The Commonwealth
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Baljit Dhaka

The Commonwealth

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The Commonwealth

Why in News?

  • The Maldives re-joined the Commonwealth, more than three years after the Indian Ocean island nation quit amid mounting criticism of its human rights.
  • In 2016, the Maldives pulled out of the Commonwealth.
  • The Maldives has been formally reinstated into the Commonwealth as its 54th member state.  

About Commonwealth of Nations:  

  • The Commonwealth is a voluntary association of 54 independent and equal countries.
  • It is home to 2.4 billion people and includes both advanced economies and developing countries. 32 of the members are small states, including many island nations.
  • The member governments have agreed to shared goals like development, democracy, and peace. 
  • Our values and principles are expressed in the Commonwealth Charter.
  • The Commonwealth's roots go back to the British Empire. 
  • But today any country can join the modern Commonwealth. 
  • The last country to join the Commonwealth was Rwanda in 2009.

History of Commonwealth

  • The Commonwealth is one of the world’s oldest political associations of states. Its roots go back to the British Empire when countries around the world were ruled by Britain.

The early Commonwealth

  • Over time different countries of the British Empire gained different levels of freedom from Britain. Semi-independent countries were called Dominions. Leaders of the Dominions attended conferences with Britain from 1887.
  • The 1926 Imperial Conference was attended by the leaders of Australia, Canada, India, the Irish Free State, Newfoundland, New Zealand, and South Africa.
  • At the 1926 conference, Britain and the Dominions agreed that they were all equal members of a community within the British Empire. 
  • They allowed allegiance to the British king or queen, but the United Kingdom did not rule over them. This community was called the British Commonwealth of Nations or just the Commonwealth.

Birth of the modern Commonwealth

  • The Dominions and other territories of the British Empire gradually became fully independent of the United Kingdom.
  • India became independent in 1947. India wanted to become a republic that didn't owe allegiance to the British king or queen, but it also wanted to stay a member of the Commonwealth.
  • At a Commonwealth Prime Ministers meeting in London in 1949, the London Declaration said that republics and other countries could be part of the Commonwealth. The modern Commonwealth of Nations was born.
  • King George VI was the first Head of the Commonwealth, and Queen Elizabeth II became Head when he died. But the British king or queen is not automatically Head of the Commonwealth. Commonwealth member countries choose who becomes Head of the Commonwealth.

The modern Commonwealth

  • Since 1949 independent countries from Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, and the Pacific have joined the Commonwealth. Membership today is based on free and equal voluntary cooperation.
  • The last 2 countries to join the Commonwealth - Rwanda, and Mozambique - have no historical ties to the British Empire.
  • The Commonwealth Secretariat was created in 1965 as a central intergovernmental organization to manage the Commonwealth's work.

Our work

  • The Commonwealth is an association of 54 countries working towards shared goals of prosperity, democracy, and peace. The Commonwealth Secretariat is the intergovernmental organization that coordinates and carries out much of the Commonwealth's work, supported by a network of more than 80 organizations.

The Secretariat works all over the Commonwealth, to:

  • protect the environment and encourage sustainable use of natural resources on land and sea
  • boost trade and the economy
  • support democracy, government, and the rule of law
  • develop society and young people, including gender equality, education, health and sport
  • support small states, helping them tackle the particular challenges they face.

The Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation (CFTC) is the main way that the Commonwealth Secretariat provides technical help to Commonwealth countries. We make sure the help we offer is driven by what countries tell us they need.