What is the make-up, purpose and primary function of the Commonwealth?
The Commonwealth is free association of 54 states established by the London Declaration of 1949. It has come to define the post-colonial order of relationships between states that were formerly part of the British Empire. Two other states with no historic connection to British rule, Rwanda and Mozambique, also belong to the organisation. The group holds a bi-annual Commonweatlh Heads of Government Meetin, commonly known by the acronym Chogm.
What is the British monarch’s role?
Only 16 of the Commonwealth members have retained the Queen as head of state, though the monarch is a pillar of the institution. The Queen attended her first Chogm summit in Canada in 1974 but has this year decided to send the Prince of Wales as her representative to the upcoming summit in Sri Lanka. That decision was taken after the Queen decided to stop long-haul travel in recognition of her advancing years. The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh took their first Commonwealth tour in 1954, embarking on the voyage in November 1953 and returning in May 1954. The 44,000 mile trip took the royal couple to West Indies, Australasia, Asia and Africa.
How united is the Commonwealth ‘family’?
Disputatious at worst. Gambia announced it would withdraw last week after its dictator apparently took umbrage about human rights criticism levied at his regime at the UN General Assembly. If the country does leave Commonwealth membership will fall to 53. Other countries that have fallen out of the body include Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe and military-run Fiji.
Apart from history, what common features bind the Commonwealth?
An attempt has been made to reinvigorate the Commonwealth by adopting a charter on democracy, human rights, freedom from discrimination and freedom of expression. But the body has no power to impose minimum standards in these fields and can’t sanction any states that violate its terms. Canada has provoked a row by boycotting the Sri Lanka summit on the grounds that the country falls far short of democratic norms. Ottawa has pointed the finger at the Commonwealth Secretariat, which is based in grand ducal palace in central London, as an ineffective administrator and is threatening to withdraw its funding.
Is there any point in belonging?
The Commonwealth had its most glorious hour in orchestrating and championing the boycott of apartheid South Africa. It remains capable of acts of solidarity. Pakistan was thrown out during military rule and applied to rejoin when democratic government was restored. After the recent election in Zimbabwe, Mr Mugabe’s allies could make the case in Sri Lanka that the country should return to the fold. Lastly there is Commonwealth Games, the sporting pageant that will be held in Glasgow next year. (The Telegraph)