Australia to urge decriminalisation at Commonwealth summit

Eminent Persons Group is also recommending gay law reform
Former Botswana President says: End the ban on gay sex
This Commonwealth summit is our best chance ever for LGBTI rights



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.

Read the report by the Sydney Star Observer:

Rudd to call for end to anti-gay laws

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,” noted Peter Tatchell, Director of the human rights organisation, the Peter Tatchell Foundation.

“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,” he added.

Mr Tatchell 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.

A copy of Mr Tatchell’s letter to Mr Rudd follows below.

Commonwealth advisory body, the Eminent Persons Group (EPG), which includes the openly gay retired High Court judge Michael Kirby as its Australian representative, 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.”

Read this report from Pink News:

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.

Read the transcript here:

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:

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 LGBTI people from hate crimes
4. 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.

Note: Peter Tatchell has been involved in lobbying the Commonwealth for nearly 30 years, on LGBTI rights and other democratic, humanitarian and development issues.

Copy of Peter Tatchell’s letter to Kevin Rudd

5 September 2011

Dear Kevin Rudd

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

I am working with a number of LGBT, human rights and Commonwealth ngos.

We are urging that LGBT human rights be put on the agenda of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in October. We hope that you can assist us in this respect, as I explain below.

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.

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.

A group of us have been working with the Commonwealth Secretariat’s Human Rights Unit and the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, based in London. They are supportive; believing that the Commonwealth should affirm that its commitment to equality and human rights applies to all Commonwealth citizens, including LGBT people.

This 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 includes sexual orientation and gender identity.

As I mentioned, CHOGM has never addressed the serious violations of LGBT human rights by many of its member states or the much-needed decriminalisation of homosexuality and legal protection against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. It is time it did so, and this October in Perth we hope it will.

We were heartened that the Commonwealth Secretary General, Kamalesh Sharma, has recently and finally begun to recognise our concerns, most recently during his speech at the Commonwealth Law Ministers Meeting in July, where he stated that “vilification and targeting on grounds of sexual orientation are at odds with the values of the Commonwealth”.

Earlier this month we were granted a meeting with the Commonwealth Deputy Secretary General, Mmasekgoa Masire-Mwamba, at Marlborough House. It was a constructive dialogue but the Commonwealth Secretariat clearly needs more encouragement and pressure to speak out and defend LGBT human rights. Sadly, the Secretary General has not publicly appealed for an end to Cameroon’s current persecution and jailing of men on charges of homosexuality.

Working with the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, we are currently pressing for LGBT human rights to be discussed at CHOGM in October.

With Australia being the host country, you will personally have considerable influence in determining the CHOGM agenda.

I would therefore respectfully ask you to do your utmost to ensure that LGBT rights are on the agenda at CHOGM.

I would also ask you to raise this issue at the Commonwealth Foreign Ministers meeting in New York in September, with the suggestion they collectively support LGBT human rights being discussed at CHOGM.

These are the issues we would like to see on the CHOGM agenda and that we believe all Commonwealth member states should agree to enact:

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

Your support would be a big help to ensure that these important humanitarian issues are placed on the CHOGM agenda.

Thank you for your consideration and assistance.

Sincere appreciation,

Peter Tatchell
Director, Peter Tatchell Foundation
London, UK