March 11th saw the annual commemoration of Commonwealth Day, a day of international festivities and cultural events celebrating the unique role played by our extraordinary global family. Given that 2019 also marks the 70th anniversary of the organisation in its modern form, I thought that I would take this opportunity to share with you why I think the Commonwealth has been such a force for good.
The Commonwealth is an organisation unlike any other. Drawn from 53 member states and comprising of all the world’s major religions, the Commonwealth encompasses more than 2 billion people, the majority of which are under the age of 30. The sheer diversity within our family is perhaps its greatest source of strength. It provides us with so many different perspectives and experiences to call upon when pursuing our shared goals of promoting democracy, sustainable development, good governance and respect for human rights and our natural environment.
Regarding human rights, the Commonwealth has proven itself time and time again to be one of the world’s leading moral authorities. Its dedication to equality and empowerment led the Commonwealth to take a leading role in the campaign against apartheid in South Africa, adopting strict sanctions against its racist government, which encouraged the crucial support of the United States. It also took a strong position against Zimbabwe in 2002 and has been quick to confront those who fall short of the high standards we have set.
In more recent years the organisation has campaigned for gender equality, preparing a new generation of women for global leadership, and has been courageous champion of democratic principles. The Commonwealth has observed over 140 elections since 1980, ensuring free and fair elections in nearly 40 countries. Of course, we can always do more to promote greater equality and respect for human rights, especially in relation to those states who are not members of the Commonwealth, though I do believe that the organisation continues to be an outspoken advocate on these issues.
The strongest case for Commonwealth membership lies in the incredible advantages it offers in international trade and developmental aid, which is why several developing nations have joined our family in recent years, despite lacking a historic link with Britain. The economic and diplomatic rewards of Commonwealth membership will only grow into the future, with the rise of emerging powers such as India, Bangladesh and Pakistan furthering their footprint on the global stage.
With so much of the world suffering from economic, political and ecological instability, I believe that the Commonwealth can continue to serve us as a vital network in an uncertain age. Seemingly intractable problems such as climate change and inequality can only be resolved through truly international coordination, and few organisations are better placed to act at this critical juncture than ours. As the former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said during the Commonwealth Day festivities in 2016, “it has never been more important for the Commonwealth to stress the bonds of human compassion and solidarity that unite us”.
I hope that on this special day, we can all take a moment to reflect on the bonds and shared values that unite us all, and celebrate the incredible achievements made possible by the Commonwealth of Nations.