The Commonwealth

New Zealand is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, an organisation of 54 countries — most with a shared history as part of the former British Empire.

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About the Commonwealth

The Commonwealth of Nations was formed in 1949 to maintain an association between countries that had once been part of the British colonies, but which were considered 'free and equal'.

Commonwealth countries span the globe and, with a combined population of 2.2 billion, include almost a third of the world’s population. It’s a diverse group with members among the largest, smallest, wealthiest and poorest countries in the world. Sixteen members have the British monarch as their head of state (including New Zealand), six have their own monarch and 32 are republics.

Despite differences, Commonwealth countries have a sense of kinship and unity and are often described as a ‘family of nations’. We share many cultural elements that come from our similar colonial past, including the English language, some sports, and similar systems of law, education and government. The Head of the Commonwealth is Queen Elizabeth II.

What does the Commonwealth do?

The Commonwealth works on behalf of member countries to promote peace and prosperity. This includes helping countries with small business development, legislation, election monitoring, and human rights, particularly promoting the role and rights of young people and of women. There are a large number of organisations and networks under the umbrella of the Commonwealth that carry out and support this work.

The Commonwealth Charter

In 2012 the Commonwealth adopted a charter setting out the values of the organisation and the commitments members are expected to make. Central to the charter are the beliefs in democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

Commonwealth governance and organisations

Commonwealth Secretariat

The Commonwealth Secretariat in London manages the work of the Commonwealth and is the central point for all member governments. The Secretariat can provide governments with policy advice and practical assistance. It also works to find solutions to sensitive political and economic issues faced by members. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade regularly liaises with the Secretariat through our High Commission in London.

The current Secretary-General is Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC, from Dominica. She took up this role in April 2016. New Zealand’s former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sir Don McKinnon served as Secretary-General from 2000 to 2008.

The biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM)

Every two years, leaders from each country come together for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), to decide the policy and activities of the Commonwealth. The first CHOGM was held in 1971. New Zealand hosted the meeting in 1995.

Read about the 2018 CHOGM meeting in London(external link).

The Commonwealth Foundation

The Commonwealth Foundation is a development organisation of the Commonwealth that aims to build the capacity of civil society across member states. 

New Zealand’s former Governor General Sir Anand Satyanand served as chair of the Commonwealth Foundation from 2013-2016.

How is New Zealand involved?

New Zealand is a founding member of the Commonwealth and we're actively involved in many of its activities. We've hosted many Commonwealth meetings and consultations.

We're currently one of the nine members of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), which was established at a meeting in Queenstown in 1995 to discuss and decide ways to deal with members that violate the Commonwealth values (as set out in the Harare Declaration(external link)).

Since 1992, New Zealanders have participated in many Commonwealth missions to observe elections in member countries.

Our contributions

Contributions to the Commonwealth Secretariat are determined according to each country’s ability to pay. In 2016 New Zealand contributed just over $5 million to Commonwealth organisations. This includes voluntary contributions to a number of Commonwealth organisations including:

  • The Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation (CTFC) – this fund supports technical assistance to developing countries. Many New Zealand experts and consultants have worked on CTFC projects
  • Commonwealth of Learning – helps developing nations improve access to quality distance learning through appropriate technologies
  • Commonwealth Small States Office – we are the largest donor to the small states offices in New York and Geneva that provide support for small countries to participate in UN meetings
  • Commonwealth Scholarships – we offer scholarships for undergraduate and graduate study in New Zealand, supporting the development of education across the Commonwealth

Find out more about New Zealand Commonwealth Scholarships(external link)

Small states

Almost two thirds of the Commonwealth’s members are classified as "small states", which are defined as countries with a population under 1.5 million. These countries, many of them islands, are particularly vulnerable to fluctuations in the global economy and to natural disasters.

New Zealand takes a particular interest in small states as almost a third of the Commonwealth’s small state members are in the Pacific. We appreciate the challenges of being relatively small and geographically isolated. New Zealand also has a direct interest in ensuring the Pacific region is economically prosperous and environmentally secure.

We work to raise the profile of issues facing small Pacific countries (in particular) during meetings and conversations with Commonwealth officials. The Commonwealth acts as a collective voice and can advocate for small countries, helping to raise international awareness of issues affecting them. It engages with the World Bank, the UN, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and other international organisations on behalf of small states.

Read more about how the Commonwealth helps small states(external link)

Commonwealth members

There are 52 members of the Commonwealth:

Africa Asia Caribbean and Americas Europe Pacific

Sierra Leone
South Africa
United Republic of Tanzania

Brunei Darussalam
Sri Lanka
Antigua and Barbuda
Bahamas, The
Saint Lucia
St Kitts and Nevis
St Vincent and The Grenadines
Trinidad and Tobago
United Kingdom
New Zealand
Papua New Guinea
Solomon Islands


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