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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.

Commonwealth at 70 Commonwealth at 70 logo

26 April 2019

The modern Commonwealth came into being 70 years ago with the London Declaration, signed on 26 April, 1949. Across the Commonwealth, organisations are celebrating the 70th Anniversary with a series of events, conferences, competitions and workshops throughout the next year. 

All Commonwealth Declarations

Commonwealth Day, 2019 - A Connected Commonwealth A Connected Commonwealth motif

11 March 2019

11 March 2019,   Reflecting on 70 years of the modern Commonwealth, the Secretary-General Patricia Scotland recalled how “From its earliest beginnings, and through successive stages of expansion and development, the Commonwealth has been a pioneer of invention and innovation, with diversity and inclusiveness as watchwords.” Find out more

First simultaneously observed Commonwealth Day An invitation from the Secretary General to celebrate Commonwealth Day in 1977

14 March 1977

Canada proposed that a “simultaneously observed Commonwealth Day would focus attention upon the association and its contribution to a harmonious global environment”. So with the deliberate focus on reaching a young audience the second Monday in March was selected as one when all Commonwealth children would be in school. Thus 14 March 1977 became the first simultaneous observance across all the Commonwealth.

The Gambia rejoins the Commonwealth Flag of The Gambia

8 February 2018

8 February 2018
The Gambia today rejoined the Commonwealth, almost five years after leaving the organisation. The West Africa nation’s return was marked by a flag-raising ceremony at Marlborough House, the London headquarters of the Commonwealth Secretariat. 

Commonwealth Day, 2008 - Our Environment, Our Future. Commonwealth Day 2008 theme, Our Environment, Our Future

10 March 2008

10 March 2008 In his Commonwealth Day message Secretary-General Don McKinnon said that "long before it was fashionable last century, the Commonwealth had already entered the debate about a world that was changing before our eyes. A far-reaching Commonwealth report in the 1980s led to the 1989 Langkawi Declaration on the environment, in which our Heads of Government said that ‘any delay in taking action to halt this progressive deterioration will result in permanent and irreversible damage’.

Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, Mini Summit, 2008 Eleven men in business wear, five sitting and the other six standing behind them

9 June 2008

Heads met in London from 9-10 June 2008, and then again In New York on 24 September 2008. Concerned that the "current architecture of international institutions no longer responds adequately to the challenges of the twenty-first century." They aimed to "identify underlying principles and the actions that should be taken, as a global priority, to achieve reform of international institutions and lead to new institutions where necessary."

Read the Marlborough House Statement on Reform of International Institutions

Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, Mini Summit, London, United Kingdom, 3-5 August, 1986 Eminent Persons Meeting, Marlborough House, London 1986

3 August 1986

The leaders of seven Commonwealth member countries gathered to consider the report of the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group, Mission to South Africa. They concluded that "There has not been the adequate concrete progress that we looked for.” And agreed a programme of economic sanctions against apartheid-era South Africa. 

 

Office of Civil and Criminal Justice Reform established Commonwealth Office of Civil and Criminal Justice Reform logo

1 January 2016

The Commonwealth Office of Civil and Criminal Justice Reform (OCCJR) supports Commonwealth countries in delivering access to justice and sustainable development through the creation of fair and effective national laws. The Office makes available good legislation practice from across the Commonwealth through model laws, standards, templates, legal insight, and legal networks. It delivers technical assistance to member countries based on these resources. The Office is informed by a high-level panel of distinguished Commonwealth legal experts.

Countering violent extremism unit established People marching in a demonstration with signs and placards

1 January 2017

In line with the mandate given by leaders at their Malta summit, a dedicated unit was established within the Commonwealth Secretariat in 2017 to support national strategies to counter violent extremism (CVE). Its programme work leverages decades of experience in supporting governments – for example in strengthening the rule of law, human rights and youth empowerment – while drawing on the shared values, cultural and regional diversity of the Commonwealth.

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