LGBT rights organisation COC Netherlands has welcomed research initiated by the Dutch minister of Foreign Affairs and Development Cooperation into gay rights.

The report, published yesterday, found that homosexuality is still a punishable crime in half of the 36 countries that have a development relationship with The Netherlands.

Penalties in those countries range from imprisonment to death penalty.

According to COC Netherlands this report is the first of many steps towards equal rights for homosexual people in those countries.

“Homosexuality has never before played a role of importance in foreign development cooperation,” said COC chairman Frank van Dalen.

“We are pleased to see that the minister has taken this important human rights issue seriously.”

The minister would like the Dutch embassies to make a strong case against penalties and punishment in the countries in which homosexuality is still a crime and to make it very clear that this form of discrimination is unacceptable.

COC Netherlands points out that country reports on local human rights conditions prepared by embassies have not always been complete or correct on the position of homosexuals in those countries.

In the case of asylum seekers from Iran, based on the inaccurate country report, these people were about to be sent back to Iran, where their lives would be in serious danger.

COC is proposing four follow-up steps to fight homophobia in development countries on a long-term basis. One of these is the monitoring of punishment processes involving homosexuals.

Another is putting homosexuality on the political and diplomatic agenda.

Furthermore it is important that the Dutch embassies, fulfilling a pioneering role, should form coalitions with other embassies on the subject and use their joint influence.

And finally, the voices of local LGBT people should be heard and local LGBT-movements supported.