For the first time at a Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, at CHOGM in Trinidad & Tobago, there was significant representation of GLBTQ (gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender/queer) activists among civil society participants, and a concerted effort to highlight issues of sexual citizenship and rights. A delegation of GLBTQ activists from Africa, Asia and the Caribbean participated actively in the thematic assembly discussions and drafting process in the November 22-25, 2009 Commonwealth People’s Forum (CPF), a gathering of civil society organizations that meets in advance of, and sends a statement to, the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. Working in partnership with gender, disabilities and other human rights advocates, they achieved visibility for a number of key concerns, and won inclusion of these issues in the broad civil society agenda for the Commonwealth.
The issues cut a wide swath: repealing laws criminalizing non-normative sexualities and gender expression; preventing and prosecuting bias-related murders and violence, including punitive rape of Lesbians; ending discrimination in accessing health services; creating safety in the school system from violence and bullying; addressing the need for support and resources for parents; and developing training and sensitization for a range of public servants and service providers. Both scheduled speakers and participants from the floor made moving contributions related to human rights violations on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity in Commonwealth member countries. Especially powerful speeches came from Ashily Dior, a Transgender activist from Trinidad; Canadian Stephen Lewis, co-director of AIDS Free World and former UN Special Envoy on HIV in Africa; and Robert Carr, director of the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition. Together, contributors raised a comprehensive range of concerns in several of the assemblies, particularly those focused on Gender; Health, HIV and AIDS; and Human Rights.
The final Port of Spain Civil Society Statement to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting includes language calling on “Commonwealth Member States and Institutions” to “recognize and protect the human rights of all individuals without discrimination on the grounds of…sexual orientation, gender identity and/or expression”; to “repeal legislation that leads to discrimination, such as the criminalisation of same sex sexual relationships”; and for “the Commonwealth Foundation to facilitate a technical review of such of laws”. Further, it issues a call for “Commonwealth Member States to ensure universal access to basic” health “services for marginalised and vulnerable groups”, including “sexual and gender minorities”, and to “work to actively remove and prevent the establishment of legislation which undermines evidence-based effective HIV prevention, treatment and care available to marginalised and vulnerable groups, such as sexual minorities”. Its Gender section includes a distinct item on “Transgenders, Gays and Lesbians” (“We call on Commonwealth Member States to include gender and sexuality as a specific theme on sexualities, sexual and gender minorities, related violence and discrimination, making them no longer invisible”) and echoes the recognition in the human rights section “that gender equity implies equality for all and therefore issues related to non-normative sexualities, such as sexual and gender minorities”.
The Statement also makes reference to proposed “Anti-Homosexuality” legislation introduced in the Parliament of Uganda, home of current CHOGM Chair President Yoweri Museveni. The legislation would require reporting of homosexuals, provide a sentence of life imprisonment for homosexual touching or sex, and the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality”, if the offender is HIV-positive. In remarks in more than one CPF assembly and in a special press conference, Lewis, Carr and a representative of the Caribbean HIV & AIDS Alliance, spoke out forcefully against the legislation, asking Museveni to take a clear position on it, and calling on others to condemn it. The Trinidad & Tobago Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation joined these voices, asking its own Prime Minister Patrick Manning, who will assume the chairmanship of CHOGM, and other CARICOM leaders, to do the same.
Eighty-six countries in the world currently have legislation criminalizing same-sex conduct between consenting adults as well as other non normative sexual and gender behaviours and identities; half of them are Commonwealth member states. Criminal provisions in these countries may target same sex sexual conduct, men who have sex with men specifically, or more generally any sexual behaviour considered “unnatural”. Some countries criminalize other non normative behaviours, such as cross-dressing, or utilize criminal provisions on indecency or debauchery, among others, to target individuals on their real or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. These criminal provisions not only constitute a violation of civil and political rights in and of themselves because they violate key provisions established by international human rights law; they also have significant human rights implications, representing a serious risk for the exercise of other fundamental rights, such as the right to association, the right to assembly, and the right to expression, the right to health, the principle of non discrimination, to mention a few. Furthermore, the mere existence of these laws is in many countries is an avenue for other human rights violations by state and non-state actors.
We acknowledge and welcome the civil society consensus on the above mentioned issues, and call on Commonwealth member states, the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Commonwealth Foundation to implement the recommendations of the Commonwealth People’s Forum.
You can access the Port of Spain Civil Society Statement to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 25 November at: http://www.commonwealthfoundation.com/governancedemocracy/CPF2009/NewPublicationsCPF/
· Alternative Law Forum (ALF) – India
· Centre for Popular Education and Human Rights Ghana (CEPEHRG) – Ghana
· Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (CAISO) – Trinidad & Tobago
· Gay and Lesbian coalition of Kenya (GALCK) – Kenya
· GrenCHAP – Grenada
· Jamaica Forum for Lesbians All-Sexuals and Gays – (J-FLAG) – Jamaica
· Knowledge and Rights with Young People through Safer Spaces (KRYSS) – Malaysia
· Lesbians and Gays Bisexuals Botswana (LEGABIBO) – Botswana
· People Like Us (PLU) – Singapore
· Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) – Guyana
· The Independent Project (TIP) – Nigeria
· United and Strong – St. Lucia
· United Belize Advocacy Movement (UNIBAM) – Belize
· United Gays and Lesbians against AIDS Barbados (UGLAAB) – Barbados
· Global Rights
· International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC)
“Law to protect gays, lesbians”, Barbados Nation, 26 November 2009: Minister of Family, Youth and Sports Esther Byer-Suckoo promises domestic violence protections the day after participating in the Comonwealth People’s Forum