Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Commonwealth lobbying urged as pressure to discuss homosexuality builds

Current Commonwealth members (blue), current s...Image via Wikipedia
By Peter Tatchell

Please lobby the Secretary General of the Commonwealth association of nations, Kamalesh Sharma, urging him to use his influence to ensure that LGBT human rights are discussed by the Commonwealth heads of government when they meet in Perth, Australia, 28-30 October.

Commonwealth leaders have never previously discussed the widespread victimisation of LGBT people by Commonwealth member states.
You can also write to him via the postal address in my letter below. Feel free to take ideas and excerpts from my letter to use in your own submission.

Please be polite and thank Mr Sharma for his recent statements where he said that victimisation on the grounds of sexual orientation is incompatible with Commonwealth values.

These are the four LGBT issues we want on the official agenda at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). We want them agreed and adopted by all Commonwealth nations:
  • Decriminalisation of homosexuality
  • Laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity
  • The enforcement of legislation against threats and violence, to protect LGBT people from hate crimes
  • Consultation and dialogue with LGBT organisations
The Commonwealth heads of government have always refused to address the widespread violation of LGBT human rights. We want this to be the breakthrough summit.

I wrote an article in May in The Guardian newspaper, which strongly criticised the Secretary General and the Commonwealth for their failure to speak out against homophobic and transphobic persecution in member countries.

Within 10 days, Kamalesh Sharma became the first Commonwealth Secretary General to make an explicit and unequivocal public statement criticising homophobia and homophobic discrimination. 

Following further lobbying, at the Commonwealth Law Ministers Meeting in Sydney in July, Mr Sharma reiterated that sexual orientation victimisation is incompatible with Commonwealth values.

We now need to build on these successes by ensuring that LGBT human rights are on the agenda of the heads of government when they meet in Perth at the end of this month. Time is short. Please lobby the Secretary General at your earliest convenience. Thank you.

Lobbying the Secretary General direct will add to the magnificent work being done by many other LGBT groups and HIV and human rights organisations. They, too, are pushing for change within the Commonwealth. Our collective efforts in recent months give us the best prospect ever of getting LGBT human rights on the official CHOGM agenda.

The Commonwealth is an association of 54 nations, mostly former British colonies and mostly in Africa, Asia and the Pacific. More than 40 of its member states still criminalise homosexuality, with penalties including flogging and life imprisonment.

If you live in a Commonwealth country, I urge you to lobby your Foreign Minister. Ask him/her to press the Australian Foreign Minister, Kevin Rudd, to ensure that LGBT rights are discussed at CHOGM.

You can also lobby Kevin Rudd direct in person:

Commonwealth Civil Society Statement

16. Noting that human rights and legal frameworks underpin health and wellbeing, including progress on HIV and AIDS;
17. Recognising that poor physical and mental health has a double impact in that unhealthy people are less able to contribute to the economy, and health care provision is an increasing economic burden on scarce resources;
18. Noting with concern that although Commonwealth Member States have approximately 30% of the world’s population they have approximately 60% of the world’s people living with HIV;
19. Concerned that 41 out of 54 Commonwealth Member States criminalise sex between men; and concerned about the sexualisation of women and children, which leads to poor health and mental health outcomes for women and children.
20. We call on Commonwealth Member States to:
a. ensure there is adequate equitable health care for all citizens and achieve all health MDGs by 2015;
b. commit to programmes that mitigate the HIV and AIDS pandemic, including decriminalising same-sex sexual conduct, repealing all laws that impede an effective response and ensuring that all citizens have equal rights and protection, regardless of sexual orientation, marital status, gender, age, race, religion and disability, so as to ensure the health and wellbeing of its citizens;
c. tackle the reduction of non-communicable diseases including the eradication of polio; and
d. adopt a collaborative and holistic approach to mental health across government departments and sectors, in particular with reference to co-morbidity, alcohol and drug issues, poverty, homelessness and violence

Copy of Peter Tatchell's letter to the Commonwealth Secretary General

Secretary General
Commonwealth Secretariat
Marlborough House
Pall Mall
London SW1Y 5HX

Dear Kamalesh Sharma,

Re CHOGM in Perth in October - LGBT equality and human rights

First, let me thank you very much for your speech at the Commonwealth Law Ministers Meeting in July, where you stated that "vilification and targeting on grounds of sexual orientation are at odds with the values of the Commonwealth".

This was, of course, only the latest of a number of positive statements that you have made in affirmation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) human rights.

We greatly appreciate you showing leadership on this issue.

We note that we have not heard any negative responses from member state governments to your humanitarian outreach to the LGBT citizens of the Commonwealth family of nations. We hope this will give you the confidence to continue and strengthen your public commitment to LGBT human rights.

Second, we were very grateful to be granted a meeting in August with the Commonwealth Deputy Secretary General, Mmasekgoa Masire-Mwamba, at Marlborough House. It was a constructive dialogue and we trust that it has secured new understanding between us, and will lead to further constructive engagement.

We hope the common ground we found at this meeting - concerning the need to tackle homophobia and transphobia - will embolden you to act in private and public to defend LGBT human rights, particularly right now in Uganda, where the Anti-Homosexuality Bill is likely to be revived, and in Cameroon, where the on-going arrest, jailing and mistreatment of men on charges of homosexuality is a matter of grave concern. 

The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative has details of the repression in Cameroon. I would urge you to news release a statement appealing to the government of Cameroon to halt its persecution of LGBT people; with specific reference to the fact that such persecution is incompatible with Commonwealth values and international humanitarian law.

Third, I write to you regarding this year's Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Perth, Australia.

I am working with a number of LGBT, human rights and Commonwealth ngos, including the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative.

We are collectively urging that LGBT human rights be put on the agenda of CHOGM in October. We hope that you can assist us in this respect.

CHOGM has never even discussed - let alone declared its support for - LGBT equality and human rights. It is long overdue that CHOGM addressed this humanitarian issue, which it has neglected for far too long. We hope that this year's CHOGM will end these decades of silence and inaction.

For CHOGM to discuss LGBT human rights would be consistent with the human rights values endorsed by the Commonwealth in its 1979 Lusaka Declaration, 1991 Harare Declaration and 2009 Port of Spain Affirmation of Commonwealth Values. Article 5 of this affirmation commits Commonwealth member states to the "protection and promotion" of equality and human rights "without discrimination on any grounds." Any grounds obviously includes the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.

These are the four issues we would like to see on the CHOGM agenda and that we believe all Commonwealth member states should agree to enact:
  1. Decriminalisation of homosexuality
  2. Laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity
  3. The enforcement of legislation against threats and violence, to protect LGBT people from hate crimes
  4. Consultation and dialogue with LGBT organisations
Your personal support and influence would be a big help to ensure that these important humanitarian issues are placed on the CHOGM agenda. 

As you know, more than 40 Commonwealth countries currently criminalise homosexuality, mostly as a result of laws that were imposed by Britain during the colonial era and which were not repealed when these nations won their independence.

The penalties for homosexuality include 25 years jail in Trinidad and Tobago and 20 years plus flogging in Malaysia. Several Commonwealth countries stipulate life imprisonment: Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Pakistan, Uganda, Bangladesh and Guyana.

These forty-plus Commonwealth member states account for more than half of the world's countries that still criminalise same-sex relations.

There are, or have been, homophobic witch-hunts in several Commonwealth countries: Nigeria, Cameroon, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Ghana.

A group of us have been working with the Commonwealth Secretariat's Human Rights Unit and the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative. They are supportive; believing that CHOGM should affirm that the Commonwealth's commitment to equality and human rights applies to all Commonwealth citizens, including LGBT people. We hope you will concur and use your office to ensure that this happens.

Thank you for your consideration and assistance.

Sincere appreciation,

Peter Tatchell
Director, Peter Tatchell Foundation
London, UK

Peter Tatchell Foundation (PTF)
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