On Monday 13 March, schools and communities in 52 countries will mark Commonwealth Day 2017. This year, the annual celebration of the Commonwealth’s shared values is themed ‘A Peace-building Commonwealth’. Highlights include:

The Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey at 1445GMT
The Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games Queen’s Baton Relay launch at Buckingham Palace at 1130GMT
A new Commonwealth Peace in the Home initiative to tackle domestic violence
The Head of the Commonwealth, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, will lead festivities with a special message issued to the two and a half billion people who live in Commonwealth countries.

The Commonwealth Service, the UK’s largest inter-faith celebration at Westminster Abbey in London, will be attended by The Queen, accompanied by The Duke of Edinburgh, The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall, Prince Harry, The Duke of York and The Earl of Wessex.

Broadcast live around the world by the BBC, the service will feature musical performances, testimonies and readings including an affirmation led by Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland.

The 2018 Queen’s Baton Relay – the longest in history and most accessible ever – will start its epic journey from Buckingham Palace, connecting communities throughout Africa, the Americas, Asia, the Caribbean, Europe and finally Oceania on its way to Australia for the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games.

From its earliest hours in Pacific island nations such as Kiribati and Samoa, Commonwealth Day is a global citizen-led celebration of democracy and human rights, the values expressed in the Charter of the Commonwealth.

Commenting on the theme for 2017, ‘A Peace-building Commonwealth’, Secretary-General Scotland said: “The Commonwealth builds peace by bringing people together, and by mobilising mutual support among our member states to strengthen democracy and development.

“With respect and understanding we celebrate our rich diversity, and work alongside one another in practical ways to champion the needs of the marginalised and most vulnerable. Our theme this year reflects the shared determination of the whole Commonwealth family to deliver enduring peace for all.”

In this spirit, the Secretary-General is this week launching a ‘Peace in the Home’ initiative to tackle domestic violence. Her aim is to build a coalition of governments, businesses, civil society, human rights institutions, and individual citizens committed to ending domestic violence.

At the Commonwealth Service, the Prime Minister of Malta and Chair-in-Office of the Commonwealth, Joseph Muscat, and Cameroonian peace advocate Achaleke Christian Leke, a former victim of radicalisation and violence, will reflect on ‘A Peace-building Commonwealth’. Performers will include George the Poet, a British spoken word artist and social commentator of Ugandan heritage, Canadian soprano Measha Brueggergosman and Maltese poet and author Dr Immanuel Mifsud.

The Lord Howell of Guildford, Chairman of the Council of Commonwealth Societies and President of The Royal Commonwealth Society, said: “The Commonwealth Service held in the presence of Her Majesty The Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, focuses all our minds on the essential role the Commonwealth can play in the future and the work we all have to do to make this happen.

“Our celebratory event now spreads its message across the globe. It is matched by ceremonies, services and flag displays across the towns and cities of the United Kingdom, as well as in many great cities across the Commonwealth. All these events are a reminder of our common family purpose, of what together we can achieve and of the goals towards which, in the interests of all humanity, we must now strive.”

Commonwealth Games Federation President Louise Martin said: “Launching the Gold Coast 2018 Queen’s Baton Relay on Commonwealth Day is a fitting start to an inspiring and inclusive event that connects our diverse global community in anticipation for the next Commonwealth Games.

“We passionately believe that the Games, and the level playing field of sport, should be a tool for building strong and peaceful communities and supporting journeys of reconciliation. In the spirit of ‘A Peace-building Commonwealth’, and for the first time ever as part of the Queen’s Baton Relay launch, representatives of the Traditional Custodians of the land where the Commonwealth Games will be held, the Yugambeh People, will deliver a moving invitation to all First Nations peoples of the Commonwealth to join in the celebrations of the Games.”

This year’s increased programme of Commonwealth Day activities has been coordinated by the Commonwealth House – a collaborative approach that sees the Commonwealth Secretariat, The Royal Commonwealth Society, the Commonwealth Local Government Forum and the Commonwealth Games Federation join forces to support, promote and advance the values of the Commonwealth as never before.

Commonwealth Local Government Forum Chairperson Mpho Moruakgomo said: “The theme of Commonwealth Day this year is very relevant to our work as effective local government makes conflict less likely whereas ineffective local government increases conflict risk.”