Commonwealth chief backs gay rights
Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma made history when he voiced his support for gay rights in his keynote address at the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth People’s Forum (CPF) in Perth, Australia, today, Tuesday 25 October 2011. It’s the first official statement against the criminalization of homosexuality by the Secretary General of the Commonwealth. (Report from Peter Tatchell).
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Mr. Sharma was addressing the NGO delegates to the Commonwealth People’s Forum ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), which begins on Friday.
The Commonwealth Secretary General said:
“We recall the 2009 Affirmation of Commonwealth Values and Principles, which includes a clear commitment to tolerance, respect and understanding. This means we embrace difference, and that includes sexual identity. Discrimination and criminalisation on grounds of sexual orientation is at odds with our values and I have had occasion to refer to this in the context of our law-related conferences,” Mr Sharma told the CPF delegates.
“We welcome Kamalesh Sharma’s defence of gay human rights. He has shown strong leadership by making it clear that homophobic persecution is incompatible with the Commonwealth’s values of equality, human rights and non-discrimination,” said Mr. Tatchell. Tatchell has been involved in lobbying the Commonwealth for nearly 30 years, on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) human rights and other democratic, humanitarian and development issues.
“His speech is a tacit rebuke to the more than 40 Commonwealth member states that continue to criminalise homosexuality, with penalties ranging up to life imprisonment,” Tatchell added.
Commonwealth Nations comprise more than half the countries in the world that treat same-sex relations as a serious criminal offence. “This is the first time that any Commonwealth Secretary General has ever condemned discrimination and criminalisation on the grounds of sexual identity at the CPF. It is only the second time in history that a Secretary General has criticised homophobic persecution at a Commonwealth event. The first time was at the Commonwealth Law Ministers Meeting in Sydney in July, when Mr Sharma stated that ‘vilification and targeting on grounds of sexual orientation is at odds with the fundamental values of the Commonwealth.’”
The Tatchell Foundation says it hopes Mr. Sharma will again make history by repeating his commitment to gay human rights in his keynote address on Friday to the Commonwealth Presidents and Prime Ministers at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). No Secretary General has ever said at CHOGM that Commonwealth member states should end homophobic persecution.
Mr Sharma’s statement follows months of intensive lobbying by the Peter Tatchell Foundation, Justice for Gay Africans, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative and other LGBT and human rights organisations from the global north and global south, including the Commonwealth People’s Forum, Commonwealth Foundation, International HIV/AIDS Alliance, Commonwealth HIV/AIDS Action Group and Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations.
These are the four proposals that Peter Tatchell and other lesbian and gay rights campaigners want to see on the official CHOGM agenda and that they want all Commonwealth member states to adopt resolutions on the decriminalisation of homosexuality, laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, the enforcement of legislation against threats and violence, to protect LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people from hate crimes, as well as consultation and dialogue with LGBT organisations.
Sharma’s positive statement in support of LGBT rights worldwide comes on the heels of strong statements from the UK Prime Minister David Cameron and Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd. In an unprecedented statement during question period on Friday, Oct 21st, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird responded to NDP MP Randall Garrison saying that “it is unacceptable that homosexuality continues to be criminalized in the majority of Commonwealth nations, and we will certainly take this issue to the Summit.”
The CHOGM begins this Friday in Perth, Australia, and will gather 54 heads of state from the former British Commonwealth to discuss trade, human rights, as well as environmental and financial crisis concerns that often show friction between the industrialized north and global southern countries.