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July 15, 2011

IconCommonwealth chief condemns homophobia

The chief executive of the Commonwealth of Nations condemned homophobia in a historic statement this week.

Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma told Commonwealth law ministers that “vilification and targeting on grounds of sexual orientation are at odds with the values of the Commonwealth”.

Sharma, a former Indian diplomat, also indicated his approval of the Delhi High Court ruling that decriminalised gay sex in India last year.

His comments are the first condemnation of homophobic prejudice to come from a senior Commonwealth official. They come just weeks after human rights activist Peter Tatchell condemned the Commonwealth’s silence on the issue.

“It is encouraging to see the Commonwealth Law ministers beginning to discuss discrimination against transgender and gay and lesbian people and its effects,” said Rob Lake of the Commonwealth HIV & AIDS Action Group.

“Justice and security is not just about gun,” he added. “It is about living in a country and a Commonwealth that acknowledges and acts to enshrine our human rights — the right to health and to a life without discrimination and persecution.”

Institutionalised homophobia is rampant in a number of Commonwealth member states, including Malaysia, Malawi, Nigeria, and Uganda. Other Commonwealth member states, such as Australia and the United Kingdom, enshrine key legal protections in law but continue to struggle with societal prejudice and do not extend full civil rights to LGBT people.

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Ruth Pearce

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