President Yahya Jammeh may have withdrawn Gambia from the Commonwealth over gay rights

President Yahya Jammeh may have withdrawn from the Commonwealth over gay rights

As Commonwealth leaders prepare to gather for the upcoming Heads of Government meeting, a new report has documented the plight of LGBT people in most Commonwealth countries.

Homosexuality is still illegal in 41 of the 53 Commonwealth member states, blighting the lives of citizens in these countries, says the Speaking Out report.

Testimonies from LGBTI people in almost every Commonwealth country contained in the report reveal widespread human rights abuses including attempted murder, beatings and harassment.

“I have lost two teeth, had my family property invaded and car damaged by two masked men… I have had stones thrown at me, experienced simulated gun shots, insults and physical harm on public transportation,” says Caleb Orozco, a gay man from Belize.

“LGBTI people are generally considered as animals or devils… so they are in permanent danger. They can be injured, they can be killed, and they can be discriminated against. They can be rejected from healthcare and justice,” adds Alice Nkom, a human rights lawyer from Cameroon.

Drawing on contributions from more than 20 LGBTI human rights organisations, and published by LGBT human rights charity the Kaleidoscope Trust, the report demands the Commonwealth take action on a wholesale abuse of human rights it has stubbornly ignored.

The report is backed by Sir Shridath Ramphal, former Secretary General of the Commonwealth, and Dr Purna Sen, former Head of Human Rights at the Commonwealth.

“[The report] is a reminder that for most of the countries of the Commonwealth, the desecration of our fellow citizens began in the law… As with the abolition of slavery, the decriminalisation of homosexuality in our time must be an act of law,” comments Sir Ramphal in the foreword.

“Once again we see Commonwealth leaders gathering at the Heads of Government meeting, pushing aside the urgent need to protect every citizen under the law. Once again the human rights of LGBTI people are the elephant in the room,” states Dr Purna Sen in her introduction to the report.

The report recommends that all Commonwealth governments in countries which continue to criminalise same-sex sexual activity repeal this legislation.

It also calls on all Commonwealth leaders to engage in meaningful dialogue with their own LGBTI communities, to put in place an immediate moratorium on the enforcement of existing laws criminalising homosexuality and to support public education initiatives to people in the Commonwealth about the case for LGBTI equality.

A map of Commonwealth member states (Wikipedia)

A map of Commonwealth member states (Wikipedia)

The report further urges leaders to support the right of LGBTI organisations to register alongside all civil society organisations and to fully include LGBTI people in development and other programmes on an equal basis with the rest of society.

Finally, they should include a discussion on equal rights for LGBTI citizens as a substantive agenda item at the next Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting taking plave from 15 to 17 November in in Sri Lanka.

The Commonwealth is an association of nations, including South Africa, most of which are former British colonies.

In 2012, Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma spoke out against the “discrimination or stigmatisation” of gays and lesbians in a speech at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva but this did little to change the status quo of LGBT people in most Commonwealth countries.

In October, Gambia withdrew from the Commonwealth, possibly as a result of growing criticism of homophobic President Yahya Jammeh’s campaign against LGBT people.

Speaking at the UN in New York in September, Jammeh said that homosexuality was among the biggest threats facing the world and was “more deadly than all natural disasters put together”.

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