Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma
Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma has spoken out against the “discrimination or stigmatisation” of gays and lesbians in a speech at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
“Discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation is an area of concern on which we have given the perspective of Commonwealth values in various fora, including in this Council,” said Sharma on Wednesday.
“Our position continues to be that we oppose discrimination or stigmatisation on any grounds, including those of sexual orientation. It is for member states to address incompatibilities between Commonwealth values and mostly inherited national laws in these areas.”
The Commonwealth is an association of 54 nations, most of which are former British colonies and most of which have retained draconian colonial-era homophobic laws that criminalise homosexuality.
The penalties 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. In parts of Nigeria and Pakistan, same-sex relationships can be punishable by death.
“We welcome Kamalesh Sharma’s reiteration at the UN that homophobia is incompatible with Commonwealth values,” commented human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation.
“This sends a signal from the top that victimisation on the grounds of sexuality is unacceptable. It’s good to hear this commitment to LGBT human rights being voiced at the UN.”
He noted, however that, “compared to the statements on LGBT human rights made by other international leaders such as Hillary Clinton and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, Mr Sharma’s criticisms of homophobia were too brief and too general.
“He did not rebuke the more than 40 Commonwealth countries that continue to persecute LGBT people. His speech made no mention of transphobia and the need for protection against discrimination based on gender identity,” said Tatchell.