Commonwealth summit must address LGBT human rights

Call for CHOGM to support decriminalisation of homosexuality


Secretary General
The Commonwealth

12 September 2011

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:

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 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