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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.

First Commonwealth Foreign Ministers Meeting

14 September 2002

14 September 2002, New York, Unites States of America. Meeting at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, Secretary-General Don McKinnon stated that "with more than half of the Commonwealth's membership made up of small states, there was concern among foreign ministers about the increasing vulnerabilities of these countries and their ability to compete in the globalised world. The meeting provided a welcome opportunity to have these concerns heard and debated"

First Commonwealth Consultative Group of the Environment meeting

22 June 1993

22 June 1993, New York, Unites States of America. Following the first Earth Summit in Rio 1992, the Secretary-General convened the meeting of Environmental officials at Ministerial level to strengthen Commonwealth dialogue and cooperation on sustainable development and thereby contribute to effective follow up on the Summit recommendations.

First Commonwealth Women’s Affairs Ministers Meeting

13 July 1985

13 July 1985, Nairobi, Kenya. Ministers considered means to empower national machineries and the bodies responsible for ensuring government policies and programmes addressed the needs of women, examined programme initiatives through the Commonwealth Secretariats Women's and Development Programme. In addressing Commonwealth Strategies to the Year 2000 they focused on Women and Credit, Violence Against Women and the importance of Women's Employment and Equal Opportunities to Development.

First Commonwealth Employment / Labour Ministers Meeting

1 June 1982

1 June 1982, Geneva, Switzerland. Meeting in Geneva in the wings of the International Labour Conference ministers discussed the effect of the world recession on employment, particularly its impact on young people and women who were disproportionately affected.

First Commonwealth Senior Officials Meeting

16 October 1972

16 - 19 October 1972, Ottawa, Canada. The meeting considered comparative techniques of government across the Commonwealth and tasked the Secretariat with establishing procedures for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings which would ensure 'flexibility, informality and the opportunity to engage in frank discussion of common problems, even from opposing standpoints.'

First Commonwealth Law Ministers Meeting

26 April 1966

26 April - 3 May 1966, London, United Kingdom. The meeting reviewed arrangements for the extradition of fugitive offenders within the Commonwealth and recommended the creation of a Legal Section within the Commonwealth Secretariat.

First meeting of Commonwealth Trade Ministers

13 June 1966

13 - 16 June 1966, London, United Kingdom. "It was agreed that Commonwealth countries should act in concert wherever possible in wider international organisations concerned with international trade and trade policy. Such action would aim to improve the position of Commonwealth countries in a practical way."

First Commonwealth Medical Conference

4 October 1965

4 - 13 October 1965, Edinburgh, United Kingdom. Ministers concluded that "adequate medical services are an essential foundation of social and economic progress in the developing countries. The Conference therefore took as its purpose a thorough review of the existing co-operation between Commonwealth countries in the fields of medicine and health and an examination of how this co-operation can be strengthened and extended."

First Commonwealth Education Conference

15 July 1959

15 - 28 July 1959, Oxford, United Kingdom. The meeting of Education ministers was convened in recognition of " the great importance of education and training as an indispensable condition of development. It is an objective of Commonwealth countries that their people should be able to share as widely as possible in the advantages of education of all kinds and at all levels".