LGBTI rights groups from across the former British Empire have joined forces to highlighting the plight of LGBTIs in many Commonwealth member states during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo, Sri Lanka this week.
Homosexuality is still illegal in 41 of the 53 Commonwealth member states and the groups, including Australia’s Kaleidoscope Human Rights Foundation, have come together to release a damning report which demands Commonwealth leaders take action to stop widespread human rights abuses against LGBTI people.
Abuses outlined in the Speaking Out report include attempted murder, beatings and harassment, published by the UK’s Kaleidoscope Trust – with contributions from over 20 LGBTI organizations and testimonies of homophobia from almost every Commonwealth state.
‘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,’ Belize LGBTI rights activist Caleb Orozco writes in the report..
The report is backed by Sir Shridath Ramphal, a former Secretary General of the Commonwealth and Dr Purna Sen, a former Head of Human Rights at the Commonwealth, and demands the Commonwealth take action to address this injustice.
‘It is a reminder that for most of the countries of the Commonwealth, the desecration of our fellow citizens began in the law,’ Sir Ramphal writes in the report.
‘As with the abolition of slavery, the decriminalisation of homosexuality in our time must be an act of law.’
‘Across the Commonwealth lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex people are denied equal access to rights, education, employment, housing and healthcare,’ Dr Sen writes.
‘Once again we see Commonwealth leaders gathering at the Heads of Government meeting pushing aside the urgent need to protect every citizen under the law. Once again the human rights of LGBTI people are the elephant in the room.’
The report demands that all Commonwealth governments take a number of actions which include repealing any legislation which criminalizes same-sex sexual activity and putting an immediate moratorium on the enforcement of any existing laws criminalizing homosexuality
The groups also hope member states will commit to engage in meaningful dialogue with their LGBTI communities about the means to remove impediments to the enjoyment of their human rights and to commit to open and free debate across the Commonwealth on the decriminalization of homosexuality
They hope member states will support public education initiatives to inform the people of the Commonwealth about the case for LGBTI equality; allow an LGBTI Association to register with the Commonwealth alongside other civil society organizations and be included in debates; and include LGBTI people in development and other programs on an equal basis with the rest of society.
The groups also hope a discussion on equal rights for LGBTI citizens will be made a substantive agenda item at the next CHOGM.
Virtually all of the Commonwealth nations that ban homosexuality do so under laws introduced during British rule.
Groups contributing to the report include BGLAAD, Barbados; Center for Popular Education and Human Rights, Ghana; Center for the Development of People, Malawi; The Commonwealth HIV/AIDS Advisory Group, UK; Community of Hope and Support, Tanzania; CSCHRCL, Uganda; DomCHAP, Dominica; Friends of RAINKA, Zambia; Gay And Lesbian Coalition of Kenya; The Human Dignity Trust; International Center for Advocacy on the Right to Health (ICARH), Nigeria; United and Strong, Saint Lucia; International HIV/AIDS Alliance; J-FLAG, Jamaica; Kaleidoscope Human Rights Foundation, Australia; Kapul Champions, Papua New Guinea; LEGABIBO, Botswana; Oceania Pride, Fiji; Pacific Sexual Diversity Network (PSDN); Rainbow Wellington, New Zealand; Samoa Faafafine Association, Samoa; Sayoni, Singapore; Seksualiti Merdeka, Malaysia, and the Tonga Leiti’s Association (TLA), Tonga.