The Commonwealth Equality Network, a coalition of more than 30 human rights organisations, has raised concerns about the Commonwealth’s record on LGBTI rights in an open letter directed toward Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma. To mark this year’s Commonwealth Day the coalition of NGOs urged the Secretary-General not to forget that same sex activity is illegal in 41 of the 53 Commonwealth countries.
The letter recognised that some progress had been made in the Commonwealth. The 2013 Commonwealth Charter commits members to oppose discrimination on any grounds. Last year the Commonwealth Secretary-General, Kamalesh Sharma issued a statement calling for respect for all citizens regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. However the letter states that more needs to be done to address the pressing needs of LGBTI communities who face criminalisation, discrimination and persecution in all Commonwealth countries.
The Commonwealth Equality Network is a representative body of organisations working in Commonwealth countries to advance the rights of all, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.
The organisations that make up the network have issued a list of specific asks to the Commonwealth. These include:
- that the Commonwealth Secretariat should do more to identify and support good practice amongst member states;
- that member states should engage more with their own civil society, who have knowledge and expertise on the challenges faced by LGBTI people and how those challenges can be effectively and sensitively addressed
- that the Commonwealth institutions should give better support to civil society, that has led the way in promoting human rights in the Commonwealth.
Ifeanyi Oruzalike, TCEN member in Nigeria, said:
“This is a historic time for LGBTI people across the Commonwealth. Increasingly our voices are unified and we are demanding that the Commonwealth recognise and protect our basic rights to dignity and equality. It is a bitter irony that while this year’s Commonwealth Day celebrates the contribution of young people, across the Commonwealth young LGBTI people face discrimination, criminalisation and persecution.
Even though many of its members continue to criminalise LGBTI people we believe that the Commonwealth can be a platform for progressive change. With its unique shared values and history, its egalitarianism and its respect for difference and diversity, the Commonwealth can become a place where the rights and dignity of all its citizens are championed and their equality protected.”
Commonwealth Day is celebrated across the Commonwealth by young people, schools, communities and civil society organisations on the second Monday in March every year. It provides an opportunity to promote understanding on global issues, international co-operation and the work of Commonwealth organisations. The theme for 2015 is 'A Young Commonwealth'.