Africa / Americas / Asia / Europe

LGBTI Africans urge Commonwealth focus on human rights

Queen Elizabeth during Commonwealth Day ceremonies at Westminster Abbey in London (Photo courtesy of the BBC)

Queen Elizabeth during Commonwealth Day ceremonies at Westminster Abbey in London (Photo courtesy of the BBC)

The  London-based African LGBTI organization Out and Proud Diamond Group has launched a campaign to put human rights of LGBTI people on the agenda for the next summit meeting of leaders of the Commonwealth.

If they succeed, that meeting in early 2018 in the United Kingdom would be the first one to address the issue.

Among the 53 nations in the Commonwealth, which includes countries that formerly belonged to the British Empire, 39 still have anti-homosexuality laws, most of them originally imposed by the British.

LGBTI organizations pushed unsuccessfully to have the topic on the agenda for the 2015 meeting in Malta of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), but it instead focused on climate change, extremism and corruption.

Baroness Scotland (Photo courtesy of The Telegraph)

Baroness Scotland (Photo courtesy of The Telegraph)

The new secretary-general of the Commonwealth, Baroness Patricia Scotland, who has dual citizenship in the United Kingdom and Dominica, says she will push to have LGBTI rights on the 2018 agenda, but might not succeed:

 “What we have to accept is that this [decriminalizing homosexuality, or even talking about it] is something that will depend on consensus.

“We do not have the right or opportunity to force states, but we can start a really good conversation to work with them so they understand the economic issues in relations to human rights and make the change.”

Edwin Sesange, director of Out and Proud Diamond Group (Photo courtesy of WorkersLiberty.org)

Edwin Sesange, director of Out and Proud Diamond Group (Photo courtesy of WorkersLiberty.org)

Out and Proud Diamond Group (OPDG) is urging organizers of the next summit:

  • To adopt the theme: “An inclusive Commonwealth based on equality and diversity for all”,
  • To include lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and inter-sex (LGBTI) human rights on the main CHOGM 2018 agenda and
  • To invite openly LGBTI people from the Commonwealth to address  CHOGM leaders.

Edwin Sesange, director of OPDG, said it’s a good time to focus on the issue, because the exact date, location and theme of the summit have not yet been decided. “This is a big opportunity for us to start this campaign.  We urge the people in United Kingdom to a write a letter to your member of parliament,” he said.

He also urged people to sign a petition on Change.org entitled “Urge Commonwealth Heads of Govt Meeting 2018 to have equality theme & support LGBTI rights.” The petition is sponsored by OPDG and the Peter Tatchell Foundation

The launch of the OPDG campaign came yesterday, on Commonwealth Day, an occasion celebrated with a multi-faith service in Westminster Abbey that was attended by Queen Elizabeth and other members of the royal family.

Commonwealth Day procession in Westminster Abbey. (Photo courtesy of the Daily Mail.)

Commonwealth Day procession in Westminster Abbey. (Photo courtesy of the Daily Mail.)

The British royal family celebrates Commonwealth Day at Westminster Abbey on March 14, 2016. (Photo courtesy of the Daily Mail.)

The British royal family celebrates Commonwealth Day at Westminster Abbey on March 14, 2016. (Photo courtesy of the Daily Mail.)

The BBC reported about the Commonwealth Day ceremony:

“The Queen is the head of the Commonwealth, and her annual message to the association addressed its 2016 theme – ‘an inclusive Commonwealth’.

In the programme, she wrote that an essential ingredient of belonging to the Commonwealth was a ‘willingness to share, to exchange and to act for the common good’.

‘By including others, drawing on collective insights, knowledge and resources, and thinking and working together, we lay the foundations of a harmonious and progressive society,’ she wrote.”

On the Commonwealth website, she wrote: “Today, and in the year ahead, the theme ‘An Inclusive Commonwealth’ is an inspiration for us all. Let us give it practical effect by supporting those in need and those who feel excluded in all walks of life.”

Joan Ayebare Tumwine, a lesbian from Uganda and an LGBTI activist with Out and Proud Diamond Group, took issue with generic support for  “diversity” without mentioning LGBTI people:

It is a shame that the statement on the Commonwealth website fails to mention that LGBTI  people should be treated equally.  The Commonwealth as an institution can no longer sweep the issue of equality for LGBTI citizens under the carpet or sugar-coating it.  Most of these anti-LGBTI countries inherited their anti-gay laws from Britain during the period of colonial rule; making these laws a colonial hang-over.

Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation, said:

Peter Tatchell protests against Nigerian homophobia.

Peter Tatchell at a 2014 protest against Nigerian homophobia.

“The Commonwealth has never in the last 60-plus years discussed LGBTI human rights. Eighty percent of its member states criminalise homosexuality. They account for more than half of the world’s nations where same-sex relations are illegal. Seven Commonwealth nations impose life imprisonment.

“Hate crimes against LGBTI people are widespread in most Commonwealth countries. The vast majority of LGBTIs living in the Commonwealth have no legal protection against discrimination in employment, housing and the provision of good and services. This makes a mockery of  Commonwealth values and the human rights principles of the Commonwealth Charter.”

Chukuwema Ewulu, a Nigerian gay man and an LGBTI activist with Out and Proud Diamond Group, stated:

“Four out of five Commonwealth countries, which are signatories to the Charter, have failed to adhere to its principles and the Commonwealth has failed to ensure that these nations respect the human rights of their LGBTI citizens. The failure of the Commonwealth to live up to its expectations has severe consequences to its citizens.”

Abbey Kiwanuka, chief executive of Out and Proud Diamond Group. (Photo courtesy of The Independent)

Abbey Kiwanuka, chief executive of Out and Proud Diamond Group. (Photo courtesy of The Independent)

Abbey Kiwanuka, the CEO of Out and Proud Diamond Group, said:

“It is very important for the leaders of the Commonwealth to listen to us as the peoples of the Commonwealth. We can no longer sit back and blame our history of colonisation. The Commonwealth countries like Uganda, Nigeria, among others have the capacity to  repeal these anti-LGBTI laws.

“We do not expect the United Kingdom or any other LGBTI friendly country to tell these anti-LBGTI countries what to do in terms of decriminalisation of homosexuality, but we request them to initiate a dialogue between these anti-LGBTI countries with their LGBTI people and also offer their expertise and experience in how to repeal these laws. …

“This campaign will help us to achieve a lot of things. We hope to do many things over the years to make the leaders and other stakeholders in the Commonwealth to hear our voices of equality and protection for LGBTI people.”

 

3 thoughts on “LGBTI Africans urge Commonwealth focus on human rights

  1. Pingback: LGBTI Africans urge Commonwealth focus on human rights | 76 CRIMES | Queer Church News & Opinion

  2. Pingback: ‘Advancing LGBT rights in the Commonwealth is a delicate task’ | 76 CRIMES

  3. Pingback: Former British colonies inch toward LGBTI rights | 76 CRIMES

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