Nigel Evans, Member of Parliament of the Ribble Valley and former Executive member of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, spoke in the Westminster Hall debate on Sri Lanka and the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.
Mr Evans raised the issue of human rights and specifically those of the gay community in Commonwealth countries.
Mr Evans said:
“I want to talk about one aspect of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting that is taking place this month, as opposed to citing all the aspects. I am listening with great interest to what other Members have said, and that will become apparent at the end of my speech. At the CHOGM, people will rightly talk about poverty alleviation, education, access to water and drugs, and meeting the millennium development goals, but one subject that does not get much attention is lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights. In parts, the Commonwealth is failing on that.
“Within the Commonwealth, 40 countries still criminalise aspects of LGBT life. Of those 40 countries, 14 are in Africa, eight in Asia, seven in Oceania and 11 in the Americas. One of them is Pakistan, where consensual same-sex relations carry a maximum penalty of death. Just think of that for a second: death. Alongside that, Bangladesh, Barbados, Guyana, Singapore and Uganda all have a maximum sentence of life imprisonment for consensual same-sex relations. That is in stark contrast to some Commonwealth countries that have made great strides. South Africa is one of them. Same-sex marriage was allowed there in 2006, which was well ahead of the United Kingdom, where same-sex marriage was allowed this year. Earlier this year, I watched footage of the New Zealand Parliament passing similar legislation. I had a tear in my eye when I saw people in the public gallery singing after that legislation was passed. That is in stark contrast to what is happening in many other Commonwealth countries. The final communiqué from the CHOGM of 2011 does not overtly refer to LGBT rights at all. One part urges members to consider becoming party to all major international human rights instruments, and to implement fully the rights and freedoms set out in the universal declaration on the human genome and human rights and so on. If we scratch the surface of that, we all know what that means. We also know that if there had been an attempt to put LGBT rights overtly in the communiqué in 2011, there would not have been a communiqué. We all know how it works; we have all been in international forums in which we have had to agree communiqués. I hope that the opportunity will be taken in 2013 to be far more overt about the progress that can be made in Sri Lanka.
“One Commonwealth member state that is home to some of the strictest laws on same-sex relations is Uganda. Section 145 of the Penal Code Act 1950 is “Unnatural offences”, which states:
“Any person who has carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature…or permits a male person to have carnal knowledge of him or her against the order of nature, commits an offence and is liable to imprisonment for life.”
“I went to Uganda a couple of years ago with an Inter-Parliamentary Union delegation. We went to see the Speaker of the Uganda Parliament, and we spoke to her about a private Member’s Bill that would make the law even harsher. It was clear to us that we were making absolutely no progress. We were an all-party delegation and she finished by telling us, “Don’t tell us how to run our country.” We were given short shrift.
“The Prime Minister spoke about the maltreatment of those who practice same-sex relations after the 2011 CHOGM. There was a failure to reach an agreement among the leaders at that summit. The Prime Minister threatened to dock some UK aid to nations that have discriminatory laws against those practising same-sex relations. It would be a mistake to punish the people of those countries for what their Governments are doing, but we need to look at how we can influence those Governments far better.
“The Kaleidoscope Trust, a UK-based trust working to uphold the rights of LGBT people internationally, received reliable reports that LGBT activists in Sri Lanka had been threatened with arrest, and organisations had been warned that they could be closed down if they continued to advocate human rights for all. That is particularly poignant, given that Sri Lanka is hosting the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting this month.
“I will finish with two quotes I have been given by two friends. One is from Ben Summerskill of Stonewall. I spoke to him earlier today, and he said,
“There needs to be a commitment to decriminalise homosexuality throughout the Commonwealth. There is a shadow that is cast over the Commonwealth and its relevance in the 21st century unless it can make giant strides towards the elimination of this most hideous of discriminations.”
“Matthew Todd of Attitude magazine said,
“In 2013, homosexual relations are still criminalised in the majority of nations of the Commonwealth. This is an unacceptable situation, which sees millions of people suffer hugely diminished lives and, in some cases, lives that are destroyed altogether. It is imperative that the Commonwealth supports and campaigns for the basic human rights of all its citizens, including those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.”
“I agree with both those comments.
“The CHOGM in November 2013 has the opportunity to do what Ben Summerskill and Matthew Todd describe. Our Government must not miss this vital opportunity to speak up for a group of people who are denied their human rights by their Government. As the Prime Minister indicated in relation to the CHOGM 2011, it will take a journey for some Commonwealth countries to make progress on this issue. Well, the CHOGM 2013 in Sri Lanka is the time to start that journey, and we should start with the human rights that are denied to people who live in Sri Lanka.”