A community leader lays a wreath during a memorial service for HM The Queen at St Paul's Cathedral in Kampala, Uganda. Photo by Luke Dray/Getty Images

The Commonwealth’s breadth allows a wide diversity of countries of different sizes, geographies, cultures, and values to be members – it is both rich and poor, north and south, and ethnically diverse. This makes it more interesting than many other multilateral institutions such as the G7, NATO, and the European Union (EU).

But it suffers from an unclear purpose. Since its inception, successive UK governments have grappled with its role – whether it is a preferential trading bloc or merely a source of most of Britain’s post-war immigration.

This lack of purpose – and structure – has left the Commonwealth impotent in dealing with a host of bilateral difficulties between the UK, its overseas territories, and Commonwealth partners in recent years.…  Seguir leyendo »

Queen Elizabeth II was laid to rest last week at Windsor Castle, home to monarchs for the past thousand years. What was not laid to rest with the Queen’s internment was an important question: What does the future look like for countries of the Commonwealth, where the British monarch remains the head of state?

Charles III is the King today of 14 “realms” outside of the British Isles. In some of those realms, such as Australia, Canada and Jamaica, there are now calls to jettison the monarchy and instead install a republic, just as Barbados did last year.

A related question is also surfacing now: What is the legacy of the British Empire writ large?…  Seguir leyendo »

Isabel II y el fin de un imperio

Las asombrosas escenas de miles de personas bordeando las carreteras y calles de Escocia para despedir al féretro que llevaba a Isabel II a su palacio en Edimburgo demuestra una de las grandes realidades del reinado de la difunta Reina, y su capacidad para ganarse la lealtad de su gente. Es una realidad que garantiza la supervivencia de la comunidad de naciones que ella gobernó. La reacción del pueblo escocés también revela el limitado papel del separatismo nacionalista en un contexto donde la personalidad del monarca puede ser determinante. El cambio de monarca, sin duda alguna, no traerá desastre. Uno de los grandes misterios de los extensos territorios que en su día fueron conocidos como Imperio británico ha sido su capacidad de supervivencia.…  Seguir leyendo »

El imperio abstracto

Las banderas de la India ondeando a media asta en señal de luto por la muerte de la reina Isabel II evocan hoy, 11 de septiembre, la compleja historia del Reino Unido y el país que fue considerado la “joya de la corona” del Imperio Británico. El día de duelo nacional decretado por el Gobierno de Delhi durante esta jornada constituye, sin duda, una muestra de respeto hacia la jefatura del Estado de la potencia que ejerció de metrópoli hasta 1947, cuando la India alcanzó una independencia de la que este año se cumplen 75 años. Pero el gesto de rendir tributo oficial a la reina fallecida no pretende recordar, sin embargo, ninguna relación privilegiada que derive del pasado colonial compartido: las banderas de la India también ondearon a media asta con motivo del asesinato del ex primer ministro japonés Shinzo Abe, creador del concepto de Indo-Pacífico que inspira una parte sustantiva de la actual geoestrategia mundial.…  Seguir leyendo »

Queen Elizabeth II and Indian President Pratihba Patel at Buckingham Palace, London, October 2009. Shaun Curry / Reuters

There are few points of comparison for a head of state who remains in office for seven decades. In June 2022, Queen Elizabeth II, who died on September 8, surpassed even Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej to become the longest-reigning monarch in the industrial era. Only Louis XIV of France, who ruled for 72 years in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, spent more time on the throne. All the more remarkable, during these decades as sovereign she weathered extraordinary upheavals in British foreign policy—from decolonization to the war on terror, from the rise of the European Union to Brexit—that few could have anticipated when she became queen in 1952.…  Seguir leyendo »

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip visiting Jamaica in 1953. About 500 people immigrated after World War II from the Caribbean to Britain, arriving on a ship called the Empire Windrush. Credit Popperfoto/Getty Images

In August 1947, a Ministry of Works carpenter unscrewed the plaque by the door on King Charles Street in London that read “India Office” and replaced it with one that said “Commonwealth Relations Office.” The jewel in Britain’s imperial crown had become independent India and Pakistan. The plaque was supposed to herald a new era of equality and friendship: a family of nations that had once been under British imperial rule but were now — with Britain’s belated blessing — moving into independence.

This family has had its ups and downs over the past 71 years, but the arrangement has been more or less maintained.…  Seguir leyendo »

India's delegation enters for the opening ceremony of the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Photo: Getty Images.

India’s approach to the regional groupings of which it is a member is self-evidently instrumentalist. With limited resources each of the organizations or groups which India promotes serve a particular economic, political or cultural purpose.

Thus, IBSA (comprising India, Brazil and South Africa) comprises a group of like-minded, Southern democracies, useful to align approaches in forums such as the UN. The BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) offered a means of showcasing not political alignment but economic potential. Regional forums – the Indian Ocean Rim Association, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation – each offer different means for India to develop or demonstrate its regional role.…  Seguir leyendo »

Educar a la Mancomunidad de Naciones

Con sus 53 estados miembros y 2400 millones de personas, la Mancomunidad de Naciones es una poderosa fuerza para el cambio positivo. Por casi siete décadas, los estados de la Mancomunidad han liderado al mundo en temas de comercio, empoderamiento femenino, protección de los recursos naturales y muchos más.

Pero ahora que la Mancomunidad encara nuevos desafíos en materia de desarrollo humano, su dirigencia no está prestando atención suficiente al factor más importante de todos: la educación. A menos que se renueve el compromiso con este elemento clave de la prosperidad, será difícil hacer avances en otras áreas.

Hoy unos 140 millones de niños en la Mancomunidad no están escolarizados.…  Seguir leyendo »

As the Commonwealth summit approaches, the shadow foreign secretary, Douglas Alexander, among others, has urged David Cameron to boycott the meeting next week in Colombo, while the Canadian prime minister, Stephen Harper, has withdrawn. At issue are the war crimes alleged to have been committed under the host government in Sri Lanka, for which there is mounting evidence. Thousands of Tamil civilians were killed during the bloody civil war. President Mahinda Rajapaksa is also accused of attacks on the press and violence against government critics. With the UN too calling for an independent investigation, refused so far, it is certainly depressing that Commonwealth leaders show so little appetite for challenging his intransigence.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Gambia has declared that it is withdrawing from the Commonwealth, a "neocolonial institution", according to the country's president, Yahya Jammeh. No further reasons were given, but the decision may well be related to the poor relationship between Jammeh and the UK. He's accused Britain of backing his political opposition, and this year the Foreign Office criticised the Gambia's human rights record.

Inevitably, the spotlight now shines on an association which grew out of empire and managed to re-invent itself as a values-based club that, according to Jawaharlal Nehru, brought a "touch of healing" to the world.

Since the modern Commonwealth was created in 1949, every former British colony – and some others like Mozambique and Rwanda – has decided to join.…  Seguir leyendo »

Last weekend, representatives of 54 countries, mostly heads of government, attended the bi-annual Commonwealth Meeting. High on the agenda was a report by the Eminent Persons Group (EPG), established to reinvigorate the Commonwealth, strengthen its Secretariat, and transform its approach to human rights. The group included  former Australian High Court Justice Michael Kirby, former British Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind, former Malay Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, and Mozamibique’s former first lady (and wife of Nelson Mandela) Graça Machel, among others. The group’s recommendations were unanimous.

But the Commonwealth’s assembled leaders ignored the report’s key recommendation, which concerned the establishment of a Human Rights Commissioner to oversee and report on the actions of member governments.…  Seguir leyendo »

According to your report, our organisation's "silence" over human rights abuses by our member states speaks volumes about where we stand on this key issue (Commonwealth 'has abandoned' human rights role, 9 October).

It states "the secretary general ... will not speak out against abuses by any of the 54 member states". The article continues that this represents a reversal of the Commonwealth's tradition of speaking out over gross abuses.

All 54 nations of the Commonwealth, accounting for a quarter of the world's countries and a third of its people, have backed the UN declaration of human rights, yet only five of them – Lesotho, Nigeria, Rwanda, Seychelles and Uganda – have ratified eight key treaties that come from it.…  Seguir leyendo »

The allegations in Saturday's Guardian that the Commonwealth secretariat has abandoned its commitment to defend human rights could not have come at a worse time. Bad press around the Delhi games had already led to questions about what the Commonwealth is for these days, and this news potentially undermines the very thing that sets the association apart.

If the Commonwealth is to survive in the 21st century, it needs to show that it stands for something more than its ties to the old empire. The obvious choice, reaffirmed most recently when leaders met late last year, is a commitment to "fundamental values and principles" around human rights and democracy.…  Seguir leyendo »

Indications ahead of the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Trinidad are that Zimbabwe will be offered readmission to the Commonwealth in 2011. In return for readmission Zimbabwe will be required to implement democratic and economic reforms. Zimbabwe was suspended from the Commonwealth in 2002 on the grounds that Robert Mugabe had been fraudulently re-elected in the country's presidential election. Zimbabwe quit the Commonwealth a year later, after the body refused to lift the country's suspension. The lifting of Zimbabwe's suspension had been supported by South Africa and some southern African countries, which favoured engagement over isolation of Zimbabwe. Mugabe's Zanu-PF government labelled the Commonwealth's decision racist.…  Seguir leyendo »

Today is Commonwealth Day. To mark it, the Queen will join 2,000 others at Westminster Abbey for the UK's largest multifaith observance. Since emerging from the colonial era as a voluntary grouping of independent nations 60 years ago, the modern Commonwealth has done a great deal to promote democracy, international understanding and the interests of vulnerable states. Yet, at least in the UK, if more is not done to raise its visibility and relevance the Commonwealth risks disappearing from the national consciousness.

In 1969, a Gallup poll found that 34% of British people identified the Commonwealth as the most important part of the world for Britain, on a par with those who said America, and one and a half times those who said Europe.…  Seguir leyendo »

Education ministers from across the Commonwealth gathered in Cape Town last week to discuss, with the world's leading experts, how to change the lives of the millions of children denied schooling. Conspicuous by its absence from this important conference was Fiji. The Pacific island nation was suspended from the councils of the Commonwealth on December 8, following a military coup, the country's fourth in 20 years. The nine countries currently in the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group agreed that it could no longer have a voice in our 53-nation family, nor receive any new technical assistance, for as long as it remains under the control of a military regime.…  Seguir leyendo »