What Good Came from Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting?
Not much positive came out of The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Perth, Australia. Kamalesh Sharma was the first Secretary General to speak out against homophobic persecution at a CHOGM event. But there was no agreement on the decriminalization of homosexuality by the assembled government leaders and a commissioned report which recommended decriminalization got sidelined.
Peter Tatchell, the Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation, and who worked with Commonwealth, LGBTI and HIV/AIDS groups to lobby CHOGM, said:
“Our collective efforts raised massively the profile of LGBTI rights. Although not on the official agenda of the heads of government, demands for the decriminalisation of homosexuality were a major backdrop to CHOGM. The petition and email blitz put the Secretary General and Commonwealth governments under unprecedented pressure to respect the human rights of LGBTI people.”
“The Secretary General heard our message loud and clear. He stood with us, taking a lead by affirming that homophobic criminalisation and discrimination are incompatible with Commonwealth values. No Secretary General had ever said this at CHOGM. Our hope is that he will continue to give a lead by opposing sexual orientation discrimination and by urging homophobic countries to abide by the Commonwealth’s human rights values.”
In three Commonwealth countries, there are serious anti-gay moves going on. In Uganda, the anti-gay bill which carries the death penalty for repeat homosexual offenders is being revived. In Nigeria, there’s a bill that outlaws same-sex marriage with three years jail for participants and five years jail for those who witness, aid or abet a same-sex marriage. And in Cameroon, at least ten men have been arrested so far this year, some for ‘looking homosexual.’
Since the UN has condemned anti-homosexual criminal laws, (in the Human Rights Council and by the Secretary General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights) it is not just a ‘Western agenda.’
A ten member ‘Eminent Persons Group’ (EPG) was set up in 2009 to make recommendations to bring new life to the Commonwealth. Their report stated that the Commonwealth had lost its relevance and was decaying due to the lack of a mechanism to censure member countries when they violated human rights or democratic norms.
Key recommendations were:
- Enact a charter for the Commonwealth, giving it structure.
- Establish a commissioner on the rule of law, democracy and human rights.
- Repeal the laws against homosexual conduct in 41 of the member countries.
- Ban forced marriages.
The Perth meeting adopted 30 of the report’s recommendations. It approved 12 more subject to considering their financial implications. It rejected 11 and sent 43 to a task force of ministers. They decided not to publish the Eminent Persons Group report (which was leaked anyway). They also, it seems, have not published the exact recommendations adopted (30), rejected (11) and sent to a task force of ministers (43).
Former UK Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind, a member of the EPG, called the decision not to publish a “disgrace.” Many condemned the decision to hold back the EPG report. In a reversal, the report became public on the Commonwealth Secretariat website on October 30. It is likely that the recommendation on anti-homosexual laws is in the group of recommendations sent off to the task force of ministers. Doug Sanders writing in Fridae said that no media reports seem to have seen the text of the actual CHOGM decision.
A Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) will be empowered to deal with serious or persistent human rights violations by member states, which could include action against countries that perpetrate homophobic persecution.
CMAG will, in effect, be the custodian of the 2009 Affirmation of Commonwealth Values and Principles which, the Secretary-General said, “includes a clear commitment to tolerance, respect and understanding. This means we embrace difference, and that includes sexual identity. Discrimination and criminalisation on grounds of sexual orientation is at odds with our values.”
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