The Commonwealth of Nations is a voluntary association of 53 independent sovereign states (one of whose membership is currently suspended). Most are former British colonies, or dependencies of these colonies. No one government in the Commonwealth exercises power over the others, as in apolitical union. Rather, the relationship is one of an international organisation through which countries with diverse social, political, and economic backgrounds are regarded as equal in status, and co-operate within a framework of common values and goals, as outlined in the Singapore Declaration. These include the promotion of democracy,human rights, good governance, the rule of law, individual liberty, egalitarianism, free trade, multilateralism, andworld peace, and are carried out through multilateral projects and meetings, as well as the quadrennial Commonwealth Games. The symbol of this free association is Queen Elizabeth II, known for this purpose asHead of the Commonwealth. This position, however, does not imbue her with any political or executive power over any Commonwealth member states; the position is purely symbolic, and it is the Commonwealth Secretary-General who is the chief executive of the organisation.
The Commonwealth was first officially formed in 1931 when the Statute of Westminster gave legal recognition to the independence of dominions. Known as the "British Commonwealth", the original members were the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the Irish Free State, and Dominion of Newfoundland, although Australia and New Zealand did not adopt the statute until 1942 and 1947 respectively. In 1949, theLondon Declaration was signed and marked the birth of the modern Commonwealth and the renaming to its present name. The newest member is Rwanda, which joined on 29 November 2009. The most recent departure was The Gambia, which severed its connection with the Commonwealth on 3 October 2013.
Presently, of the states that are members of the Commonwealth of Nations, three are in Europe, twelve in North America, one in South America, nineteen in Africa, eight in Asia, and eleven in Oceania (including one suspended member, Fiji). There are seven former members, four of which no longer exist as independent entities (but form part of current member states). The members have a combined population of 2.2 billion people, almost a third of the world population, of which 1.21 billion live in India, and 95% live in Asia and Africa combined.