March 10th, 2014 was Commonwealth Day, celebrated each year on the second Monday of March by Commonwealth countries around the world. In UK, Her Majesty The Queen, head of the Commonwealth attended the Commonwealth Day Act of Observance at Westminster Abbey. Several members of the Royal Family and other dignitaries of important members of the Commonwealth also attended. This is a multi-faith Commonwealth Observance service held annually to mark the day. Commonwealth Day is a day of celebration of the Commonwealth Nations and the unity they share, despite their diversity. Commonwealth, also known as the British Commonwealth or the Commonwealth of Nations, is an organistion of the countries that were once British Colonies, formed as a result of decolonisation. Consisting of 53 countries, the Commonwealth has a combined population of 2.2 billion, approximately a third of the world’s population. However, only 16 Commonwealth Nations recognise The Queen (or other current monarch) as their Head of State. These nations, including Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Jamaica, are known as the British Realms. The remaining members of the Commonwealth, such as India, Sri Lanka and South Africa, are republic states and are not a part of the British Empire. (Royal Central, UK). In Canada, the Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander issued the following statement to mark Commonwealth Day:
“Today, many great nations around the world will celebrate Commonwealth Day.
“From sunrise to sunset, Canada will proudly
display the Royal Union Flag – an official flag of Canada commonly called the Union Jack – alongside our national flag at airports and federal establishments across the country. This is a powerful symbol of our membership in the Commonwealth of Nations, a peaceful association which spans six continents…
“Canadians continue to be united in our Commonwealth heritage and its contributions to our values of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
“As Canada’s Citizenship and Immigration Minister, I proudly join Canadians as we celebrate Commonwealth Day with more than 2 billion people from around the world.” (Citizenship & Immigration Canada).
The theme of this year’s Commonwealth Day was “Team Commonwealth”. The day’s events included a debate promoting the ideals of both the Commonwealth and parliamentary democracy. From New Zealand, two young New Zealanders, Tehnuka Ilanko, a PhD student at Cambridge University, and Tredegar Hall, a Master’s degree graduate from Waikato University, represented New Zealand at the celebration in London. 2014 has so far been an exciting year for New Zealand in terms of its engagement with Commonwealth parliaments. New Zealand hosted the 22nd Conference of Speakers and Presiding Officers of the Commonwealth in Wellington this January, which was attended by over 50 Speakers and other observers from around the Commonwealth. (Scoop Media, NZ). Sri Lanka, as a member of the Commonwealth, was the last country to host the annual Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM, 2013) and the Sri Lankan president is the current chairperson. In Australia, Commonwealth Day was celebrated by the NSW Commonwealth Day Council at Parliament House Sydney. Her Excellency the Governor, Professor Bashir, read a message from HM The Queen. Australia’s Commonwealth Flag officer announced that the Australian National Flag should be flown all day on Monday 10 March 2014 on Australian Government buildings and establishments. State, territory and local government agencies were also invited to follow this protocol. 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. (The Royal Commonwealth Society). The Queen highlighted the values in her speech on the theme of “Team Commonwealth”:
“Affinities of history and inheritance from the past are strong, yet we are bound together by a sense that the Commonwealth is a powerful influence of good for the future. People of all ages from different cultures are weaving an ever-growing network of links which connect us in our diversity and our common purpose. It is this unity that is expressed in this year’s theme: “Team Commonwealth”. While national teams will be concentrating on the competition in August, [Commonwealth Games]Team Commonwealth will have a longer focus, working together to achieve a more enduring success.
“Experiences of life differ widely throughout the Commonwealth, and we each make contributions from sometimes very different viewpoints. But we are committed to the same goals. Together we offer each other encouragement and draw strength from this mutual support.
“The understanding that we belong together, and are able, through teamwork, to achieve far more than we could do alone, has always been at the heart of our approach. For all of us this is now captured in the Commonwealth Charter which sets out the values and principles which guide and motivate us.
“This year, more children and young people are participating in Commonwealth Day celebrations. Advances in technology enable us to reach a greater number of young people in schools, on-line using the ‘Commonwealth Class’ initiative, and through events in local communities where the Commonwealth flag is being raised. I am delighted that in this, the year of ‘Team Commonwealth’, we will be working to build a brighter, united future in which every one of us can play a part and share in its rewards”.
The 20th annual Commonwealth Games will be held in Glasgow, Scotland this July. For information about applying for a visitor visa to Scotland for the Commonwealth Games, contact us. The Visa Centre facilitates migration to some Commonwealth Countries, (apart from the UK) including Canada, Australia and New Zealand, as well as other countries around the world, promoting diversity around the world. Image: The Commonwealth Flag