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Commonwealth of Nations

The British Empire In Transition - 54 Member States

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United Kingdom Flag

The flag of United Kingdom. The United Kingdom is the core country of the Commonwealth of Nations.

Source: CIA World Factbook, 2007
Updated December 01, 2009
As the British Empire began its process of decolonization and the creation of independent states from former British colonies, there arose a need for an organization of countries formerly part of the Empire. In 1884, Lord Rosebery, a British politician, described the changing British Empire as a "Commonwealth of Nations."

Thus, in 1931, the British Commonwealth of Nations was founded under the Statute of Westminster with five initial members - the United Kingdom, Canada, the Irish Free State, Newfoundland, and the Union of South Africa. (Ireland permanently left the Commonwealth in 1949, Newfoundland became part of Canada in 1949, and South Africa left in 1961 due to apartheid but rejoined in 1994 as the Republic of South Africa).

In 1946, the word "British" was dropped and the organization became known as simply the Commonwealth of Nations. Australia and New Zealand adopted the Statute in 1942 and 1947, respectively. With India's independence in 1947, the new country desired to become a Republic and to not utilize the monarchy as their head of state. The London Declaration of 1949 modified the requirement that members must view the monarchy as their head of state to require that countries recognize the monarchy as simply the leader of the Commonwealth.

With this adjustment, additional countries joined the Commonwealth as they gained independence from the United Kingdom so today there are fifty-four member countries. Of the fifty-four, thirty-three are republics (such as India), five have their own monarchies (such as Brunei Darussalam), and sixteen are a constitutional monarchy with the sovereign of the United Kingdom as their head of state (such as Canada and Australia).

Although membership requires having been a former dependency of the United Kingdom or a dependency of a dependency, former Portuguese colony Mozambique became a member 1995 under special circumstances due to Mozambique's willingness to support the Commonwealth's fight against apartheid in South Africa.

The Secretary General is elected by the Heads of Government of the membership and can serve two four-year terms. The position of Secretary General was established in 1965. The Commonwealth Secretariat has its headquarters in London and is composed of 320 staff members from the member countries. The Commonwealth maintains its own flag. The purpose of the voluntary Commonwealth is for international cooperation and to advance economics, social development, and human rights in member countries. Decisions of the various Commonwealth councils are non-binding.

The Commonwealth of Nations supports the Commonwealth Games, which is a sporting event held every four years for member countries.

A Commonwealth Day is celebrated on the second Monday in March. Each year carries a different theme but each country can celebrate the day as they choose.

The population of the 54 member states exceeds two billion, about 30% of the world population (India is responsible for a majority of the Commonwealth's population).

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