The heads of state of the Commonwealth of Nations – nee The British Commonwealth – are meeting next week in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
Already there have been demands for the meeting to be moved because of the dubious human rights record of the Sri Lankan government. Which were about as successful as calls for the Olympics to be moved from Russia.
At the 2011 meeting in Perth, well-meaning British PM David Cameron attempted to improve the situation for GLBTI in the Commonwealth. He threatened to withhold British aid from countries that refused to reform legislation banning homosexuality. He was immediately branded an interfering colonialist and told in no uncertain terms to butt out of their internal affairs.
Tony Abbott is unlikely to make the same mistake in Colombo next week. But there is something he can do.
Newly-minted Australian NGO, the Kaleidoscope Human Rights Foundation, has written an open letter asking the Australian PM to speak up publicly for gay rights at the talkfest.
The Directors of the Foundation say they are gravely concerned that almost 80% of the heads of state attending CHOGM preside over nations that criminalise people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, in stark contrast to the world as a whole, where only 40% of nations have such laws. They say:
“I am sure you will agree that LGBTI people are deserving of respect and security and should not be regarded as second class citizens. In fact, in 1994, the Australian Federal Government played a historic role in establishing that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights protects the fundamental rights of LGBTI people in the case of Toonen v Australia.”
The Foundation, wants Mr Abbott to take the lead at CHOGM to ensure that persecuted LGBTI people across the Commonwealth are not ignored, asking him to publicly make three requests of his fellow heads of state:
- Request the rights of LGBTI citizens be made a major agenda item at the next CHOGM in 2015;
- Ask all member nations to immediately stop enforcing existing laws criminalising homosexuality; and
- Ask them all to publicly confirm that the new Commonwealth Charter’s Assertion includes LGBTI people.
The Assertion says
“We are implacably opposed to all forms of discrimination, whether rooted in gender, race, colour, creed, political belief or other grounds.”
Those “other grounds” are said to refer to sexual orientation and gender diversity, but any specific references to gay people were not included to avoid antagonising Commonwealth countries that retain laws against homosexuals. This didn’t stop numerous media outlets from trumpeting that the Queen would be signing a document calling for gay rights. This needs to be clarified and made explicit.
You can read the full text of the letter at the link below.