Commonwealth chief backs gay rights

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“Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma made history when he voiced his support for gay rights in his keynote address at the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth People’s Forum (CPF) in Perth, Australia, today, Tuesday 25 October 2011,” reports Peter Tatchell, Director of the human rights organisation, the Peter Tatchell Foundation.

Mr Sharma was addressing the ngo CPF delegates ahead of the Commonwealth Heads Of Government Meeting (CHOGM), which begins on Friday.

The Commonwealth Secretary General said:

“We recall the 2009 Affirmation of Commonwealth Values and Principles, which 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 and I have had occasion to refer to this in the context of our law-related conferences,” Mr Sharma told the CPF delegates.

“We welcome Kamalesh Sharma’s defence of gay human rights. He has shown strong leadership by making it clear that homophobic persecution is incompatible with the Commonwealth’s values of equality, human rights and non-discrimination,” said Mr Tatchell.

“His speech is a tacit rebuke to the more than 40 Commonwealth member states that continue to criminalise homosexuality, with penalties ranging up to life imprisonment.

They comprise more than half the countries in the world that treat same-sex relations as a serious criminal offence.

“This is the first time that any Commonwealth Secretary General has ever condemned discrimination and criminalisation on the grounds of sexual identity at the CPF. It is only the second time in history that a Secretary General has criticised homophobic persecution at a Commonwealth event. The first time was at the Commonwealth Law Ministers Meeting in Sydney in July, when Mr Sharma stated that ‘vilification and targeting on grounds of sexual orientation is at odds with the fundamental values of the Commonwealth.’

“We hope Mr Sharma will again make history by repeating his commitment to gay human rights in his keynote address on Friday to the Commonwealth Presidents and Prime Ministers at CHOGM. No Secretary General has ever said at CHOGM that Commonwealth member states should end homophobic persecution,” added Mr Tatchell.

Mr Sharma’s statement follows months of intensive lobbying by the Peter Tatchell Foundation, Justice for Gay Africans, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative and other LGBT and human rights organisations from the global north and global south, including the Commonwealth People’s Forum, Commonwealth Foundation, International HIV/AIDS Alliance, Commonwealth HIV/AIDS Action Group and Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations.