March 8th, 2004
The lives of many of my generation were profoundly changed by a world war fought in the name of freedom. I have often reflected with pride on the huge contribution made by the peoples of the Commonwealth to that cause of liberty in which millions perished.
In the years following the war, a succession of countries emerging into independence chose to join the Commonwealth as free and equal members. As a result, the Commonwealth became rooted in all parts of the world and developed into the modern organisation we know today.
Democracy, national self-determination, individual liberty and human rights — all these are fundamental to that which binds the Commonwealth together.
The importance of these principles was clearly in the minds of Commonwealth leaders during their discussions at last December’s summit in Abuja, Nigeria. Living up to principles is never easy. It can involve difficult and painful decisions. But the affirmation of those values provides common ground for the Commonwealth as a whole to grow stronger.
The Abuja meeting also made the crucial link between democracy and development. Democracy is important to sustained development — and underdevelopment can be democracy’s greatest threat.
Nowhere is freedom perfectly realised — and its enemies are not only those who terrorise and torture. They are also hunger, poverty, disease and ignorance. That is why it is important for the Commonwealth to do all it can to tackle these challenges directly, whether in alleviating poverty or in promoting education and health. It is also essential to strengthen the rule of law, protect democratic freedoms and build strong civil societies.
I firmly believe that if the Commonwealth is to increase its role as a force for good in the world, strengthening democratic freedoms must remain at the heart of its purposes.
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