This week, 56 nations spanning five geographical regions, including some of the largest economies on earth as well as the smallest of islands, celebrated their unity of vision and common commitment to peace and justice in an increasingly polarised world.
In London, Commonwealth Day was marked on 13 March with a series of events, including a wreath-laying ceremony in memory of fallen Commonwealth servicemen and women, followed by a special service at Westminster Abbey and a reception for visiting dignitaries hosted at Buckingham Palace.
During the Commonwealth Day Service, His Majesty King Charles III addressed the gathering as Head of the Commonwealth for the first time. Delivering his Commonwealth Day Message from the Great Pulpit, he hailed the “extraordinary potential” of the Commonwealth, stating:“The Commonwealth has an incredible opportunity, and responsibility, to create a genuinely durable future – one that offers the kind of prosperity that is in harmony with Nature and that will also secure our unique and only planet for generations to come.
“The myriad connections between our nations have sustained and enriched us for more than seven decades. Our commitment to peace, progress and opportunity will sustain us for many more.”
King Charles III highlighted pressing global challenges such as climate change and biodiversity loss, youth opportunity and education, global health and economic cooperation, as areas where the Commonwealth could play an indispensable role. He emphasised, “Ours is an association not just of shared values, but of common purpose and joint action.”
The congregation of about 2,000 people included the Commonwealth Secretary-General, the Prime Minister of Samoa, Foreign Ministers and dignitaries from across the UK and the Commonwealth, as well as faith leaders, youth advocates, athletes and more than 750 school children.
At end of the service, the Commonwealth Secretary-General, the Rt Hon Patricia Scotland, delivered the Commonwealth Day Affirmation, enjoining the congregation to reaffirm their commitment to upholding the values and fellowship of the Commonwealth.
The programme also featured performances by the Rwandan National Ballet Urukerereza, saxophonist Yolanda Brown, West End stars Roshani Abbey and Nuwan Hugh Perera, and the all-female Amalgamation Choir from Cyprus. Young Samoan environmental advocate Brianna Fruean delivered a special reflection.
Greetings from leaders
Across the Commonwealth, leaders and senior officials shared public messages of support.
In a statement, the Prime Minister of Canada, Hon Justin Trudeau said: “Countries in the Commonwealth build consensus through deliberation on matters of importance to its members, and advocate for the inclusion of small and vulnerable states on the world stage. Based on friendship and goodwill, we have made significant headway together on priorities such as democracy and peace, environmental issues, education, and sustainable development.”
The President of the Maldives, Ibrahim Solih tweeted: “On Commonwealth Day, I convey best wishes from the Maldivian people to HM King Charles III, the Commonwealth Secretariat, governments and people of the Commonwealth. Maldives remains committed to upholding our shared values and contribute towards a sustainable and peaceful common future.”
The President of Zambia, Hakainde Hichilema stated: “Today, as the Commonwealth countries, we celebrate our rich diverse cultures and the purpose that brings us together. We stand together, as 56 independent and equal nations of 2.5 billion people across the world to create a prosperous, peaceful, common future.”
In addition, across the Commonwealth from Ghana to Sri Lanka, the Commonwealth flag for peace was raised in prominent ceremonies, in recognition of the 10th anniversary of the signing of the Commonwealth Charter.
The Charter, first signed in 2013 by Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, enshrines the shared values of the organisation such as peace, democracy, human rights, rule of law and care for the environment.
Concluding the day’s celebrations, King Charles III signed the Commonwealth Charter as the new Head of the Commonwealth, before an audience of foreign ministers, high commissioners and commonwealth representatives at Buckingham Palace.
The Commonwealth Secretary-General said: “I believe profoundly that our family of 56 nations and 2.5 billion people is stronger, more vibrant, more connected and more purposeful than ever.
“On this tenth anniversary of our Charter, as we renew our commitment to its values and to each other, let us resolve together to ensure that in the years to come, we make the peaceful and sustainable common future we all strive for a reality for the whole Commonwealth.”
The week’s events continue with a special edition of the Marlborough House Dialogues featuring the Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa of Samoa (the incoming Commonwealth Chair-In-Office), as well as meetings of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group and Commonwealth Foreign Affairs Ministers.