Commonwealth: home to homophobia, sadly
The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting at the end of this week is likely to adopt an Eminent Persons Group report which trumpets the shared commitment of Commonwealth nations to democracy and human rights. It’s not entirely unjustified: the Commonwealth is one of the few multilateral bodies which regularly suspends countries falling short of its democratic requirements (currently, Fiji: in the past, Pakistan, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and others). But there’s one set of rights that the Commonwealth leads the world in abusing – the rights of LGBT communities. And that has to stop.
Nowhere is the Commonwealth’s origin in Queen Victoria’s empire more evident than in its literally Victorian homophobia. The criminalisation of homosexuality is more common in Commonwealth countries than in any other group of nations. And it may be no accident that most people in the world with HIV-AIDS live in the Commonwealth, either: anti-AIDS measures are far more difficult to implement where the love that ‘dare not speak its name’ is actually legally prohibited from doing so.
Currently, the battleground is Nigeria, where the criminalisation of same-sex relationships is the subject of a public hearing in Parliament on 31 October. You can protest against that online, on a petition started by Nigerians living abroad. But there have been recent campaigns about the issue in Jamaica, Malawi and Uganda.
At the last Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, Baroness Kinnock, as a British Minister, laid into the Prime Minister of Uganda about legislation there that could have extended the death penalty to gay acts. This year, there are unconfirmed rumours that the Australian hosts will push for a formal reference to equal rights in the CHOGM communique (which is a bit ironic as there’s a major stoush brewing in the governing Labour Party about the Government’s opposition to gay marriage). The same report says that the Eminent Persons Group will be calling for the same.
The Commonwealth Trade Union Group will be backing those calling for action on this, and the TUC is discussing with LGBT campaigners how we can do more in the Commonwealth to make its human rights agenda a bit more pink.