They were demanding that all Commonwealth member states “decriminalise homosexuality and legislate equal rights for their LGBTI citizens, in accordance with the human rights principles of the Commonwealth Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
The rally was organised by the African LGBTI organisation, the Out and Proud Diamond Group, and supported by the Peter Tatchell Foundation, Rainbow Across Borders, Rainbow International and African Rainbow Family.
“For 66 years, the Commonwealth Summit (CHOGM) has refused to even discuss LGBTI human rights, let alone support LGBTI equality. This CHOGM is no different. They won’t even allow LGBTI rights on the agenda,” noted Peter Tatchell, Director of the human rights organisation, the Peter Tatchell Foundation, who has been lobbying the Commonwealth on LGBTI issues for over 20 years.
“Forty of the 53 member states of the Commonwealth criminalise homosexuality. They account for more than half of the world’s countries where same-sex relations are illegal.
“Ninety per cent of Commonwealth citizens live in Commonwealth countries where homosexuality is a criminal offence and where LGBTI people have no legal protection against discrimination and hate crime. It is state-sponsored homophobia and it is happening in 75% of the Commonwealth member nations, without any public rebuke by the Commonwealth leadership.
“This homophobic repression is getting worse in some Commonwealth nations; notably Uganda, Cameroon, Nigeria and Brunei.
“What is the point of having a Commonwealth Charter committed to equality and non-discrimination if three quarters of the member states violate its principles and get away with it?
“Many of the anti-gay laws in the Commonwealth were imposed by Britain in the nineteenth century, during the era of colonial occupation. But this is no excuse for now independent self-governing nations to perpetuate foreign-dictated homophobic legislation,” said Mr Tatchell.
The LGBTI rally in London urged the Commonwealth to:
- Put LGBTI issues on the agenda at CHOGM in Malta and invite LGBTI organisations to participate
- Set a timetable for Commonwealth countries to decriminalise homosexuality and legislate legal protection against anti-LGBTI discrimination and hate crime
- Establish on-going consultations and partnerships with LGBTI organisations in the member states
- Promote adherence to the Commonwealth Charter and international human rights conventions that protect the rights of all citizens, including LGBTI citizens
“The Theme of next week’s CHOGM is: Adding Global Value. This is about using the Commonwealth’s strengths in international politics to influence and effect change on important global issues. It is all about making a positive difference to the lives of Commonwealth citizens. Adding Global Value seeks to unify the Commonwealth behind an ambitious policy agenda that bequeaths to young people a life of liberty, dignity and prosperity,” said Edwin Sesange, Director of the African LGBTI organisation, the Out and Proud Diamond Group.
“Most of these countries inherited their anti-gay laws from Britain when it was their colonial ruler. They are a colonial hang-over. The existence of these anti-gay laws over the last century has created a climate where many people believe that homophobic attitudes and laws are a part of their cultures,” said Mr Sesange.
His Out and Proud Diamond Group colleague, Abbey Kiwanuka, added:
“At least seven Commonwealth countries impose life imprisonment for homosexuality. Parts of northern Nigeria and rural Pakistan have the death penalty for LGBTI people, and Brunei plans to introduce death by stoning. This makes a mockery of the Commonwealth Charter.
“Most countries that are signatories to the Commonwealth Charter have failed to live up to it. The Commonwealth has continued to do nothing serious and effective to encourage these nations to respect the liberty and dignity of their LGBTI citizens.
“The criminalisation and demonisation of homosexuality in the Commonwealth has led to mob-violence and the murder of LGBTI people, their denial of employment, housing and medical care, as well as imprisonment, torture and sexual assault.
“The Commonwealth boasts that it is strong in terms of international politics and global issues. Why, then, has it not used its strength to influence the decriminalisation of homosexuality?” queried Mr Kiwanuka.
Aderonke Apata, a Nigerian refugee and founder of African Rainbow Family, which promotes LGBTIQ equality globally, said:
“The situation for LGBTI people in the 40 out of the 53 Commonwealth countries that criminalise homosexuality is getting worse. In Nigeria, for example, as well as 14 years imprisonment, same-sex relations also carry the penalty of death by stoning in some regions of the country where Sharia law prevails. In the last couple of years, Nigeria has introduced draconian new jail terms for organising, funding and belonging to LGBTIQ organisations – and for advocating LGBTIQ equality.
“A wave of homophobia is being whipped up constantly against LGBTIQ people and anyone working with or supporting them. Many LGBTIQ people have fled Commonwealth countries in search of safety elsewhere. They have been driven out as a result of mob attacks, police harassment, eviction from their homes and job refusals and dismissals. Those who remain face grave state and non-state persecution,” she said.