Friday, 21 October 2011

This Commonwealth summit 'our best chance ever for LGBTI rights'

Commonwealth mapImage via Wikipedia
By Peter Tatchell

Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd will call for an end to the laws criminalising homosexuality at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Perth, Australia, next week.

This announcement follows intense lobbying of Mr Rudd by LGBTI activists from the global north and the global south.

Mr Rudd is the host of CHOGM and will have significant influence over the Commonwealth summit's deliberations.

Lobbying the Commonwealth is paying off. It is great news. Australia did not push for decriminalisation at the last Commonwealth summit, held in Trinidad and Tobago in 2009. This announcement is positive progress.

Huge thanks to the many LGBTI groups and individuals from all over the world who lobbied Kevin Rudd and the Commonwealth Secretary General, Kamalesh Sharma.

I wrote to Kevin Rudd on 5 September, urging him to ensure that LGBTI rights are on the official agenda at the Commonwealth summit. Mr Rudd responded with a commitment to press for gay law reform throughout the Commonwealth.

Commonwealth advisory body, the Eminent Persons Group (EPG), which includes the openly gay retired High Court judge Michael Kirby, has recommended that Commonwealth countries repeal legislation criminalising homosexuality on the grounds that anti-gay laws are hampering efforts to combat the spread of HIV.

Commonwealth countries comprise 30% of the world's population but have more than 60% of the world's people living with HIV.

The EPG report is part of the formal Commonwealth agenda.

Meanwhile, Festus Mogae, the former president of Botswana, has added his voice to calls for the decriminalisation of homosexuality and sex work, in order to help reduce HIV rates.

He told the BBC's Africa Network:
"You have to assist them to protect themselves. I don't think by arresting them you help them."
Reporting on the Australian Foreign Minister's backing for gay law reform throughout the Commonwealth, the Sydney Star Observer writes:
A spokeswoman for Kevin Rudd said he would raise the issue of decriminalisation with foreign ministers from Commonwealth countries attending the 28-30 October Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).

"Australia is a global advocate of non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation," the spokeswoman said.

"Australia encourages all countries to decriminalise homosexuality by removing all laws imposing criminal penalties for homosexual conduct.

"Mr Rudd will be raising these matters with Commonwealth foreign ministers at CHOGM."

"Australia is encouraging all governments to respond substantively to the EPG recommendations (for decriminalisation)," Rudd's spokeswoman said.
ABC TV News also reports on the bid to discuss the decriminalisation of homosexuality during the official programme of the Commonwealth summit.

These are the four proposals that many LGBTI campaigners want to see on the CHOGM agenda and that they want all Commonwealth member states to adopt:
  • Decriminalisation of homosexuality
  • Laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity
  • The enforcement of legislation against threats and violence, to protect LGBTI people from hate crimes
  • Consultation and dialogue with LGBTI organisations
These four demands echo proposals previously expressed by a coalition of LGBTI campaigners from the global south at meetings of the Commonwealth People's Forum, an ngo side event to the main CHOGM.

Peter Tatchell, is the Director of the human rights organisation, the Peter Tatchell Foundation

Updated to add:  The report by the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) to the summit, 'Time for Urgent Reform', has been leaked. It says that:
The Commonwealth could cease to exist unless it takes stronger, more public stands against egregious human rights violations in its member countries.
The leak to Canada's National Post includes a promise by Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird to join those raising LGBT rights at the summit.

The EPG report contains a proposal for a new Commissioner for Democracy, Rule of Law and Human Rights. It has been reported that this post could be taken by the openly gay former Australian High Court judge Michael Kirby.
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