The Commonwealth is now a unique association of 54 independent states (the newest of which, Rwanda, joined in 2009) consulting and co-operating in the common interests of their peoples and in the promotion of international understanding. It comprises a diverse range of countries from all continents of the world (apart from Antarctica). In the 60 years since the Declaration, the relevance and value of the relationship has been reaffirmed and consolidated repeatedly.
The Commonwealth Secretariat is the principal organisation of the Commonwealth. It implements the decisions taken by the association’s 54 member governments.
It was established by Heads of Government in 1965 and is located at Marlborough House in London. Its sister inter-governmental organisations are the Commonwealth Foundation (also based at Marlborough House) and the Commonwealth of Learning (in Vancouver, Canada).
The Commonwealth Secretariat is headed by the Commonwealth Secretary-General, Kamalesh Sharma, who took over on 1 April 2008.
The Secretary-General is elected by Heads of Government for a maximum of two four-year terms. The Secretary-General is supported by two Deputies. About three-quarters of the 54 member countries are currently represented among the some 252 staff of the Secretariat.
The Secretariat organises Commonwealth summits, meetings of ministers, consultative meetings and technical discussions. It assists policy development, facilitates multilateral communication among the member governments and provides policy advice and technical assistance. Its activities are supported by assessed budget and programme funds.
All member governments contribute to this budget on an agreed scale based on their country's population and income.
Specialised funds support specific Commonwealth activities. The largest fund is the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation (CFTC).
This fund was established in 1971 to promote technical co-operation among developing countries and funds training programmes, experts in the field and advisers to fill gaps in skills in areas such as industry, economics, law, export and marketing.
Democracy and development and the improvement in quality of life that they bring, are key priorities of the Commonwealth.
The organisation has a number of different programmes, which contribute to democracy and development across all member states.
Strengthening democratic processes and institutions.
Commonwealth Election Observer Groups report on the credibility of the electoral process, whether conditions exist for a free expression of will by the electors and if the election results reflect the wishes of the people.
The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), a group of nine Foreign Ministers, can take action against countries which are in serious or persistent violation of the democratic principles. The range of actions it can take include at its mildest, keeping a situation under review to suspension from the Councils, and in extreme cases, expulsion from the Commonwealth.
The UK is currently a member of CMAG but will rotate off after the Commonwealth Heads of Government 2009 meeting.
Promoting the rule of law is seen as enhancing democracy, good governance and development across the membership.
Aims to assist members in the adoption and implementation of international human rights.
Aims to promote and enhance good governance and development.
Assisting developing countries to improve their understanding of international trade rules and regulations, and to help them strengthen their negotiations within the World Trade Organisation.
The Commonwealth brings together industrialised countries with significant greenhouse gas emissions, large emerging economies, notable energy production and some of the poorest and most vulnerable economies.
The Commonwealth works towards the Millennium Development Goals and is particularly active in education, gender and health.