Commonwealth of Nations
The Commonwealth (blue = present members, orange = former members, green = suspended members)
|Headquarters||Marlborough House, London, United Kingdom|
|Membership||54 sovereign states (list)|
|-||Head of the Commonwealth||Queen Elizabeth II
(since 6 Feb. 1952)
(since 1 Apr. 2008)
(since 27 Nov. 2009)
|-||Balfour Declaration||18 November 1926|
|-||Statute of Westminster||11 December 1931|
|-||London Declaration||28 April 1949|
12,147,768 sq mi
The Commonwealth of Nations, normally referred to as the Commonwealth and previously as the British Commonwealth, is an intergovernmental organisation of fifty-four independent member states, all but two of which were formerly part of the British Empire.
The member states co-operate within a framework of common values and goals as outlined in the Singapore Declaration. These include the promotion of democracy, human rights, good governance, the rule of law, individual liberty, egalitarianism, free trade, multilateralism and world peace. The Commonwealth is not a political union, but an intergovernmental organisation through which countries with diverse social, political and economic backgrounds are regarded as equal in status.
Its activities are carried out through the permanent Commonwealth Secretariat, headed by the Secretary-General, and biennial Meetings between Commonwealth Heads of Government. The symbol of their free association is the Head of the Commonwealth, which is a ceremonial position currently held by Queen Elizabeth II. Elizabeth II is also monarch, separately and independently, of sixteen Commonwealth members, which are informally known as "Commonwealth realms".
The Commonwealth is a forum for a number of non-governmental organisations, collectively known as the Commonwealth Family, which are fostered through the intergovernmental Commonwealth Foundation. The Commonwealth Games, the Commonwealth's most visible activity, are a product of one of these organisations. These organisations strengthen the shared culture of the Commonwealth, which extends through common sports, literary heritage, and political and legal practices. Due to this, Commonwealth countries are not considered to be "foreign" to one another.
While not all current members were once British colonies, the Commonwealth is generally considered to be the successor to the British Empire. In 1884, while visiting Australia, Lord Rosebery described the changing British Empire, as some of its colonies became more independent, as a "Commonwealth of Nations".
Conferences of British and colonial Prime Ministers had occurred periodically since 1887, leading to the creation of the Imperial Conferences in 1911. The formal organisation of the Commonwealth developed from the Imperial Conferences, where the independence of the self-governing colonies and especially of dominions was recognised. The Irish Oath of Allegiance, agreed in 1921, included the Irish Free State's "adherence to and membership of the group of nations forming the British Commonwealth of Nations". In the Balfour Declaration at the 1926 Imperial Conference, Britain and its dominions agreed they were "equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by common allegiance to the Crown, and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations". These aspects to the relationship were eventually formalised by the Statute of Westminster in 1931 (Australia, New Zealand and Newfoundland had to ratify the statute for it to come into effect; which Newfoundland never did and Australia and New Zealand did in 1942 and 1947 respectively).
After World War II, the British Empire was gradually dismantled to just 14 remaining British overseas territories, still held by the United Kingdom today, partly owing to the rise of independence movements in the subject territories and partly owing to both the British Government's straitened circumstances resulting from the cost of the war and a progressive domestic movement to decolonise. In April 1949, following the London Declaration, the word "British" was dropped from the title of the Commonwealth to reflect its changing nature. Burma (also known as Myanmar, 1948), and Aden (1967) are the only former colonies not to have joined the Commonwealth upon post-war independence. Among the former British protectorates and mandates, those which never became members of the Commonwealth are Egypt (independent in 1922), Iraq (1932), Transjordan (1946), Palestine (most of which became the state of Israel in 1948), Sudan (1956), British Somaliland (which became part of Somalia in 1960, although it has since declared itself independent as Somaliland), Kuwait (1961), Bahrain (1971), Oman (1971), Qatar (1971), and the United Arab Emirates (1971).
The issue of countries with constitutional structures not based on a shared Crown, but which wished to remain members of the Commonwealth, came to a head in 1948 with the passage of the Republic of Ireland Act 1948 in which Ireland renounced the sovereignty of the Crown and thus left the Commonwealth. However, the Ireland Act 1949 passed by the Parliament of Westminster gave citizens of the Republic of Ireland a status similar to that of citizens of the Commonwealth in UK law. The issue was resolved in April 1949 at a Commonwealth prime ministers' meeting in London. Under this London Declaration, India agreed that, when it became a republic, in January 1950, it would accept the British Sovereign as a "symbol of the free association of its independent member nations and, as such, Head of the Commonwealth".
The other Commonwealth countries in turn recognised India's continuing membership of the association. At Pakistan's insistence, India was not regarded as an exceptional case and it was assumed that other states would be accorded the same treatment as India.
The London Declaration is often seen as marking the beginning of the modern Commonwealth. Following India's precedent, other nations became republics, or constitutional monarchies with their own monarchs, while some countries retained the same monarch as the United Kingdom, but their monarchies developed differently and soon became fully independent of the British monarchy. The monarch of each Commonwealth realm, whilst the same person, is regarded as a separate legal personality for each realm.
As the Commonwealth grew, Britain and the pre-1945 dominions (a term formally dropped in the 1940s) became informally known as the "Old Commonwealth", and planners in the interwar period, like Lord Davies, who had also taken "a prominent part in building up the League of Nations Union" in the United Kingdom, in 1932 founded the New Commonwealth Movement, of which Winston Churchill was the president. The New Commonwealth was a society which aimed at the creation of an international air force to be the arm of the League of Nations, to allow nations to disarm and safeguard the peace. Some of these ideas were reflected in the United Nations Charter, drafted in Dumbarton Oaks (21 August to 7 October 1944) and San Francisco (25 April to 26 June 1945).
After the war, particularly since the 1960s when some of the Commonwealth countries disagreed with poorer, African and Asian (or New Commonwealth) members about various issues at Commonwealth Heads of Government meetings. Accusations that the old, "White" Commonwealth had different interests from African Commonwealth nations in particular, and charges of racism and colonialism, arose during heated debates about Rhodesia in the 1960s and 1970s, the imposition of sanctions against apartheid-era South Africa in the 1980s and, more recently, about whether to press for democratic reforms in Nigeria and then Zimbabwe.
The term "New Commonwealth" has also sometimes been used in the United Kingdom (especially in the 1960s and 1970s) to refer to recently decolonised countries, which are predominantly non-white and developing. It was often used in debates about immigration from these countries.
The Commonwealth's objectives were first outlined in the 1971 Singapore Declaration, which committed the Commonwealth to the institution of world peace; promotion of representative democracy and individual liberty; the pursuit of equality and opposition to racism; the fight against poverty, ignorance, and disease; and free trade. To these were added opposition to discrimination on the basis of gender by the Lusaka Declaration of 1979 (which mostly concerned racism), and environmental sustainability by the Langkawi Declaration of 1989. These objectives were reinforced by the Harare Declaration in 1991.
The Commonwealth's current highest-priority aims are on the promotion of democracy and development, as outlined in the 2003 Aso Rock Declaration, which built on those in Singapore and Harare and clarified their terms of reference, stating, "We are committed to democracy, good governance, human rights, gender equality, and a more equitable sharing of the benefits of globalisation." The Commonwealth website lists its areas of work as: Democracy, Economics, Education, Gender, Governance, Human Rights, Law, Small States, Sport, Sustainability, and Youth.
The Commonwealth has long been distinctive as an international forum where highly developed economies (such as the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Singapore, and New Zealand) and many of the world's poorer countries seek to reach agreement by consensus. This aim has sometimes been difficult to achieve, as when disagreements over Rhodesia in the late 1960s and 1970s and over apartheid in South Africa in the 1980s led to a cooling of relations between the United Kingdom and African members.
Through a separate voluntary fund, Commonwealth governments support the Commonwealth Youth Programme, a division of the Secretariat with offices in Gulu (Uganda), Lusaka (Zambia), Chandigarh (India), Georgetown (Guyana) and Honiara (Solomon Islands).
Under the formula of the London Declaration, Queen Elizabeth II is the Head of the Commonwealth, a title that is currently individually shared with that of Commonwealth realms. However, when the monarch dies, the successor to the crown does not automatically become Head of the Commonwealth. The position is symbolic: representing the free association of independent members. Sixteen members of the Commonwealth, known as Commonwealth realms, recognise the Queen as their head of state. The majority of members, thirty-three, are republics, and a further five have monarchs of different royal houses.
The main decision-making forum of the organisation is the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), where Commonwealth Heads of Government, including (amongst others) Prime Ministers and Presidents, assemble for several days to discuss matters of mutual interest. CHOGM is the successor to the Meetings of Commonwealth Prime Ministers and earlier Imperial Conferences and Colonial Conferences dating back to 1887. There are also regular meetings of finance ministers, law ministers, health ministers, etc. Members in Arrears, as Special Members before them, are not invited to send representatives to either ministerial meetings or CHOGMs.
The Commonwealth Secretariat, established in 1965, is the main intergovernmental agency of the Commonwealth, facilitating consultation and cooperation among member governments and countries. It is responsible to member governments collectively. The Commonwealth of Nations is represented in the United Nations General Assembly by the Secretariat, as an observer.
Based in London, the Secretariat organises Commonwealth summits, meetings of ministers, consultative meetings and technical discussions; it assists policy development and provides policy advice, and facilitates multilateral communication among the member governments. It also provides technical assistance to help governments in the social and economic development of their countries and in support of the Commonwealth's fundamental political values.
The Secretariat is headed by the Commonwealth Secretary-General who is elected by Commonwealth Heads of Government for no more than two four-year terms. The Secretary-General and two Deputy Secretaries-General direct the divisions of the Secretariat. The present Secretary-General is Kamalesh Sharma, from India, who took office on 1 April 2008, succeeding Don McKinnon of New Zealand (2000–2008). The first Secretary-General was Arnold Smith of Canada (1965–75), followed by Sir Shridath Ramphal of Guyana (1975–90).
The criteria for membership of the Commonwealth of Nations have developed over time from a series of separate documents. The Statute of Westminster 1931, as a fundamental founding document of the organisation, laid out that membership required dominionhood. The 1949 London Declaration ended this, allowing republican and indigenous monarchic members on the condition that they recognised the British monarch as the "Head of the Commonwealth". In the wake of the wave of decolonisation in the 1960s, these constitutional principles were augmented by political, economic, and social principles. The first of these was set out in 1961, when it was decided that respect for racial equality would be a requisite of membership, leading directly to the withdrawal of South Africa's re-application (which they were required to make under the formula of the London Declaration upon becoming a republic). The fourteen points of the 1971 Singapore Declaration dedicated all members to the principles of world peace, liberty, human rights, equality, and free trade.
These criteria were unenforceable for two decades, until, in 1991, the Harare Declaration was issued, dedicating the leaders to applying the Singapore principles to the completion of decolonisation, the end of the Cold War, and the fall of Apartheid in South Africa. The mechanisms by which these principles would be applied were created, and the manner clarified, by the 1995 Millbrook Commonwealth Action Programme, which created the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), which has the power to rule on whether members meet the requirements for membership under the Harare Declaration. Also in 1995, an Inter-Governmental Group was created to finalise and codify the full requirements for membership. Upon reporting in 1997, as adopted under the Edinburgh Declaration, the Inter-Governmental Group ruled that any future members would have to have a direct constitutional link with an existing member.
In addition to this new rule, the former rules were consolidated into a single document. These requirements, which remain the same today, are that members must: accept and comply with the Harare principles, be fully sovereign states, recognise the monarch of the Commonwealth realms as the Head of the Commonwealth, accept the English language as the means of Commonwealth communication, and respect the wishes of the general population with regard to Commonwealth membership. These requirements had undergone review, and a report on potential amendments was presented by the Committee on Commonwealth Membership at the 2007 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. New members were not admitted at this meeting, though applications for admission were considered at the 2009 CHOGM.
The Commonwealth comprises fifty-four of the world's countries (including one currently suspended member), across all six inhabited continents. The members have a combined population of 2.1 billion people, almost a third of the world population, of which 1.17 billion live in India and 94% live in Asia and Africa combined. After India, the next-largest Commonwealth countries by population are Pakistan (176 million), Bangladesh (156 million), Nigeria (154 million), the United Kingdom (61 million) and South Africa (49 million). Nauru is the smallest member, with 10,000 people. .
The land area of the Commonwealth nations is about 31,500,000 km2 (12,200,000 sq mi), or about 21% of the total world land area. The three largest Commonwealth nations by area are Canada at 10,000,000 km2 (3,900,000 sq mi), Australia at 7,700,000 km2 (2,970,000 sq mi), and India at 3,300,000 km2 (1,270,000 sq mi). The Commonwealth members have a combined gross domestic product (measured in purchasing power parity) of $10.6 trillion, 66% of which is accounted for by the four largest economies: India ($3.3 trillion), the United Kingdom ($2.3 trillion), Canada ($1.3 trillion), and Australia ($800 billion).
The status of "Member in Arrears" is used to denote those that are in arrears in paying subscription dues to the Commonwealth. The status was originally known as "special membership", but was renamed on the Committee on Commonwealth Membership's recommendation. Currently, there is one Member in Arrears: Nauru. Nauru joined as a special member, but was a full member from 1 May 1999 to January 2006, when it reverted.
New members must "as a general rule" have a direct constitutional link to an existing member. In most cases, the existing member is a former colony of the United Kingdom, but some have links to other countries, either exclusively or more directly (e.g. Samoa to New Zealand, Papua New Guinea to Australia, and Namibia to South Africa). The first member to be admitted without having any constitutional link to the British Empire or a Commonwealth member was Mozambique, a former Portuguese colony. It was admitted in 1995 following its first democratic elections and South Africa's re-admission in 1994. Mozambique's controversial entry led to the Edinburgh Declaration and the current membership guidelines. In 2009, Rwanda became the second Commonwealth member admitted to not have any such constitutional links. It was formerly a Belgian trust territory that had been a German colony until World War I. Consideration for its admission was considered an "exceptional circumstance" by the Commonwealth Secretariat.
Sudan, Algeria, Madagascar and Yemen have applied to join the Commonwealth. Of these four, Madagascar and Algeria were never British colonies or possessions. In 2006, Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon said Israel and Palestine could join the commonwealth.
Other eligible applicants could come from any of the remaining inhabited British overseas territories, Crown dependencies, Australian external territories and Associated States of New Zealand if any become fully independent. Many such jurisdictions are already directly represented within the Commonwealth, particularly through the Commonwealth Family.
France secretly considered membership in the 1950s, under the leadership of Prime Minister Guy Mollet. In the context of nationalisation of the Suez Canal, colonial unrest, and increasing tensions between British-backed Jordan and French-backed Israel, Mollet saw a union between Britain and France as a possible solution. A British Government document of the time reported, "The French would welcome a common citizenship arrangement on the Irish basis." The request was turned down by the British prime minister Anthony Eden, along with a request for Commonwealth membership, and a year later France signed the Treaty of Rome with West Germany and the other founding nations of the Common Market, later to become the EU.
In recent years, the Commonwealth has suspended several members "from the Councils of the Commonwealth" for "serious or persistent violations" of the Harare Declaration, particularly in abrogating their responsibility to have democratic government. This is done by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), which meets regularly to address potential breaches of the Harare Declaration. Suspended members are not represented at meetings of Commonwealth leaders and ministers, although they remain members of the organisation. Currently, there is one suspended member: Fiji.
Nigeria was suspended between 11 November 1995 and 29 May 1999, following its execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa on the eve of the 1995 CHOGM. Pakistan was the second country to be suspended, on 18 October 1999 following a military coup by Pervez Musharraf. The Commonwealth's longest suspension came to an end on 22 May 2004, when Pakistan's suspension was lifted following the restoration of the country's constitution. Pakistan was suspended for a second time, far more briefly, for six months from 22 November 2007, when Musharraf called a state of emergency. Zimbabwe was suspended in 2002 over concerns with the electoral and land reform policies of Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF government, before Zimbabwe withdrew from the organisation in 2003.
Fiji, which was not a member of the Commonwealth between 1987 and 1997 as a result of a pair of coups d'état, has also been suspended twice, with the first suspension being imposed from 6 June 2000 to 20 December 2001 after another coup. Fiji has been suspended once again, since 8 December 2006, following the most recent coup, this suspension only applying to membership on the Councils of the Commonwealth. After failing to meet a Commonwealth deadline for setting national elections by 2010, Fiji was "fully suspended" on 1 September 2009. The Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Kamalesh Sharma, confirmed that full suspension meant that Fiji would be excluded from Commonwealth meetings, sporting events, and the technical assistance programme (with an exception for assistance in re-establishing democracy). Sharma also stated that Fiji would remain a member of the Commonwealth during its suspension, but would be excluded from emblematic representation by the secretariat.
As membership is purely voluntary, member governments can choose at any time to leave the Commonwealth. Pakistan left on 30 January 1972 in protest at the Commonwealth's recognition of breakaway Bangladesh, but rejoined on 2 August 1989. Zimbabwe left in 2003 when the Commonwealth heads of government refused to lift the country's suspension on the grounds of alleged human rights violations and deliberate misgovernment.
Although heads of government have the power to suspend member states from active participation, the Commonwealth has no provision for the expulsion of members. Until 2007, Commonwealth realms that became republics automatically ceased to be members, until (like India in 1950) they obtained the permission of other members to remain in the organisation. This policy has been changed, so if any current Commonwealth realms were to become republics, they would not have to go through this process. The Irish Free State left the Commonwealth when it declared itself a republic, on 18 April 1949, after passing the Republic of Ireland Act 1948.
South Africa was prevented from continuing as a member after it became a republic in 1961, due to hostility from many members, particularly those in Africa and Asia as well as Canada, to its policy of apartheid. The South African government withdrew its application to remain in the organisation as a republic when it became clear at the 1961 Meeting of Commonwealth Prime Ministers that any such application would be rejected. South Africa was re-admitted to the Commonwealth in 1994, following the end of apartheid earlier that same year.
The declaration of a republic in Fiji in 1987, after military coups designed to deny Indo-Fijians political power there, was not accompanied by an application to remain. Commonwealth membership was held to have lapsed until 1997, after discriminatory provisions in the republican constitution were repealed and reapplication for membership made.
Commonwealth countries share many links outside government, with over a hundred Commonwealth-wide non-governmental organisations, notably for sport, culture, education and charity. The Association of Commonwealth Universities is an important vehicle for academic links, particularly through scholarships, principally the Commonwealth Scholarship, for students to study in universities in other Commonwealth countries. There are also many non-official associations that bring together individuals who work within the spheres of law and government, such as the Commonwealth Lawyers Association and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.
The Commonwealth Foundation is an intergovernmental organisation, resourced by and reporting to Commonwealth governments, and guided by Commonwealth values and priorities. Its mandate is to strengthen civil society in the achievement of Commonwealth priorities: democracy and good governance, respect for human rights and gender equality, poverty eradication and sustainable, people-centred and sustainable development, and to promote arts and culture.
The Foundation was established by the Heads of Government in 1965. Admittance is open to all members of the Commonwealth and (as of December 2008) stands at 46 governments out of the 54 member countries. Associate Membership, which is open to associated states or overseas territories of member governments, has been granted to Gibraltar. The year 2005 saw celebrations for the Foundation's 40th Anniversary. The Foundation is headquartered in Marlborough House, Pall Mall, London. Regular liaison and cooperation between the Secretariat and the Foundation is in place.
The Foundation continues to serve the broad purposes for which it was established as written in the Memorandum of Understanding:
A multi-sport championship called the Commonwealth Games is held every four years; the most recent having been held in Melbourne, Australia, in 2006, and the next due to be held in New Delhi, India, in 2010. As well as the usual athletic disciplines, as at the Summer Olympic Games, the Games include sports particularly popular in the Commonwealth, such as bowls, netball, and rugby sevens. Starting in 1930, the Games were founded on the Olympic model of amateurism, but were deliberately designed to be, as they are still renowned for being "the Friendly Games", with the goal of promoting relations between Commonwealth countries and celebrating their shared sporting and cultural heritage.
The Games are the Commonwealth's most visible activity, and interest in the operation of the Commonwealth increases greatly when the Games are held. There is controversy over whether the Games, and sport generally, should be involved in the Commonwealth's wider political concerns. The 1977 Gleneagles Agreement was signed to commit Commonwealth countries to combat Apartheid through discouraging sporting contact with South Africa (which was not then a member), whilst the 1986 Games were boycotted by most African, Asian, and Caribbean countries for failure of other countries to enforce the Gleneagles Agreement.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) is responsible for maintaining the war graves of 1.7 million service personnel that died in the First World War and Second World War fighting for Commonwealth member states. Founded in 1917, the Commission has expanded to construct 2,500 war cemeteries, and maintains individual graves at another 20,000 sites around the world. The vast majority of the latter are civilian cemeteries in the United Kingdom. In 1998, the CWGC made the records of its buried online to facilitate easier searching.
Commonwealth war cemeteries often feature similar horticulture and architecture, with larger cemeteries being home to a Cross of Sacrifice and Stone of Remembrance. The CWGC was notable when first founded for marking the graves identically, regardless of the rank, country of origin, race, or religion of the buried. It is funded by voluntary agreement by six Commonwealth members, in proportion to the nationality of the casualties in the graves maintained, with three-quarters funding coming from the UK.
The Commonwealth of Learning (COL) is an intergovernmental organisation created by the Heads of Government to encourage the development and sharing of open learning/distance education knowledge, resources and technologies. COL is helping developing nations improve access to quality education and training.
The Commonwealth Business Council (CBC) was formed at 1997 CHOGM. The aim was to utilise the global network of the Commonwealth more effectively for the promotion of global trade and investment for shared prosperity.
The CBC acts as a bridge for co-operation between business and government, concentrating efforts on these specific areas enhancing trade, facilitating ICT for Development, mobilising investment, promoting corporate citizenship, and Public Private Partnerships. The CBC has a dedicated team, CBC Technologies, based in London and is focused on the international technology and global services industry throughout the Commonwealth.
Mostly due to their history of British rule, many Commonwealth nations possess certain identifiable traditions and customs that are elements of a shared Commonwealth culture. Examples include common sports such as cricket and rugby, driving on the left, the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy, common law, widespread use of the English language, designation of English as an official language, military and naval ranks, and the use of British rather than American spelling conventions (see English in the Commonwealth of Nations). None of these is universal amongst, nor exclusive to, the Commonwealth, but are more commonly found within its members than elsewhere.
Due to the legacy of British colonial rule, many Commonwealth nations play similar sports that are considered quintessentially "Commonwealth" in character, including cricket, both codes of rugby, and netball. This has led to the development of friendly national rivalries between the main sporting nations that have often defined their relations with each another. Indeed, said rivalries preserved close ties by providing a constant in international relationships, even as the Empire transformed into the Commonwealth. Externally, playing these sports is seen to be a sign of sharing a certain Commonwealth culture; the adoption of cricket at schools in Rwanda is seen as symbolic of the country's move towards Commonwealth membership.
Besides the Commonwealth Games, a number of other sporting competitions are organised on a Commonwealth basis, through championship tournaments such as the Commonwealth Judo Championships, Commonwealth Rowing Championships, Commonwealth Sailing Championships, and Commonwealth Shooting Championships. The Commonwealth Boxing Council has long maintained Commonwealth titles for the best boxers in the Commonwealth.
The shared history of British presence has also produced a substantial body of writing in many languages, known as Commonwealth literature. There is an Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies, with nine chapters worldwide and an international conference is held every three years.
In 1987, the Commonwealth Foundation established the annual Commonwealth Writers' Prize "to encourage and reward the upsurge of new Commonwealth fiction and ensure that works of merit reach a wider audience outside their country of origin". Prizes are awarded for the best book and best first book in the Commonwealth, as well as regional prizes for the best book and best first book from each of four regions. Although not officially affiliated with the Commonwealth, the prestigious Man Booker Prize is awarded annually to an author from a Commonwealth country or the two former members, the Republic of Ireland and Zimbabwe. This honour is one of the highest in literature.
Due to their shared constitutional histories, most countries in the Commonwealth have similar legal and political systems. The Commonwealth requires its members to be functioning democracies that respect human rights and the rule of law. Half of Commonwealth countries have the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy. The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association facilitates cooperation between legislatures across the Commonwealth, and the Commonwealth Local Government Forum promotes good governance amongst local government officials.
The Commonwealth has adopted a number of symbols that represent the association of its members. Elizabeth II holds the position of Head of the Commonwealth as a symbol of the Commonwealth's free association, dating back to the London Declaration, issued in 28 April 1949. The English language is recognised as a symbol of the members' heritage; as well as being considered a symbol of the Commonwealth, recognition of it as "the means of Commonwealth communication" is a prerequisite for Commonwealth membership.
The flag of the Commonwealth consists of the symbol of the Commonwealth Secretariat, represented by a gold globe surrounded by emanating "rays", on a dark blue field; it was designed for the second CHOGM, in 1973, and officially adopted on the 26 March 1976. 1976 also saw the organisation agree to a common date on which to commemorate Commonwealth Day, the second Monday in March, having developed separately on different dates from pre-existing Empire Day celebrations.
In recognition of their shared heritage and culture, Commonwealth countries are not considered to be "foreign" to each other. When engaging bilaterally with one another, Commonwealth governments exchange High Commissioners instead of ambassadors. Between two Commonwealth realms, they represent the Head of Government rather than the Head of State.
In addition, some members treat citizens of other Commonwealth countries preferentially to citizens of foreign countries. Several, mostly in the Caribbean, grant the right to vote to Commonwealth citizens. In non-Commonwealth countries in which their own country is not represented, Commonwealth citizens may seek consular assistance at the United Kingdom embassy.
In recent years the Commonwealth model has inspired similar initiatives on the part of France, Spain and Portugal and their respective ex-colonies, and in the former case, other sympathetic governments: the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (International Organisation of Francophone Countries), the Comunidad Iberoamericana de Naciones (Organization of Ibero-American States) and the Comunidade dos Países de Língua Portuguesa (Community of Portuguese Language Countries). The Arab League, an association similar to the Commonwealth, was founded in 1945 and whose members and observers (except observer state India) use Arabic as an official language.
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