Commonwealth colludes with homophobia

This is a press release by Peter Tatchell

Refuses to support today’s International Day Against Homophobia

Failure to condemn anti-gay persecution by most Commonwealth member states

Secretary-General unwilling to meet gay campaigners

London – 17 May 2011

Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner and Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation writes:

Today is IDAHO – the International Day Against HOmophobia and Transphobia. It is supported by dozens of governments, including the UK, and by many international government institutions, from the United Nations to the European Union. But the Commonwealth is not lending its support, nor are most Commonwealth countries. They want nothing to do with LGBT rights.

The Commonwealth is a bastion of global homophobia, often bucking the worldwide trend towards sexual orientation equality, with increased state-sanctioned threats and repression in Malawi, Uganda, The Gambia, Malaysia, Cameroon and Nigeria.

Of the 54 Commonwealth member states, 46 criminalise same-sex relations in all circumstances, with penalties including 25 years jail in Trinidad and Tobago and 20 years plus flogging in Malaysia. Several countries stipulate life imprisonment: Sierra Leone, Pakistan, Uganda, Tanzania and Bangladesh.

These 46 homophobic Commonwealth countries account for more than half of the 76 countries in the world that still have a total prohibition on homosexuality. http://tiny.cc/f2ixy

The Commonwealth has never issued a formal declaration in support of LGBT human rights, let alone embarked on a programme of action to challenge the rampant homophobia and transphobia in its member states. Perhaps this is not surprising, since the Commonwealth has a long history of feeble responses to all human rights abuses, including Mugabe’s murder and mayhem in Zimbabwe and the current violent suppression of protests in Uganda.

In the case of LGBT people, the Commonwealth’s core principles are routinely violated by nearly all Commonwealth countries – and without rebuke by the leaders of the Commonwealth. As a result, millions of LGBT Commonwealth citizens are at risk of discrimination, harassment, arrest, torture, rape, imprisonment and mob attacks.

The Commonwealth Secretary-General, Kamalesh Sharma, stands accused of a systematic, persistent and wilful failure to condemn homophobic discrimination and violence. He offered no strong condemnation of Malawi’s arrest and jailing of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga on charges of homosexuality last year. Likewise, his criticism of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which proposed the death penalty for same-sex acts, was muted. Although he did say discrimination is wrong, he also said this about the proposed legislation: “The bill is now in the Ugandan parliament – in any Commonwealth country, that is exactly where such a national issue should be debated. Let us see what the people of Uganda decide.” This quasi neutral stance is hardly what we expect when a Commonwealth member state is proposing to execute its own citizens for consenting, victimless behaviour.

The Commonwealth Secretary-General has repeatedly ignored letters and appeals from LGBT campaigners. When I wrote to Mr Sharma, asking what the Commonwealth was doing to tackle homophobia, he declined to reply. Weeks later, a lower ranking official sent a letter about the Commonwealth’s work combating HIV, which did not even mention gay rights. A similar thing happened to Godwyns Onwuchekwa of Justice for Gay Africans. No reply. Our requests for Mr Sharma to meet us and other Commonwealth LGBT campaigners have been spurned.

The Secretary-General does not appear to care about the human rights of LGBT Commonwealth citizens. He seems to regard the issue as an embarrassment and distraction.

Whatever excuses the Commonwealth may offer in its defence, one fact is indisputable: in the 62 years of its existence it has never debated LGBT human rights. Its leaders have never issued any policy document specifically dedicated to combating persecution on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. They have never produced a formal statement calling on member states to decriminalise same-sex acts and provide legal protection to LGBT people against discrimination and hate crimes. This silence shows the true face of the Commonwealth: a bastion of homophobic persecution, collusion and appeasement.

If the Secretary-General can’t robustly defend universal human rights and equality for LGBT people, he is unfit for high office and should resign.

Share this article.