Flags of the Commonwealth flying in London
The criminalisation of homosexuality in Commonwealth countries has been blamed for increasing HIV infection rates, according to a new report.
The report by Human Dignity Trust was released ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2015 in Malta, from 27 to 29 November.
It outlines the extent and the consequences of the criminalisation of homosexuality by the 40 Commonwealth countries that continue to outlaw LGBT people, especially in Africa, the Caribbean and South Asia.
The report outlines the myriad of harms criminalisation does to LGBT people and Commonwealth countries overall, from encouraging mob violence, to boosting rates of HIV infection, to hindering economic development.
Astonishingly, the Commonwealth encompasses 2 billion of the 2.9 billion people worldwide who live in countries where it is a crime to be gay, thanks to laws that were primarily put in place during British colonial rule.
The Hon Michael Kirby, former judge of the Australian High Court and member of the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group, said, however, that it was “pathetic to blame this on the British colonial administrators.”
He argued that “most Commonwealth countries have been independent for 50 years and the responsibility is theirs alone.”
Kirby pointed out that anti-gay laws have largely remained unchanged and three recent decisions in final national courts in India, Singapore and Malaysia “have actually set the cause of reform backwards.”
He noted that while most other parts of the world, through the United Nations, increasingly endorse the perception of gay rights as human rights, the Commonwealth “is deadly silent.”
“If the countries with the biggest AIDS problems will not help their own vulnerable communities, they have to be told quite clearly that it is unlikely that other countries will be able to extract increased funding from their own disenchanted taxpayers,” Kirby said.
South African Constitutional Court Justice Edwin Cameron called the materials in the report “extraordinarily dense, passionate, informed, scholarly and most keenly argued – and overwhelming in their persuasive force.”
The Commonwealth is an association of 53 nations, including South Africa, most of which are former British colonies.