If you have been online lately, you will no doubt have heard or watched some footage of this years Commonwealth Games, hosted this time around on the Gold Coast of Australia. The games are immensely popular and well known around the world. Generally, people have a decent knowledge of the sports involved, the leaderboard and, most importantly, the participating countries. However, it remains a mystery for many as to what the games are based on; what is ‘The Commonwealth’, why and what countries are members, and how does it have an influence on our lives? In this article, we run over some of the key facts, figures and give you a rundown of this often overlooked institution.
In short, The Commonwealth is a voluntary institution with members spanning across the globe with a set of unifying visions and aspirations, all of which have a common purpose: to promote development, democracy and peace. The Commonwealth includes members from most of our continents, including both advanced nations and countries which are still developing. The combined population of all The Commonwealth countries is 2.4 billion, over 60% of which is under the age of 60.
In order to understand which countries are involved and to better understand what they aim for, you need to understand the context and origin of The Commonwealth:
“The modern Commonwealth was formed on 26 April 1949 when the leaders of Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka and the United Kingdom adopted the London Declaration. The declaration defined the Commonwealth as a “free association” of independent member countries. All members have an equal say, regardless of their size or economic stature. This ensures that even the smallest countries have a voice in shaping the Commonwealth. In the past two decades, countries which have joined include Mozambique, Cameroon and Rwanda.”
As put by the institution themselves, here are a few key facts to speed you up on what they’re all about:
They “help create and sustain a Commonwealth that is mutually respectful, resilient, peaceful and prosperous and that cherishes equality, diversity and shared values.”
“One in three young people aged between 15 and 29 live in Commonwealth countries: about 640 million out of 1.8 billion.”
“The Commonwealth has observed more than 140 elections in nearly 40 countries since 1980.”
They “support member governments, and partner with the broader Commonwealth family and others, to improve the well-being of all Commonwealth citizens and to advance their shared interests globally.”
In many ways The Commonwealth shares a lot of its values and goals with The United Nations: they strive for a better world and trade is heavily influenced and shaped by them; most nations are included in both organisations. Think of the Commonwealth as a smaller, more consolidated group of nations, mainly consisting of countries which were previously under the British Empire.
When you think of ‘The Commonwealth’, the image of Queen Elizabeth II may come to mind. She is indeed an important figure in the institution and has been seen as a sovereign of 32 countries. It is important, however, to understand that one of the main qualities of The Commonwealth is a unifying sense of equality and therefore:
-“All members have an equal say – regardless of size or economic stature. This ensures even the smallest member countries have a voice in shaping The Commonwealth.”
You may have seen in the media recently that the world leaders of The Commonwealth nations will be holding a meeting in the upcoming week to discuss current affairs and global issues. Leaders of member countries also shape Commonwealth policies and priorities.They will be discussing important issues affecting not only the commonwealth, but the wider world.
The Commonwealth’s key values, principles and goals have been discussed for years by the world leaders involved – and in December 2012, they agreed The “Commonwealth Charter”, setting out 16 shared principles that all member countries have committed to.
The Charter covers:
1. Democracy Article
2. Human Rights Article
3. International Peace and Security Article
4. Tolerance, Respect and Understanding Article
5. Freedom of Expression Article
6. Separation of Powers Article
7. Rule of Law Article
8. Good Governance Article
9. Sustainable Development Article
10. Protecting the Environment Article
11. Health, Education, Food and Shelter Article
12. Gender Equality Article
13. Young People in the Commonwealth Article
14. The Needs of Small States Article
15. The Needs of Vulnerable States Article
16. The Role of Civil Society
These sets of principle or ‘articles’ unite the countries with common goals and principles. Even if a country isn’t necessarily in The Commonwealth, their future ambitions and qualities are often inspired by and/or similar to the above.
The Commonwealth affects us all, and whilst the games are fun to watch, it’s increasingly important to know the context of what we watch, the things we enjoy and the world we live in.
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