LGBT equality in the Commonwealth

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2012 National LGBT Conference
26 July 2012

Conference notes that the 54 Commonwealth states comprise one quarter of United Nations (UN) member states: one third of all humanity. The Commonwealth defines itself as a free and equal association of nations committed to the core principles of democracy, human rights, equality, non-discrimination, opportunity for all, liberty of the individual and human dignity. Yet 46 of the 76 countries which still criminalise same-sex relations are in the Commonwealth.

Conference welcomes the steps being made within the Commonwealth to address these discriminatory laws and human rights violations. For instance, addressing the UN Human Rights Council in February 2012, Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma said: “Discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation is an area of concern on which we have given the perspective of Commonwealth values in various fora, including in this Council. Our position continues to be that we oppose discrimination or stigmatisation on any grounds, including those of sexual orientation. It is for member states to address incompatibilities between Commonwealth values and mostly inherited national laws in these areas.”

Conference notes that following the October 2011 Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting (CHOGM), a consultation opened on a new Commonwealth Charter. A submission from 79 civil society organisations from 26 Commonwealth member states across Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific was amongst those calling for the charter to make specific reference to sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination.

Conference notes that the United Kingdom (UK) government’s 2011 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) action plan includes a commitment ‘to work to raise the profile of LGB&T issues in preparation for Commonwealth meetings’. The next CHOGM is in November 2013. Conference further notes that the government’s transgender action plan includes commitments to advance international transgender equality through the UN.

In June 2012, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hailed the work of LGBT rights defenders, saying “No custom or tradition, no cultural values or religious beliefs, can justify depriving a human being of his or her human rights. Violence and discrimination against LGBT people is a human rights violation: a violation that states have a moral duty and a legal obligation to address.”

Conference therefore encourages the National LGBT Committee, working with the national executive council international committee, to continue to:

1)Push the UK governments and assemblies to support LGBT rights internationally, including through the UK’s participation in the Commonwealth;

2)Work closely with the Trades Union Congress, LGBT Labour, ILGA, Public Services International and other non-governmental organisations to promote LGBT people’s rights;

3)Raise awareness across UNISON about the importance of active solidarity with persecuted LGBT people and human rights defenders;

4)Raise the profile of LGBT inequality within the other global union federations and lobby for the human rights of LGBT people through international institutions, including the UN, International Labour Organisation, European Union and Council of Europe.