Commonwealth People’s Forum makes history by backing LGBT rights… but leaders won’t
The declaration of the Commonwealth People’s Forum has historically urged countries to embrace LGBT rights, as Commonwealth leaders meet.
The heads of Commonwealth states are currently gathering in Malta for their biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting (CHOGM), to discuss global issues.
Despite a huge number of colonial-era anti-gay laws still in effect in the Commonwealth, LGBT issues have not been raised at CHOGM in 66 years. 40 out of the 53 member states currently criminalise homosexuality, including India, Uganda, Cameroon, Nigeria and Brunei.
However, despite another anticipated snub from government leaders, there is hisotric progress this year from the Commonwealth People’s Forum – a meeting of civil leaders running ahead of the summit.
The People’s Forum proposed a Malta Declaration today, which calls on Commonwealth leaders to follow international examples by condemning anti-LGBT violence.
It says: “Criminalisation, violence, discrimination and exclusion faced by LGBTI people hinders the resilience of societies. Inclusive societies are stronger, more innovative and therefore more resilient.
“Commonwealth civil society must forge stronger links across sectoral interests – LGBTI, union, disability, women and faith movements, indigenous people and ageing populations.”
It adds: “A number of Commonwealth governments require encouragement to engage with LGBTI civil societies in their own countries.
“There is a role in sharing good national policy to inform inter-governmental and cross-governmental dialogue to protect the lives of people who experience violence on the grounds of their sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.
“The Commonwealth has a role in assisting the transition of knowledge from national to the intergovernmental and between states, and to facilitate a dialogue to safeguard lives which respects the cross cutting nature of LGBTI issues as they intersect with gender, race, faith, ethnicity, disability, and age.”
Scott Cuthbertson of Scotland’s Equality Network said: “A year after the Commonwealth Games came to Scotland we have seen historic progress within the Commonwealth on LGBTI issues.
“LGBTI people remain criminalized in 40 of the 53 member countries but this CHOGM marks a historic step forward with LGBTI people at the heart of the people’s forum discussions.”
Caleb Orozco, a Belizean activist and member of the Commonwealth Equality Network, said: “The opportunity for political change exists.
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“The Commonwealth can build on the experience of the Organisation of American States and take a stand against violence on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
“It will need communication and a commitment to engage and act between the region’s institutions. This CHOGM is a good start.”
Rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said: “The Commonwealth People’s Forum has previously discussed LGBTI rights but this is a breakthrough – the first time it has included LGBTI equality in its official declaration.
“However, the Forum has no power and its proposals are routinely ignored by the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).
“Moreover, the official Commonwealth agenda at CHOGM 2015 has again refused to discuss, let alone support, LGBTI equality.
“This is the 66th year that Commonwealth leaders have refused to allow LGBTI rights on their official agenda.
“They won’t even discuss LGBTI equality, let alone support it. It is a total disgrace and a shameful failure to honour the human rights principles of the Commonwealth Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”