Ahead of this year’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), the Human Dignity Trust (HDT), an international legal charity that supports those challenging anti-gay laws throughout the world, has released a ground-breaking report into the extent and ramifications of the criminalisation of consensual same-sex sexual relations throughout the Commonwealth.

  • Globally, 78 jurisdictions criminalise homosexuality, and over half of these are within Commonwealth countries. 40 of the 53 Commonwealth countries criminalise homosexuality.
  • There are 2.9 billion people living in countries that criminalise homosexuality. 2 billion of these are Commonwealth citizens.
  • The Human Dignity Trust calls on the Prime Minister to make decriminalisation a priority for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2015.
  • Since the last CHOGM in 2013, the situation facing LGBT people has worsened. Even more draconian anti-gay laws have been enacted in Nigeria, homosexuality was re-criminalised in India and homophobic violence is on the rise.

Criminalisation has disastrous effects on health and poses an impossible barrier in the global battle against HIV. While the Commonwealth only contains 30% of the world’s population, it accounts for over 60% of HIV cases worldwide. Criminalisation makes it difficult, if not impossible, for LGBT people to seek medical help, and this in turn causes and worsens HIV epidemics. For this reason these laws lead to the deaths of countless LGBT people.

Even when criminalising laws may only seem to ban sexual intimacy between men, they have just as much of a persecutory effect on LBT women due to the stigma and prejudice against LGBT people they induce. Criminalisation legitimises mob violence, corrective rape and other human rights violations against LGBT people by putting them beyond the rule of law.

Criminalisation incurs huge costs to businesses by undermining business confidence and endangering their workforces. By extension, these laws hinder economic development by systematically excluding LGBT people. For instance India’s annual GDP is reduced by approximately 1.7%, equivalent to $31 billion, as a result of homophobia.

Given most of the criminalising laws in Commonwealth countries were enacted during British colonial rule, the UK has a particular duty to take the lead on this issue in Malta. The Prime Minister has previously proven himself to be a strong LGBT ally but he cannot let this opportunity slip away.

Jonathan Cooper, Chief Executive of Human Dignity Trust, said:

“Our report shows the full extent of criminalisation throughout the Commonwealth and the consequences these barbaric laws have on LGBT people throughout the world. It also provides irrefutable evidence that decriminalisation is essential for societies to thrive as a whole. The Commonwealth cannot claim to be an organisation which values human rights and equality whilst these laws remain in the majority of Commonwealth countries. The UK can and should prove once again that it is a world leader on human rights by championing this cause at CHOGM 2015.”

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