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Our history

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 all owed 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 which 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 co-operation.

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 intergovermental organisation to manage the Commonwealth's work.

Commonwealth library and archive

The Commonwealth library and archives are available for historical research and study at Marlborough House in London.

Stories from the Commonwealth archive

Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, Durban, South Africa, 11-20 November, 1999 Commonwealth Heads of Government at CHOGM in Durban, South Africa, 1999

11 November 1999

Theme: Globalisation & People-Centred Development

Declarations and Statements

  • The Fancourt Commonwealth Declaration on Globalisation and People-Centred Development
  • The Durban Communiqué
  • Commonwealth Ministerial Group on Small States: Chairperson’s Report
  • Functional Co-operation: Report of the Committee of the Whole

Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, Edinburgh, United Kingdom, 24-27 October, 1997 Commonwealth Heads of Government at CHOGM in Edinburgh, UK, 1997

24 October 1997

Theme: Promoting Shared Prosperity

Declarations and Statements

  • Edinburgh Communique
  • Functional Co-operation: Report of the Committee of the Whole
  • Promoting Shared Prosperity: Edinburgh Commonwealth Economic Declaration
  • Ministerial Group on Small States: Report of the Chairperson

Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, Limassol, Cyprus. 21-25 October 1993 Image of Commonwealth Heads of Government at CHOGM in Limassol, Cyprus, 1993

21 October 1993

Declarations and Statements

  • Limassol Statement on the Uruguay Round
  • Limassol Communiqué
  • Commonwealth Functional Co-operation: Report of the Committee of the Whole
  • Message to Commonwealth Heads of Government from Ministers Responsible for Women Affairs

Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, Harare, Zimbabwe. 16 - 21 October 1991 Image of Commonwealth Heads of Government at CHOGM in Harare, Zimbabwe, 1991

16 October 1991

Declarations and Statements

  • Harare Commonwealth Declaration
  • Harare Communiqué
  • Commonwealth Functional Co-operation
  • Ottawa Declaration on Women and Structural Adjustment

Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. 18-24 October 1989 Image of Commonwealth Heads of Government at CHOGM in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 1989

18 October 1989

Declarations and Statements

  • The Langkawi Declaration on Environment
  • Southern Africa: The Way Ahead; The Kuala Lumpur Statement
  • Kuala Lumpur Communiqué
  • Commonwealth Functional Co-operation

Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, Vancouver, Canada. 13-17 October 1987 Image of Heads of Government at CHOGM in Vancouver, Canada, 1987

13 October 1987

Declarations and Statements

  • The Vancouver Declaration on World Trade
  • The Okanagan Statement and Programme of Action on Southern Africa
  • Statement on Fiji
  • Vancouver Communiqué
  • Commonwealth Functional Co-operation

Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, Nassau, Bahamas. 16-22 October 1985 Image of Commonwealth Heads of Government at CHOGM in Nassau, The Bahamas, 1985

16 October 1985

Declarations and Statements

  • The Nassau Declaration on World Order
  • The Commonwealth Accord on Southern Africa
  • Communiqué
  • Commonwealth Functional Co-operation

Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, New Delhi, India. 23-29 November 1983 Commonwealth Heads of Government at CHOGM in New Delhi, India, 1983

23 November 1983

Declarations and Statements

  • The Goa Declaration on International Security
  • The New Delhi Statement on Economic Action
  • Communiqué
  • Commonwealth Functional Co-operation

Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, Lusaka, Zambia. 1 – 7 August 1979 Image of Commonwealth Heads of Government at CHOGM in Lusaka, Zambia, 1979

1 August 1979

Declarations and Statements

  • Lusaka Communiqué
  • Lusaka Declaration of the Commonwealth on Racism and Prejudice

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