The British Commonwealth needs new meaning and should push human rights, including for LGBT people, to give it ‘a point’.
That’s the message from Shami Chakrabarti, the director of leading UK human rights pressure group, Liberty.
The Commonwealth has 54 member states, most of which were formerly part of the British empire. But in 41 of them, gay sex is still illegal.
Chakrabarti said: ‘What is the Commonwealth for and Britain’s leadership role in the Commonwealth for if not to achieve human rights? I know there have been the beginning of rumblings in that regard but it is not anyway near enough.
‘The Commonwealth stopped being a free movement of people and trade block when that role started to being played by other institutions like the EU. If the Commonwealth has a point it should be a family of nations that are moving towards recognition of human rights. It would give it a point.’
She also said she supported Britain’s new policy, reflected also in US policy, of redirecting aid via other organizations rather than channeling it through homophobic and transphobic governments and other human rights abusers.
‘My understanding is some aid has been held back or curtailed in relation to some of these countries and I would like to see more of that,’ Chakrabarti said.
And she called for ‘more public naming and shaming’ of countries which abuse human rights.
‘This is a very, very important moment for equal treatment protection in Britain and around the world,’ she said. ‘It is no longer possible to make incremental progress on human rights protection in one part of the world because we are evermore connected. We have an opportunity to kick-start progress all over the world.’
Chakrabarti also used her speech to condemn the Church of England for speaking out against the UK’s plans for same-sex marriage equality. And she likened the current ban on gay and lesbian couples getting married like heterosexuals as similar to former bans on mixed-race marriage.
‘People who say it lessens your own marriage really need to think hard about that prejudice,’ she said.