The Commonwealth of Nations, formed in 1949, is the heir of the former British Empire. Its 53 members are nations that believe they share a history, culture, and language: English.
Mozambique and Rwanda are also members. Members claim a common devotion to democracy, respect for human rights, and the rule of law.
Adherence to these principles can lead to problems or suspensions. Nigeria and South Africa were suspended, then reinstated. Fiji is suspended because of its nondemocratic government.
Gambia and Zimbabwe withdrew to avoid condemnation. Israel and Palestine, both on former British-governed territory, would have a claim on membership but have not applied.
The members’ combined population is more than 2.2 billion. Queen Elizabeth II is head of the Commonwealth.
A recent meeting of Commonwealth heads of state in Sri Lanka was surrounded by controversy, based on the host country’s human rights record in its civil war that ended in 2009 and claimed thousands of victims. The prime ministers of Canada, India, and Mauritius boycotted the meeting for that reason.
British Prime Minister David Cameron attended, but insisted on visiting the defeated rebel Tamil region to make a point about human rights. Queen Elizabeth did not attend; the reputation of the Sri Lankan government undoubtedly played a role in her decision.
The Commonwealth plays a positive role in international relations, in that some of its members care what other members think about them. In this way, given the basic values of the organization, it continues to perform a useful global function.