“Prime Minister David Cameron should apologise for Britain’s imposition of anti-gay laws on Commonwealth counties in the nineteenth century, during the period of colonial rule,” urges Peter Tatchell, Director of the human rights organisation, the Peter Tatchell Foundation.
“He should make the apology at this weekend’s Commonwealth Heads Of Government Meeting (CHOGM), which begins on Friday, 28 October, in Perth, Australia.
“This is the appropriate moment for David Cameron to apologise for the homophobic persecution Britain has inflicted on the gay peoples of Africa, Asia, the Pacific and the Caribbean. It would be a welcome gesture of contrition and moral leadership for our Prime Minister to acknowledge this terrible wrong and seek to atone for it.
“The Commonwealth summit is the right place to express regret, since 80% of Commonwealth countries retain the criminalisation of homosexuality, which was foisted on them when they were occupied and ruled by Britain.
“Without an apology, Britain’s call for the decriminalisation of homosexuality throughout the Commonwealth will lack credibility. With an apology, the appeal for decriminalisation will have greater impact and authority,” said Mr Tatchell.
Earlier this year, Peter Tatchell lobbied the British Foreign Secretary William Hague, urging him to use his influence to press for the decriminalisation of same-sex relations at CHOGM.
In the last week, with the backing of the Prime Minister, William Hague has pledged to “raise LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] issues at the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Perth and push for their inclusion in the final communiqué.” His spokesperson said: “We are clear that discrimination is never acceptable, whether in the Commonwealth or anywhere else in the world. The situation of LGBT people within the Commonwealth remains a serious concern.”
“More than 40 Commonwealth countries currently criminalise homosexuality, nearly all using laws originally imposed by Britain during the colonial era and never repealed when these nations won their independence. They are not authentic national laws that were freely legislated by the indigenous populations,” Peter Tatchell added.
“In the Commonwealth, the penalties for homosexuality include 25 years jail in Trinidad and Tobago and 20 years plus flogging in Malaysia. Six Commonwealth countries stipulate life imprisonment: Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Pakistan, Uganda, Bangladesh and Guyana.
“These 40-plus Commonwealth member states account for more than half of the world’s countries that still criminalise same-sex relations.
“There have been homophobic witch-hunts in several Commonwealth countries: Nigeria, Cameroon, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Ghana.
“Anti-gay laws and witch-hunts contradict the Commonwealth’s commitment to equality, human rights, individual freedom and non-discrimination.
“The office of the Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd advised me that at the Commonwealth summit he will be ‘encouraging all governments to respond substantively’ to recommendations by the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group for the decriminalisation of homosexuality. Since then Mr Rudd has strengthened his commitment to personally press for gay law reform throughout the Commonwealth, confirming that he will be ‘raising these matters with Commonwealth foreign ministers,'” said Mr Tatchell.