The United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has expressed her dismay at the Indian Supreme Court’s decision to recriminalise same-sex sexual activity.

“Criminalising private, consensual same-sex sexual conduct violates the rights to privacy and to non-discrimination enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which India has ratified. Yesterday’s Supreme Court decision in this case represents a significant step backwards for India and a blow for human rights,” Ms Pillay said.

On Wednesday, India’s Supreme Court upheld a law which criminalises gay sex, reversing a landmark 2009 Delhi High Court order which had legalised same-sex sexual activity.

Section 377 of India’s penal code bans “sex against the order of nature”, which is widely interpreted to mean gay sex, and can be punished with up to 10 years in jail – although at the moment prosecutions remain rare.

LGBT campaigners in India and around the world reacted with shock at the ruling.

In an encouraging sign, India’s Law Minister Kapil Siba announced on Thursday that his government would be taking steps to decriminalise same-sex sexual activity.

He said: “The archaic law should be changed, millions of people are affected and these people should not be exposed to 377.”

Finance Minister P Chidambaram said the Supreme Court ruling had taken India “back to 1860″.

“The reasoning of the judgement is worrying. Our knowledge of physiology and psychology was poor in 1860, now to say same sex intercourse is against order of nature is retrograde,” he added.

Ms Pillay said: “The Supreme Court of India has a long and proud history of defending and expanding protection of human rights. This decision is a regrettable departure from that tradition”.