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Global_18

The gay community is achieving equality in the West, but in other countries freedoms are being lost global second quar ter 2014 www.global -br ief ing.org l 75 commonwealth network Gay rights: the elephant in the room for the Commonwealth? In 2013, India’s Supreme Court chose to reinstate a colonial-era law making homosexuality illegal and punishable by up to ten years in jail. While this was a huge setback for gay rights in India, it also has some major implications for the Commonwealth. In March 2013, Commonwealth countries unanimously adopted the Commonwealth Charter; affirming a commitment to the “protection and promotion of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights”, and agreeing not to discriminate against their citizens based on “gender, race, colour, creed, political belief or other grounds”. It is clear that there are vastly differing views to homosexuality among Commonwealth citizens, and these are often religiously and culturally rooted. The Commonwealth prides itself on diversity, but the issue of criminalisation can and should be seen through a different lens: human rights. The detention, harassment and torture of any human being based solely on their identity should always be unacceptable and indeed has been declared so by all Commonwealth countries. Nevertheless, a recent report by the Kaleidoscope Trust has highlighted the fact that 41 out of 53 Commonwealth members criminalise homosexuality. With the recent news from India, this number climbs to 42. Taking into account India’s population, this means that it is now illegal for 92 per cent of Commonwealth citizens to be homosexual. Maintaining this legislation not only damages an individual state’s credibility on human rights, but it also harms the Commonwealth, which will no doubt be facing more accusations that the actions of its states do not appear to align with the values set out in its charter. Russia’s treatment of its LGBT community has been in the spotlight recently. This conversation, started around the Sochi Olympics, has already spread to include Commonwealth countries, many of which, unlike Russia, routinely speak the language of human rights. The Secretary- General’s recent statement on this issue suggests that silence will no longer be an option. How Commonwealth countries deal with this coming to the fore could be critical for the continued relevance of the association. See Peter Tatchell’s comments on the Kaleidoscope Trust report on page 46 world has 100 per cent school attendance of both girls and boys. We need to work and invest more in education to build up a bright future and protect children suffering from terrorism, child labour, child trafficking and gender abuse such as FGM female genital mutilation. “Some of you may know, and some of you may not, that women own only one per cent of the total land in the world. In some fields, women and men do the exactly same job but women are paid less than men. Women get fewer opportunities in politics, businesses and other economic industries, and in the EU women comprise only three per cent of chief execs of major companies. “In my opinion, for a country’s development, it is essential that women are accepted with equal rights. We should take action for women’s rights because we can never succeed when half of us are held back.” Among other speakers were Lord Sebastian Coe and Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson, who spoke on the subject of the Commonwealth Games. Coe told those gathered at Westminster Abbey: “These Games have their own unique spirit. It is a spirit formed not only by the diversity of the Commonwealth but also the sense of belonging to something, a sense of family.” He added: “The Games in Glasgow will be another chance to show what the Commonwealth represents: peace, order and equal rights for all.” Other highlights included South African poet Philippa Yaa De Villiers reading a poem that had been commissioned specifically for the observance and Laura Mvula giving a breathtaking performance of her song Unbelievable Dream. Colloquia Stuart Connick, public affairs officer, Royal Commonwealth Society Malala Yousafzai gives the keynote address


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