Australia’s Foreign Minster Kevin Rudd

Australia’s Foreign Minster Kevin Rudd is backing moves to urge Commonwealth nations to legalise homosexuality at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Perth next week.

“Australia is a global advocate of non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation,” a spokesperson for Rudd told the Sidney Star Observer.

“Australia encourages all countries to decriminalise homosexuality by removing all laws imposing criminal penalties for homosexual conduct. Mr Rudd will be raising these matters with Commonwealth foreign ministers at CHOGM.”

British gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has described most Commonwealth countries as bastions of homophobia and has long-campaigned for Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma to be more vocal in defending equality for LGBT people.

Tatchell asked Sharma in a letter last month to ensure that LGBT human rights be put on the agenda of the meeting.

“CHOGM has never even discussed – let alone declared its support for – LGBT equality and human rights. It is long overdue that CHOGM addressed this humanitarian issue, which it has neglected for far too long. We hope that this year’s CHOGM will end these decades of silence and inaction.”

Over forty Commonwealth nations – an association of 54 countries, nearly all of them former British colonies – currently criminalise same-sex relationships with lengthy jail terms. They comprise over half of the world’s countries that continue to outlaw homosexuality.

The penalties for homosexuality include 25 years jail in Trinidad and Tobago and 20 years plus flogging in Malaysia. Several Commonwealth countries stipulate life imprisonment: Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Pakistan, Uganda, Bangladesh and Guyana.

South Africa was a founding member of the Commonwealth, left in 1961 and rejoined in 1994.

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