The modern Commonwealth was established in 1949 as an association of free and equal sovereign states which had been part of the British Empire but were now independent and, in the case of India and Pakistan, on the verge of becoming Republics. There are now 53 member states, with a combined population of 2.2 billion (approximately 30% of the world’s population). Rwanda, the newest member joined in 2009, despite having no direct link to Britain. The Gambia left the Commonwealth in 2013, returning in 2018; Zimbabwe withdrew in 2003; the Maldives left in 2016.
The Commonwealth is an association of governments and peoples, built around shared language, institutions, challenges, aspirations and values. Unlike most other international associations, the Commonwealth works on a consensus model and membership is voluntary, predicated primarily on a country’s commitment to upholding shared values and principles, including the protection and promotion of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.