The Commonwealth: A bastion of homophobia

Kaleidoscope Trust report reveals widespread anti-LGBTI persecution

London – 5 June 2014


Peter Tatchell, Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation, writes:

The Commonwealth Games take place in Glasgow this summer. However, a report by the international LGBTI lobby group, the Kaleidoscope Trust, reveals shocking levels of homophobic, biphobic and transphobic persecution in four out of five countries belonging to the Commonwealth association of nations.

This persecution casts an ugly shadow over what will otherwise be a joyous sporting celebration. It makes a mockery of the Commonwealth Charter’s commitment to universal human rights.

The Kaleidoscope Trust report is titled: Speaking Out: The rights of LGBTI citizens from across the Commonwealth.

Of the 53 member nations of the Commonwealth, 41 criminalise consensual same-sex behaviour between adults. They make up over half the countries in the world that have a total prohibition on homosexuality. Seven of these Commonwealth states stipulate life imprisonment. Two have Sharia law in certain regions – Pakistan and Nigeria – where the maximum penalty is execution.

Homophobic criminalisation, prejudice, discrimination and violence is routine – and occurs with impunity – in 80% of Commonwealth countries. Governments of these nations reject dialogue with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and inter-sex (LGBTI) organisations.

The biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) is no better. It refuses to even discuss the widespread violation of LGBTI human rights by its member states.

It is only since 2011 that a Commonwealth Secretary-General has, for the first time ever, declared against homophobia.

This was in response to pressure from LGBTI groups, including my stinging public rebuke of decades of Commonwealth silence and inaction.

Although this declaration was a pioneering, positive turning point, we’ve also experienced a fair degree of subsequent disappointment.

Despite the recriminalisation of homosexuality in India, the homophobic witch-hunts in Cameroon, gay-bashing attacks in Jamaica and the draconian new anti-gay laws in Uganda and Nigeria, the Commonwealth Secretary-General, Kamalesh Sharma, has been mostly muted or totally silent.

The Kaleidoscope Trust explains in its report why and how he should be challenging these human rights abuses.

Compiled with input from LGBTI people in many Commonwealth countries, it presents shocking, graphic evidence of the immense oppression they suffer. Indeed, one of the most powerful aspects of this report is the first-hand testimony from the victims of homophobia and transphobia:

“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.” Caleb Orozco, Belize.

“A mob had gathered there saying they wanted to kill gays. I was getting into a public minibus and the conductor started to beat me. Then everyone started beating me.”
Anonymous, Tanzania.

“I was attacked beaten and paraded naked on the street of Dakwo village, Abuja in July 2013 on the allegation that I am gay. People brought several video camera and mobile phone to record my nakedness. This inhuman degrading treatment has ruined my life and I have been banished from Dakwo village.” KC, Nigeria.

With a prestigious forward by the former Commonwealth Secretary General, Sir Shridath Ramphal, and a damning critical introduction from the ex-head of the Commonwealth Secretariat’s Human Rights Unit, Dr Purna Sen, the report is an authoritative, illuminating call to action.

Dr Sen notes that criminalisation and hate crime are not the only persecutions suffered by Commonwealth LGBTI citizens. There is also widespread discrimination: the denial of “equal access to rights, education, employment, housing and healthcare.” These abuses happen in defiance of the human rights obligations enshrined in the Commonwealth Charter.

Based on the evidence amassed, the report urges all Commonwealth governments to repeal legislation criminalising same-sex behaviour and, in the meantime, to agree a moratorium on the enforcement of any such existing laws.

It also calls on member states to engage in dialogue with their LGBTI communities and to approve the formation of a Commonwealth-wide LGBTI association with formal consultative status.

The biggest, most challenging demand is the discussion of LGBTI equal rights at the next CHOGM. We live in hope and, if there is any justice, this commendable, excoriating report will prompt the Commonwealth to ensure that it happens.