Y3 Commonwealth

What is The Commonwealth?

The Commonwealth is a unique family of nations all around the world.

This is the logo of the Commonwealth. It shows the letter C wrapped around the globe.

Today the Commonwealth is a family of 53 nations in every continent.

In the past many of these nations were part of the British Empire. They have now chosen to join the modern Commonwealth.

The Commonwealth includes some of the richest and poorest, largest and smallest nations in the world.

The Commonwealth is about:
  • democracy
  • human rights
  • the rule of law
  • peace
  • justice
  • co-operation
  • development

The Commonwealth is about people working together. It is about ordinary people being given choices and opportunities so that they can improve their lives. People have to be involved in making decisions. Every person's view has to be heard and respected. Commonwealth countries work together to make their economies stronger, to improve their systems of government and to improve the skills of their people.

Countries of the Commonwealth

There are 53 countries in the Commonwealth.

Thirty-two of these member countries are small countries. There are more than 1.7 billion people in the Commonwealth.

Also included in the Commonwealth are a number of small countries and areas which are run by or linked with three Commonwealth members - Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

The member with the biggest population is India (one billion) and the smallest are Nauru and Tuvalu in the Pacific ocean (11,000 people each).

The richest members are Australia, Canada, Singapore and the UK.

Some of the poorest are Mozambique, Sierra Leone and Tanzania which are all in Africa.

The flags of the countries of the Commonwealth.

How does the Commonwealth work?

There is no set of rules which joins the members of the Commonwealth together. Instead these countries say they will work in a similar way and follow similar rules and laws.

The Queen is Head of the Commonwealth

Queen Elizabeth II is seen as the Head of the Commonwealth but she has no powers to decide what the Commonwealth should do. However, the Queen has had a very important role in shaping the modern Commonwealth. Throughout the last 50 years the Queen has shown a great commitment to the Commonwealth, visiting many Commonwealth countries and attending most Heads of Government Meetings. The headquarters are at Marlborough House in London.

What happens at these meetings?

At these meetings the leaders of commonwealth countries meet up to discuss things which are important to them. At these meetings all people are treated the same. The leaders of small countries are seen as just as important as the leaders of big countries. They sit together and discuss what they are going to do in their different countries. It is a bit like a big family.

The History of the Commonwealth

About 500 years ago in the time of Queen Elizabeth I, many people began traveling around the world and discovering new places. The English, French, Spanish and Portuguese were the best at this. When the explorers found new lands they took them over as belonging to their country. People began settling in these new countries and the Queen became in charge of them. This was the beginnings of the Commonwealth. Most of the countries of the Commonwealth were once part of this British Empire.

In recent times many of the countries decided they wanted to be in charge of themselves again and the British Empire got much smaller.

What does the commonwealth do?

The Commonwealth has many areas which are important to it.

1. Encouraging democracy
In a democratic country people know their rights and how to protect them. In a democracy there is:

freedom of expression - people can say what they want to freely.

freedom of assembly - people can attend meetings and take part in peaceful protests

independent judges who keep the rule of law

2. Making sure elections are fair
All adults should be able to choose who represents them in parliament and local councils by voting at elections. The right to vote is one of the most precious rights we hold. Sometimes these elections are not fair, so the Commonwealth has special people who go to some countries to help make it fair.

3. Protecting human rights
The Commonwealth works hard to make sure all people and children are treated fairly and that no=-one is taken for granted, works in unsafe places and are looked after.

4. Encouraging freedom of speech

The Commonwealth believes that people must be free to say what thy think about things. One way they do this is through the media. Newspapers, radio and television can help spread people’s ideas. The fact that all the member countries use English as their language means they can spread their thoughts a long way.

5. Peace and order

Wars between or within countries have terrible effects on people. It is only when there is peace that people can improve their lives.

The Commonwealth tries to stop disputes and conflicts as soon as possible. Sometimes a member country seeks help from the Commonwealth Secretary-General in solving a dispute. They do this because the Commonwealth is seen as a friendly, non-threatening organisation. It can call on very experienced people to help solve problems.

If there is trouble in a country, someone often visits, the countries. The aim is to persuade the two sides to talk to each other and solve their problems, before open conflict breaks out.

6. Good governance
Governments should work in an open way, so that everyone knows what is going on.

7. Building a civil society
Democracy isn't just about having elections. It is also about having an open, just and honest government, about respect for the law and for the human rights of all people, including women, young people, people with disabilities and ethnic minorities.

8. International co-operation
International co-operation is what the Commonwealth is all about. By sharing problems and experiences member countries help each other - and this helps to improve people's lives.

9. Health

The Commonwealth works together to try and stop lots of terrible diseases. It helps with medicines, injections, doctors and nurses.

10. Looking after the environment

The commonwealth works hard to help people stop harming the environment. It helps by educating people about how to look after the world by doing things like recycling. It tries to stop terrible things happening to plants, trees rainforests and glaciers.

Assisting small states

The Commonwealth helps all its countries and especially the small ones to help them be in charge of themselves.