LGBT activist Peter Tatchell has described most Commonwealth countries as bastions of homophobia.
In an article published by The Guardian newspaper on Tuesday, the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, Tatchell comments on the lack of LGBT equality in these countries, most of which are former British colonies.
“The Commonwealth is a bastion of global homophobia, often bucking the worldwide trend towards sexual orientation equality, with increased state-sanctioned threats and repression in Malawi, Uganda, The Gambia, Malaysia, Cameroon and Nigeria,” he writes.
Tatchell points out that 46 of the 53 Commonwealth countries still criminalise same-sex relations, with penalties including 25 years jail in Trinidad and Tobago and 20 years plus flogging in Malaysia.
Several countries – Sierra Leone, Pakistan, Uganda, Tanzania and Bangladesh – also stipulate life imprisonment as a penalty for homosexuality.
“The Commonwealth is failing to challenge homophobia… The Commonwealth has never issued a formal declaration in support of LGBT human rights, let alone embarked on a programme of action to challenge the rampant homophobia and transphobia in its member states,” says Tatchell.
He accuses Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma “of a systematic, persistent and wilful failure to condemn homophobic discrimination and violence.”
Tatchell notes that Sharma did not condemn the jailing of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga in Malawi in 2010, that he only offered a muted criticism of the proposed ant-gay bill in Uganda and has not replied to letters from activists about homophobia in the Commonwealth.
“I get the feeling that the Secretary-General does not care much about the human rights of LGBT Commonwealth citizens. He seems to regard the issue as an embarrassment and distraction,” adds Tatchell.
“This silence shows the true face of the Commonwealth: a bastion of homophobic persecution, collusion and appeasement. If the Secretary-General can’t robustly defend universal human rights and equality for LGBT people, he is unfit for high office and should resign.”
South Africa was a founding member of the Commonwealth, left in 1961 and rejoined in 1994.