Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Commonwealth summit gay rights bid

Secretary-General rapped for ignoring homophobic abuses

Silence on Uganda's planned death penalty for gay sex condemned

London - 26 November 2009

The Commonwealth Secretary-General, Kamalesh Sharma, is under pressure to speak out against the "widespread homophobic persecution that exists in most Commonwealth member states, in violation of the Commonwealth principles of equality, non-discrimination and human rights."

In particular, Mr Sharma is being urged to condemn Uganda's new Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which proposes the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality" and "serial offenders." See here:

The call for Commonwealth action comes from gay rights campaigner and Green Party human rights spokesperson Peter Tatchell.

He accuses Commonwealth leaders of a "systematic, persistent failure to condemn homophobic discrimination and violence."

"Anti-gay persecution in Commonwealth countries includes discriminatory laws that criminalise same sex relations, with maximum penalities ranging up to life imprisonment. Many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Commonwealth citizens are at risk of arrest, torture, rape, imprisonment and extra-judicial murder," said Mr Tatchell.

He has written to the Commonwealth Secretary-General, urging him to speak out against the victimisation of lesbian and gay people at the up-coming summit meeting of the 53 member states of the Commonwealth association of nations. It is taking place in Trinidad and Tobago this weekend, 27 - 29 November.

Copy of Peter Tatchell's letter to the Commonwealth Secretary-General

Kamalesh Sharma

Commonwealth Secretary-General

Marlborough House, Pall Mall,

London SW1Y 5HX

020 7747 6500

19 November 2009

Your Excellency,

I am writing to inquire what the Commonwealth is doing to defend the human rights of millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Commonwealth citizens who are sufffering great persecution on account of their sexuality and gender variance and identity.

Sadly, I can find no evidence that senior Commonwealth leaders are doing anything significant or public, despite the fact that many Commonwealth member states are actively persecuting their LGBT citizens with oppressive, discriminatory laws, which result in grave human rights violations, including arrest, torture, rape, imprisonment and extra-judicial murder.

This homophobic and transphobic persecution is in breach of international human rights law.

As Comonwealth Secretary-General, you are entrusted to defend and promote the Commonwealth's humanitarian values.

What action do you propose to take at the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Trinidad and Tobago from 27 to 29 November, to address the issue of homophobic and transphobic persecution by Commonwealth member states?

I appeal to you to take a stand for justice and equality - to show true leadership and make your mark for human rights.

During your keynote speech, and in other CHOGM forums, I respectfully request you to:

1. Make it clear that the Commonwealth's commitment to human rights includes respect for the human rights of LGBT people, and that persecution on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity violates the Commonwealth principles of equality and non-discrimination and violates the principles of universal human rights, as enshrined in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

2. Call on Commonwealth member states to end the criminalisation of homosexuality, protect LGBT people against discrimination, harassment and violence, and recognise and consult with LGBT welfare and human rights organisations.

3. In particular, I request you to lobby the government of Uganda to withdraw the new Anti-Homosexuality Bill and cease its attacks on the human rights of LGBT Ugandans.

I regret that I need to make these requests. I realise that you have not been long in your post. But I hope that having had these issues drawn to your attention you will rise to the challenge and pursue them.

Some of the key principles of the Commonwealth are equality, non-discrimination, opportunity for all, liberty of the individual and human dignity.

In the case of LGBT people, these principles are routinely violated by nearly all Commonwealth countries. They are violated with impunity and without rebuke by the leaders of the Commonwealth.

I am surprised that the Commonwealth's most senior figures, such as yourself, are not, as far as I know, doing anything serious to dissuade the many member states which continue to outlaw consenting adult same-sex relations, which take no action against homophobic and transphobic violence, which deny gay and bisexual men safer sex education and HIV advice, and which fail to give LGBT people protection against discrimination in jobs, housing, education, health care and provision of good and services.

It is extremely disappointing that the Commonwealth leadership appears to not regard LGBT rights as human rights and that it has neglected to protect LGBT citizens in the Commonwealth family of nations. This inaction is de facto collusion with victimisation.

Around 80 countries worldwide continue to outlaw homosexuality, with penalties ranging from one year's jail to life imprisonment - and even execution. More than half of these countries are former British colonies. Most are members of the Commonwealth.

Of the 53 Commonwealth member states, over 40 still criminalise same-sex relations, mostly under anti-gay laws that were originally imposed by the British government in the nineteenth century, during the period of colonial rule.

These homophobic colonialist laws, which were retained after independence, are wrecking the lives of LGBT people throughout the Commonwealth. They criminalise otherwise law-abiding citizens and contribute to a hostile social atmosphere which demonises LGBT people as unnatural, abnormal and criminal.

This renders LGBT people liable to blackmail, imprisonment, mob violence, rejection by their families, excommunication from their faith, eviction from their homes, dismissal from their jobs and this makes them high risk for depression, mental illness and suicide. Such rampant bigotry and ill-treatment of other human beings is a stain on the Commonwealth.

One of the worst current examples of a homophobic Commonwealth country is Uganda.

The Anti-Homosexuality Bill, currently under consideration by the Ugandan parliament, proposes the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality...(and) serial offenders," including same-sex acts by people with HIV.

It imposes a sentence of life imprisonment for merely touching a person with the intent to have homosexual relations. Membership of gay organisations and funding for them, advocacy of gay human rights and the provision of condoms or safer sex advice to gay people will result in up to seven years jail for "promoting" homosexuality. Failing to report violators to the police within 24 hours will incur three years behind bars. Astonishingly, the new legislation will also apply to Ugandans who commit these 'crimes' while living abroad, in countries where such behaviour is not a criminal offence.

See this appeal against the bill by Human Rights Watch and other human rights defenders:

See this briefing by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission:

The Ugandan bill violates the equality and non-discrimination provisions of the African Charter on Human and People's Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Uganda is a signatory. These breaches of international humanitarian commitments set a dangerous precedent which undermines the right to privacy and to individual liberty and thereby sets a dangerous legal precedent which threatens the human rights of all Ugandans.

The Anti-Homosexuality Bill has been condemned by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, International Commission of Jurists and the World AIDS Campaign.

This legislation is, however, merely the latest in a series of state-sponsored persecutions of LGBT Ugandans, often at the behest of Christian leaders who are aided and funded by right-wing evangelical churches in the US.

Typical is what happened to gay rights advocate Kizza Musinguzi. He was jailed in 2004 and subjected to four months of forced labour, water torture, beatings and rape.

Any Ugandan who speaks out against anti-gay violence faces dire consequences. A heterosexual former Anglican bishop of the West Buganda diocese, Christopher Senyonjo, was denied the right to preach and denied his pension by the Church of Uganda after he defended the human rights of LGBT people.

In recent years, the Ugandan government has passed a law banning same-sex civil marriage, fined Radio Simba for broadcasting a discussion of LGBT issues, and expelled a UN AIDS agency director for meeting with LGBT campaigners.

Similar homophobic persecution is happening in other Commonwealth nations, including Nigeria and in The Gambia, where President Yahya Jammeh has called for sexual cleansing. He has promised "stricter laws than Iran" on homosexuality, and has begun his witchunt by ordering gay people to leave the country and threatening to "cut off the head" of any homosexual who remains. It is truly shocking that the Commonwealth leadership has not condemned such murderous threats.

While I realise that you are very busy, I would be most grateful if you could respond to my appeal for your intervention before the commencement of CHOGM.

Wishing you a successful CHOGM.

Yours faithfully,

Peter Tatchell

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