An African LGBTI rights advocate believes that UK Prime Minister Theresa May should apologise for Britain introducing sodomy laws to Commonwealth countries.
Edwin Sesange has launched a petition calling on the organisers of the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), taking place in the UK in April, to include LGBTI human rights on the main CHOGM agenda.
Shockingly, thirty-six out of the 52-member countries of the Commonwealth criminalise same-sex relations. “They account for half of the world’s nations where homosexuality is illegal,” he says.
At least eight of these 36 countries have a maximum sentence of life imprisonment for same-sex acts and there is the death penalty in parts of northern Nigeria and rural Pakistan.
“The majority of LGBTIs living in Commonwealth states have no legal protection against discrimination in employment, housing and the provision of goods and services,” Sesange says.
“This makes a mockery of Commonwealth values and the Commonwealth Charter 2013,” he wrote in a letter to the CHOGM organisers. “We urge CHOGM 2018 to lead the way in raising awareness of LGBTI rights as human rights and to act to remedy LGBTI rights abuses.”
State homophobia, not homosexuality, was imported into Africa
Sesange has pointed out that most of the Commonwealth countries that criminalise homosexuality inherited their anti-gay laws from Britain during the period of colonial rule; making these laws a colonial hang-over.
That’s why he believes that May should also use the opportunity to apologise on behalf of the UK for introducing these laws.
“Most people in some commonwealth communities believe that the West brought homosexuality to Africa, which is not true,” Sesange told Mambaonline.
An apology, he says will, have the effect of making it clear to Commonwealth citizens that anti-gay laws are not native to their countries and were actually usually imposed on them by the UK.
“We need Britain to clearly state that it was wrong to introduce these laws in those countries. Yes, these countries are now independent and responsible for their laws but they have grown to believe that they own these laws not that they inherited these laws,” he explained.
A State’s head apologising for past anti-LGBTI actions on behalf of their nation is not unheard of. Last year, both Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, and the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, apologised for previous government’s criminalising and persecuting LGBTI people in their respective countries.
“Can you just imagine the joy among LGBTI and other people in those countries after an apology by the UK Prime Minister?” Sesange asked. “Even if it is not legally binding, it will be morally influential.”
He added: “The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting has never in its entire six-decade history discussed LGBTI human rights. The time has come.”
Sign the petition here.