Britain's Prince Charles expressed deep sorrow over slavery in a speech to Commonwealth leaders in Rwanda on Friday and acknowledged that the roots of the organisation lay in a painful period of history, alluding to the slave trade and colonialism.
The Commonwealth, a club of 54 countries most of which are former British colonies, encompasses about a third of humanity and presents itself as a network of equal partners with shared goals such as democracy, peace and prosperity, reports Reuters.
"While we strive together for peace, prosperity and democracy, I want to acknowledge that the roots of our contemporary association run deep into the most painful period of our history," Charles told assembled Commonwealth leaders at the opening ceremony of a two-day summit in Kigali.
"I cannot describe the depths of my personal sorrow at the suffering of so many as I continue to deepen my own understanding of slavery's enduring impact."
Rooted in the British Empire, the Commonwealth has not previously grappled publicly with the legacy of colonialism or slavery, but there have been increasing calls, especially from Caribbean member states, for it to do so.
"If we are to forge a common future that benefits all our citizens, we too must find new ways to acknowledge our past. Quite simply, this is a conversation whose time has come," Charles said.
He was at the summit representing his mother, Queen Elizabeth, who has been head of the Commonwealth since her reign began in 1952. The baton will pass to him, according to a decision by Commonwealth leaders made in 2018 that some Caribbean nations are now contesting.
In his speech, Charles also acknowledged growing republican sentiment in some of the 15 Commonwealth nations that currently have the queen as head of state. They include the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Jamaica, Belize, the Bahamas and Papua New Guinea.