituted by the London Declaration in 1949, which established the member states as
"free and equal".
[6] The symbol of this free association is Queen Elizabeth II who is the
Head of the Commonwealth. The Queen is also the monarch of 16 members of the
Commonwealth, known as Commonwealth realms. The other members of the
Commonwealth have different persons as head of state: 32 members are republics and
five members are monarchies with a different monarch.
Member states have no legal obligation to one another. Instead, they are united by
language, history, culture and their shared values of democracy, human rights, and the
rule of law.
[5] These values are enshrined in the Commonwealth Charter
[7] and
promoted by the quadrennial Commonwealth Games. On 3 October 2013, after 48 years
of membership, Gambia became the most recent nation to withdraw from the
The Commonwealth covers more than 29,958,050 km2
(11,566,870 sq mi), almost a
quarter of the world land area and spans all six inhabited continents. With an estimated
population of 2.328 billion, near a third of the world population,
the Commonwealth
in 2014 produced a nominal gross domestic product (GDP) of $10.45 trillion,
representing 17% of the gross world product when measured in purchasing power parity
(PPP) and 14% of the gross world product when measured nominally.

In her address to Canada on Dominion Day, 1959, Queen Elizabeth II set the confederation of Canada on 1 July 1867 as the birth of the
"first independent country within the British Empire. So, it also marks the beginning of that free association of independent states which is
now known as the Commonwealth of Nations."
[10] It was not, though, until 1884 that Lord Rosebery, while visiting Australia, described
the changing British Empire—as some of its colonies became more independent—as a "Commonwealth of Nations".
[11] Conferences of
British and colonial prime ministers occurred periodically from the first one in 1887, leading to the creation of the Imperial Conferences in
The Commonwealth developed from the imperial conferences. A specific proposal was presented by Jan Smuts in 1917 when he coined
the term "the British Commonwealth of Nations" and envisioned the "future constitutional relations and readjustments in essence" at the
Paris Peace Conference of 1919 by delegates from the Dominions as well as Britain.
[13][14] The term first received imperial statutory
recognition in the Anglo­Irish Treaty 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.

In the Balfour Declaration 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." 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 Newfoundland 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 10th province in 1949.
[16] Australia and New
Zealand ratified the Statute in 1942 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
After World War II ended, the British Empire was gradually dismantled to the 14 British overseas territories still held by the United
Kingdom. In April 1949, following the London Declaration, the word "British" was dropped from the title of the Commonwealth to reflect
its changing nature.
[20] Burma (also known as Myanmar, 1948) and Aden (1967) are the only states that were British colonies at the time
of the war not to have joined the Commonwealth upon independence. Former British protectorates and mandates that did not become
members of the Commonwealth are Egypt (independent in 1922), Iraq (1932), Transjordan (1946), British Palestine (part of which
became the state of Israel in 1948), Sudan (1956), British Somaliland (which united with the former Italian Somaliland in 1960 to form the
Somali Republic), Kuwait (1961), Bahrain (1971), Oman (1971), Qatar (1971), and the United Arab Emirates (1971).
On 18 April 1949, Ireland formally became a republic in accordance with the Irish Republic of Ireland Act 1948. Because it did this, it
was automatically excluded from the Commonwealth. While Ireland had not actively participated in the Commonwealth since the early
1930s and was content to leave the Commonwealth, 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 London Declaration, India agreed
that, when it became a republic in January 1950, it would 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 George VI told the Indian politician
Krishna Menon: "So, I've become 'as such'".
[21] The other Commonwealth countries recognised India's continuing membership of the
association. At Pakistan's insistence, India was not regarded as an exceptional case and it was assumed that other states would be accorded
the same treatment as India.
The London Declaration is often seen as marking the beginning of the modern Commonwealth. Following India's precedent, other nations
became republics, or constitutional monarchies with their own monarchs, while some countries retained the same monarch as the United
Kingdom, but their monarchies developed differently and soon became fully independent of the British monarchy. The monarch is
regarded as a separate legal personality in each realm, even though the same person is monarch of each realm.
New Commonwealth
As the Commonwealth grew, Britain and the pre­1945 dominions became informally known as the Old Commonwealth and planners 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 which British section Winston Churchill became the president. [2]
This new society was aimed at the creation of an international air force to be the arm of
the League of Nations, to allow nations to disarm and safeguard the peace.
The term New Commonwealth has been used in Great Britain (especially in the 1960s and 1970s) to refer to recently decolonised
countries, predominantly non­white and developing. It was often used in debates about immigration from these countries.
Plan G and inviting Europe to join
At a time when Germany and France, together with Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, were planning for what later
became the European Union, 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 trade with
Europe. The British government under Prime Minister Anthony Eden considered in 1956 and 1957 a "plan G" to create a European free
trade zone while also protecting the favoured status of the Commonwealth.
[23][24][25] Britain also considered inviting Scandinavian and
other European countries to join the Commonwealth so it would become a major economic common market. At one point in October 1956
Eden and French Prime Minister Guy Mollet discussed having France join the Commonwealth. Nothing came of any of the proposals


Head of the Commonwealth
Under the formula of the London Declaration, Queen Elizabeth II is the Head of the Commonwealth, a
title that is by law a part of Elizabeth's royal titles in each of the Commonwealth realms,
the 16
members of the Commonwealth that recognise the Queen as their monarch. However, when the monarch
dies, the successor to the crown does not automatically become Head of the Commonwealth.
[28] The
position is symbolic, representing the free association of independent members,
the majority of which
(32) are republics, and five have monarchs of different royal houses (Brunei, Lesotho, Malaysia,
Swaziland, and Tonga).
Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting
The main decision­making forum of the organisation is the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government
Meeting (CHOGM), where Commonwealth heads of government, 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 Imperial Conferences 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 Commonwealth Chairperson­in­Of ice and
retains the position until the following CHOGM.
[29] After the most recent CHOGM, in Valletta, Malta,
from 26–29 November 2015 Malta's prime minister, Joseph Muscat, became the Chairperson­in­Office
and will continue to hold the title until the next CHOGM.
Commonwealth Secretariat
The Commonwealth Secretariat, established in 1965, is the main intergovernmental agency of the
Commonwealth, facilitating consultation and co­operation among member governments and
countries. It is responsible to member governments collectively. The Commonwealth of Nations is
represented in the United Nations General Assembly by the secretariat as an observer. 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.
The secretariat is headed by the Commonwealth Secretary­General who is elected by
Commonwealth heads of government for no more than two four­year terms. The secretary­general
and two deputy secretaries­general direct the divisions of the Secretariat. The present secretarygeneral
is Kamalesh Sharma, from India, who took office on 1 April 2008, succeeding Don
McKinnon of New Zealand (2000–2008), and was re­elected in 2011 to his second term in 2012.
The first secretary­general was Arnold Smith of Canada (1965–75), followed by Sir Shridath
Ramphal of Guyana (1975–90) and Chief Emeka Anyaoku of Nigeria (1990–99). Patricia
Scotland, Baroness Scotland of Asthal is to begin her term as the sixth secretary­general on 1 April
Commonwealth citizenship and High Commissioners
In recognition of their shared heritage and culture, Commonwealth countries are not considered to be "foreign" to each other.
The exception is Australia, where no such distinction is made – in the High Court case of Sue v Hill, other Commonwealth countries 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'. When engaging bilaterally with one another, Commonwealth governments exchange High Commissioners
instead of ambassadors. Between two Commonwealth realms, they represent the Head of Government rather than the Head of State.
In addition, some members treat resident citizens of other Commonwealth countries preferentially to citizens of non­Commonwealth
countries. Britain and several others, mostly in the Caribbean, grant the right to vote to Commonwealth citizens who reside in those
countries. Some states, such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand, have abolished such preferences. In non­Commonwealth countries in
which their own country is not represented, Commonwealth citizens may seek consular assistance at the British embassy.
[33] Other
alternatives can also occur such as an emergency consular services agreement between Canada and Australia that began in 1986.


The 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 London Declaration ended this, allowing republican and
indigenous monarchic members on the condition that they recognised
the British monarch as the "Head of the Commonwealth".
[35] In the
wake of the wave of decolonisation 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 re­application
(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, human rights, equality, and free trade.
These criteria were unenforceable for two decades,
[37] 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.
[38] 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.
[39] Also in 1995, an Inter­Governmental Group was
created to finalise and codify the full requirements for membership. Upon reporting in 1997, as adopted under the Edinburgh Declaration,
the Inter­Governmental Group ruled that any future members would have to have a direct constitutional sitepage 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 principles, be fully sovereign states, recognise the monarch of the Commonwealth realms 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.
[40] These requirements had undergone review, and a report on potential
amendments was presented by the Committee on Commonwealth Membership at the 2007 Commonwealth Heads of Government
[41] New members were not admitted at this meeting, though applications for admission were considered at the 2009 CHOGM.
New members must "as a general rule" have a direct constitutional sitepage 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 sitepage to
the British Empire or a Commonwealth member was Mozambique, a former Portuguese colony, in 1995 following its first democratic
elections and South Africa's re­admission in 1994. Mozambique's controversial entry led to the Edinburgh Declaration and the current
membership guidelines.
[43] In 2009, Rwanda became the second Commonwealth member admitted not to have any such constitutional
links. It was a Belgian trust territory that had been a German colony until World War I.
[44] Consideration for its admission was considered
an "exceptional circumstance" by the Commonwealth Secretariat.
The Commonwealth comprises 53 countries, across all six inhabited continents. The members have
a combined population of 2.1 billion people, almost a third of the world population, of which
1.26 billion live in India and 94% live in Asia and Africa combined.
[46] After India, the nextlargest
Commonwealth countries by population are Pakistan (180 million), Nigeria (170 million),
Bangladesh (156 million), the United Kingdom (63 million) and South Africa (52 million). Tuvalu
is the smallest member, with about 10,000 people.
The land area of the Commonwealth nations is about 31,500,000 km2
(12,200,000 sq mi), or about
21% of the total world land area. The three largest Commonwealth nations by area are Canada at
9,984,670 km2
(3,855,100 sq mi), Australia at 7,617,930 km2
(2,941,300 sq mi), and India at
3,287,263 km2
(1,269,219 sq mi).
[48] The Commonwealth members have a combined gross
domestic product of over $9 trillion, 78% of which is accounted for by the four largest economies:
United Kingdom ($2.95 trillion), India ($2.05 trillion), Canada ($1.79 trillion), and Australia
($1.44 trillion).
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", but was renamed on the Committee on Commonwealth Membership's recommendation.
[50] There are currently
no Members in Arrears. The most recent Member in Arrears, Nauru, returned to full membership in June 2011.
[51] Nauru has alternated
between special and full membership since joining the Commonwealth, depending on its financial situation

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