Tuesday 19 March 2013

Call for reform of anti-homosexuality laws across the Commonwealth

There has been renewed debate recently about the need to reform laws that criminalise homosexuality across the Commonwealth, driven by the signing by the Queen of the Commonwealth Charter in London last week.

In the UK's House of Lords on 13 March, there was an extensive discussion about the barriers that these laws present to responding to HIV, not to mention the denial of human rights generally as a result of these laws.

As Lord Black of Brentwood stated the Commonwealth's "record on criminalising homosexual behaviour is shameful: 42 out of 54 Commonwealth countries criminalise same-sex relations…with punishments ranging from 20 years prison to flogging".

In calling for a stronger political response he argued that the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Commonwealth Foundation should be pressed to act, and expressed dismay that the Secretariat has not included LGBT rights, legal reform or HIV in its new strategy given the sheer number of people at risk across the Commonwealth. Commonwealth countries are significantly over-represented in HIV prevalence and incidence relative to their proportion of the global population.

Lord Black also called on the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) - the equivalent of Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade - and the Department for International Development (DFID) to make decriminalisation and HIV prevention a policy priority.

This debate follows on from encouraging developments in late 2012, when Commonwealth member countries agreed to adopt the Charter of the Commonwealth. The Charter commits member states to democracy, human rights and the rule of law. It sets out the Commonwealth's principles of tolerance, respect and understanding, freedom of expression, separation of powers, though, disappointingly, it only implicitly refers to LGBT people through the inclusion of "and others" in its descriptor.

The Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) will next meet in November in Sri Lanka.

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