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Our history

The Commonwealth is one of the world’s oldest political association of states. Its roots go back to the British Empire when some countries were ruled directly or indirectly by Britain. Some of these countries became self-governing while retaining Britain’s monarch as Head of State. They formed the British Commonwealth of Nations.

In 1949 the association we know today – The Commonwealth – came into being. Since then, independent countries from Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and the Pacific have joined The Commonwealth.

Membership today is based on free and equal voluntary co-operation. The last two countries to join The Commonwealth - Rwanda and Mozambique - have no historical ties to the British Empire.

Fiji suspension lifted

1 January 2001

Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon warmly welcomed the completion of the parliamentary elections held in Fiji Islands from 25 August to 5 September 2001.

Fiji suspended from the councils of the Commonwealth

1 January 2000

Following the overthrow of the elected government, Fiji Islands suspended from the councils of the Commonwealth pending the restoration of democracy and the rule of law.

Don McKinnon becomes the fourth Commonwealth Secretary-General

1 January 2000

Sir Don McKinnon of New Zealand served as Commonwealth Secretary-General from 2000 to 2008

As Commonwealth Secretary-General, his achievements included:

  • Modernising the Commonwealth Secretariat's structure and internal organisation.
  • Enhancing the profile of the Commonwealth and ensuring that its work is better known by the general public.
  • Building strategic partnerships with other international organisations, as well as synergies with civil society, in pursuit of the values and objectives of the Commonwealth.
  • Putting young people at the heart of the Commonwealth's work, promoting youth programmes, particularly in relation to HIV/AIDS.
  • Defending the rights of small states, ensuring that their special vulnerabilities are recognised and their interests promoted on the international agenda.
  • Strengthening the work of the Commonwealth in promoting democratic practices, good governance and respect for human rights.
  • Promoting the establishment of a fair, rules-based multilateral trading system, ensuring that developing countries' interests are duly reflected in international trade talks.
  • Making a strong stand on the need for developed countries to reduce agricultural subsidies, giving developing countries a fair chance to trade their way out of poverty.

Pakistan suspended from the councils of the Commonwealth

18 October 1999

CMAG unanimously condemn the unconstitutional overthrow of the democratically elected Government of Pakistan as a serious violation of the Commonwealth's fundamental political principles.

Pakistan suspended from the Commonwealth

22 November 2007

Pakistan was suspended from the Commonwealth, following a decision of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), 22 November 2007 in Kampala, Uganda. The decision follows CMAG’s statement of 12 November to suspend Pakistan if it failed to fulfil its obligations in accordance with Commonwealth principles.

Nigeria's suspension from membership of the Commonwealth lifted

29 May 1999

"The Commonwealth rejoices with the Nigerian people as they enter this new era. This fresh start is a victory for democracy, a victory for Nigeria - and a victory for a fundamental principle of the Commonwealth." - Commonwealth Secretary-General Chief Emeka Anyaoku

Commonwealth celebrates 50 years as a modern international association

26 April 1999

26 April 1999 marked the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of London where leaders agreed that Commonwealth members are “free and equal members of the Commonwealth of Nations, freely co-operating in the pursuit of peace, liberty and progress”

Fiji rejoins the Commonwealth

1 October 1997

"The Commonwealth responded warmly to the wish of the people of Fiji that their country resume its membership of the Commonwealth now that a new constitution has been approved which enjoys national consensus and which conforms with the Commonwealth's Harare principles." - Commonwealth Secretary-General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku

Nigeria suspended from the Commonwealth

12 November 1995

Military ruled Nigeria suspended from the Commonwealth after a 'serious violation of the principles set out in the Harare Declaration', including the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and ten others.

Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) established Image of a Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) meeting

12 November 1995

Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) set up by Commonwealth Heads of Government in New Zealand to "deal with persistent and serious violators of the Commonwealth's shared principles".

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