Homophobia shaming the Commonwealth of Nations
Homosexuality is still illegal in almost 80% of Commonwealth states compared with only 25% of countries outside of the Commonwealth
Melbourne and Sydney, Australia, 11 November 2013
Activists from across the Commonwealth of Nations, including Australia’s Kaleidoscope Human Rights Foundation, today published a ground breaking report entitled “Speaking Out” which reveals that the Commonwealth is letting down hundreds of thousands of its citizens whose lives are blighted by homophobia.
Produced by the Kaleidoscope Trust in the UK and the Kaleidoscope Human Rights Foundation in Australia, the report reveals that almost 80% of Commonwealth nations criminalise homosexuality – 41 out of 53. Only 25% of non-Commonwealth countries do the same.
This report – which can be read here Speaking Out – LGBTI Rights in the Commonwealth – is produced in collaboration with the biggest ever coalition of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) organisations from across the Commonwealth.
It includes poignant and sometimes horrifying personal testimonies from LGBTI citizens from almost every Commonwealth country, revealing widespread human rights abuses including attempted murder, beatings and harassment.
“I have lost two teeth, had my family property invaded and car damaged by two masked men . . . I have had stones thrown at me, experienced simulated gun shots, insults and physical harm on public transportation,” says Caleb Orozco, a gay man from Belize.
“LGBTI people are generally considered as animals or devils…so they are in permanent danger. They can be injured, they can be killed, and they can be discriminated against. They can be rejected from healthcare and justice,” adds Alice Nkom, a human rights lawyer from Cameroon.
Backed by former Secretary General of the Commonwealth Sir Shridath Ramphal, and Dr Purna Sen, former Head of Human Rights at the Commonwealth, and drawing on contributions from more than 20 LGBTI human rights organisations, this authoritative report demands the Commonwealth take action on this wholesale abuse of human rights, which it continues to stubbornly ignore.
Sir Shridath Ramphal writes, in the Foreword:
“It is a reminder that for most of the countries of the Commonwealth, the desecration of our fellow citizens began in the law… As with the abolition of slavery, the decriminalisation of homosexuality in our time must be an act of law.”
In her Introduction Dr Purna Sen writes:
“Across the Commonwealth lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) people are denied equal access to rights, education, employment, housing and healthcare. Once again we see Commonwealth leaders gathering at the Heads of Government meeting (CHOGM), pushing aside the urgent need to protect every citizen under the law. Once again the human rights of LGBTI people are the elephant in the room.”
The report recommends that all Commonwealth governments in countries that continue to criminalise same-sex sexual activity repeal this legislation in accordance with:
- The Universal Declaration on Human Rights and other international instruments including the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
- Article II of the Commonwealth Charter.
- Recommendations of the Eminent Persons Group adopted by the Foreign Ministers of all Commonwealth members.
Kaleidoscope Human Rights Foundation sent a copy of “Speaking Out” to Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Prime Minister Tony Abbott, pleading with him to speak up for LGBTI rights at this week’s Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) conference in Colombo, Sri Lanka, this week.
Of course, decriminalisation alone will be insufficient unless there is sustained follow-through. In many countries where it is legal to be gay, LGBTI citizens are still treated as second-class, or worse.
Gay marriage is legal in South Africa, yet lesbians are still subjected to ‘corrective rape’ because of their sexuality. In the UK, intersex babies are routinely subjected to unnecessary genital surgeries purely in an effort to make them socially acceptable.
There are more than 75 countries in the world with anti-gay laws: 41 of them – 55% – more than half – are Commonwealth countries. The Commonwealth has a special responsibility, therefore, to take the lead in this matter.
Dr Sen says the Speaking Out – LGBTI Rights in the Commonwealth report is a vivid testament that the Commonwealth, which claims in its Charter to be ‘implacably opposed to all forms of discrimination’, continues to let down millions of its own people.
“Most Commonwealth governments refuse to engage with their own LGBTI communities. Some try to pretend that they don’t even exist. But the voices in this report reflect demands that are not going to go away just because Presidents and Prime Ministers try to close their ears to them. . . Sooner rather than later the Commonwealth is going to have to tackle the justice deficit that leaves some of its citizens without the rights to which all are entitled.”
Let us hope that this time in Colombo Mr Abbott will display some of that Christian compassion and understanding to which he lays claim, and lead the push for change. And may he show compassion, opening Australia’s doors wide to LGBTI refugees fleeing persecution in recalcitrant states that refuse to change.
(Doug Pollard with Douglas Pretsell, Directors of the Kaleidoscope Human Rights Foundation)