The Commonwealth of Nations which was formerly the British Commonwealth, (or simply the Commonwealth) is an intergovernmental organisation of 53 member states that were mostly territories of the British Empire in medieval era. The Commonwealth works by intergovernmental consensus of the member states, organised through the Commonwealth Secretariat and non-governmental organisations, organised through the Commonwealth Foundation.
It is headquartered in Marlborough House, London.
It was formally constituted by the London Declaration in 1949, which established the member states as “free and equal” following the decolonisation and self-governance of British territories.
The symbol of this free association is Queen Elizabeth II who is the Head of the Commonwealth, and while there are over 31 republics and five monarchies who have a different monarch, the Queen is head of state and reigning monarch of 16 members of the Commonwealth, known as Commonwealth realms. The position of The Crown remains legally distinct from the position of monarch and the position of the Head of the Commonwealth.
The Queen has since ceased to be the head of state or have any formal position in several nations of the Commonwealth including India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Singapore. Member states have no legal obligation to one another. Instead, they are united by Values Enshrines in the Commonwealth Charter and promoted by the quadrennial Commonwealth Games. These includes language, history, culture and their shared values of democracy, freedom of speech, human rights, and the rule of law.
The Commonwealth covers more than 29,958,050 km2 (11,566,870 sq mi), equivalent to 20% of the world’s land area and spans all six inhabited continents. With an estimated population of 2.419 billion people, nearly a third of the world population, the Commonwealth in 2014 produced a nominal gross domestic product (GDP) of $10.45 trillion, representing 14% of the gross world product when measured nominally and 17% of the gross world product when measured in purchasing power parity (PPP).
Queen Elizabeth II, in her address to Canada on Dominion Day in 1959, pointed out that the confederation of Canada on 1 July 1867 had been the birth of the “first independent country within the British Empire”. She declared: “So, it also marks the beginning of that free association of independent states which is now known as the 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 formalised by the Statute of Westminster in 1931.
After World War II ended, most of British territories became independent countries, whether Commonwealth realms or republics, and members of the Commonwealth. There remained the 14 mainly self-governing British overseas territories which retain some political association with the United Kingdom. In April 1949, following the London Declaration, the word “British” was dropped from the title of the Commonwealth to reflect its changing nature.
Mozambique, Rwanda and Cameroon joined commonwealth voluntarily, despite not being a part of British Empire.