Echoing her landmark speech to the United Nations, the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton told an audience at Syracuse University that many foreign leaders in Africa and Asia consider gay rights and indeed womens’ rights to be a “totally foreign concept.”

“You can imagine the conversations that I have,” she said. “In parts of Africa and Asia, she said, gay rights is ‘just a totally foreign concept.'”

She added to much laughter: “I mean, the first response is, ‘We don’t have any of those here. Second response is, ‘If we did, we would not want to have them and would want to get rid of them as quickly as possible. And it’s your problem, United States of America, that you have so many of those people. So don’t come here and tell us to protect the rights of people we don’t have or that we don’t want.'”

“It’s a very difficult conversation because it’s just not been one that people have had up until now,” she said.

Mrs Clinton said the same was true for women’s rights: “If you’re someone, as I am, who believes strongly in the empowerment of women … in a lot of places, it’s just not understood.”

Mrs Clinton was echoing her landmark speech to the United Nations last year where she said: “human beings born free and bestowed equality and dignity, who have a right to claim that, which is now one of the remaining human rights challenges of our time”.

She added: “Some seem to believe it is a western phenomenon and therefore people outside the west have grounds to reject it.

“Well, in reality gay people are born into and belong to every society in the world.

“They are all ages, all races, all faiths, they are doctors and teachers, farmers and bankers, soldiers and athletes.

“Whether we know it, whether we acknowledge it, they are our family, our friends and our neighbours.

“Being gay is not a western invention, it is a human reality.”