Report produced in collaboration with the UK’s Kaleidoscope Trust
Melbourne and Sydney, Australia, 30 November, Kaleidoscope Human Rights Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation working to promote and protect the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people in the Asia Pacific region, today announced the publication of “Speaking Out 2015” – a report on the rights of LGBTI people across the Commonwealth. The report was released to coincide with the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting held in Valetta, Malta, November 27-29 and can be downloaded here.
A video to accompany the report can also be viewed here.
Speaking Out 2015 documents the Commonwealth’s poor record in protecting the rights of its LGBTI citizens. Of the 53 member states, 40 continue to criminalise same-sex activity. Since CHOGM2013, India has recriminalized male homosexuality and Brunei has partially implemented a strict form of Sharia law but on a positive note both Mozambique and Lesotho have decriminalised male homosexuality. There is also evidence from many Commonwealth nations that new LGBTI activist groups have emerged or existing groups have become more vocal. Still, more than 90% of Commonwealth citizens live in a jurisdiction where homosexuality is criminalised. Drawing on contributions from LGBTI human rights organisations from across the Commonwealth, Speaking Out 2015 demands that the Commonwealth take action to overcome the discrimination and violence faced by LGBTI people through:
- following the example of other multilateral forums, the Commonwealth must condemn violence on any grounds and make concrete efforts to prevent acts of violence and harassment committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identity/expression;
- committing to open and free debate across the Commonwealth on how best to safeguard the rights of LGBTI people;
- committing to include a discussion on equal rights for LGBTI citizens as a substantive agenda item at the next CHOGM; and
- encouraging Commonwealth member states to engage in meaningful dialogue with their own LGBTI communities to facilitate an informed debate about the means to remove all legal and other impediments to the enjoyment of their human rights.
Speaking Out 2015 includes testimonies from LGBTI people in almost every Commonwealth country, which reveal pervasive and debilitating discrimination and violence:
“Our challenge remains in reaching out to poorer LGBTs, LGBT teens, and LGBTs in rural Malaysia who are being bullied by peers, punished by teachers, abandoned by parents, and harassed by authorities.” Pang Khee Teik, Co-Founder Seksualiti Merdeka, Malaysia
“stigma, discrimination, abuse and violence are part of my daily life. It is not safe for me to walk around freely in my own country. My voice has not been heard when fronted up at the police station. I am not utilising my rights as a human because I am in fear.” Elizabeth Taylor, trans activist, Papua New Guinea.
The report also demonstrates the resilience of individual activists and the growing strength of human rights advocacy and LGBTI movements in Commonwealth countries:
“In a country where the whole concept of sex and sexuality is a taboo, we are learning to navigate our ways by highlighting love as the center of all, a human right that can’t be denied, hoping for broader acceptance some day!” Xulhaz Mannan, Bangladesh
Professor Paula Gerber, President, Kaleidoscope Human Rights Foundation said:
“There have been positive moves across the Commonwealth in the last two years plus a number of setbacks. Some of the developments in Malta over the weekend give us hope that at last the Commonwealth is creaking in to action over the rights of LGBTI citizens. But we need to see more progress and a real commitment to change. It is still shocking that LGBTI citizens of Commonwealth nations are at a significantly higher risk of facing criminal prosecution for who they love, than citizens of the rest of the world.”
There are hopeful signs that the Commonwealth is willing to reflect on how to improve this record. For the first time in its history, the Commonwealth People’s Forum last week had sessions examining the challenges facing LGBTI people. While there were one or two LGBTI activists at the forum in Sri Lanka in 2013 (including Kaleidoscope Australia President, Professor Paula Gerber), this time a more substantial body of activists from the Commonwealth Equality Network (a coalition of more than 35 LGBTI and human rights organisations from over 30 Commonwealth countries), participated fully in the people’s forum. The People’s Forum concluded with the Malta Declaration calling Commonwealth Governments to:
“make concrete efforts to prevent acts of violence and harassment committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.”
In CHOGM 2015 itself, LGBTI rights were not on the agenda. However, UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, stated on the day before the meeting that he was going with a personal aim of raising LGBTI issues. On the same day, as she was named the new Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Baroness Scotland said that she would “absolutely” be talking to member states about LGBTI rights though she could not guarantee that it would be on the agenda for the next CHOGM in 2017.