Discriminatory laws continue to blight the lives of many Commonwealth citizens. These laws are at odds with international and regional human rights norms and domestic constitutional law. They undermine human rights and perpetuate violence and discrimination. They particularly affect women and girls and LGBT people and undermine the health and prosperity of entire societies.

(CW: The following film contains mentions of physical and sexual violence and abuse which some viewers may find distressing and/or traumatic.)

Discriminatory laws are apparent in the sexual offences provisions in many Commonwealth criminal codes as well as in the absence of protective legislation. For example, many Commonwealth countries have different ages of consent for sexual relations and marriage for males and females. Rape provisions are often gender-specific, and marital rape remains lawful in half of Commonwealth countries. 72 jurisdictions criminalise same-sex activity. Almost half of them are Commonwealth countries.

The law plays a central role in ensuring equality and human dignity for all, regardless of sex, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity. Leveraging global legal expertise and experience is vital to support governments to pursue law reform to end discrimination and violence.

Téa Braun, Director, Human Dignity Trust

In two thirds of Commonwealth member states, consensual same-sex sexual activity in private between adults is criminalised. Many countries have laws that are used to discriminate against transgender people including so-called ‘cross-dressing’, impersonation and vagrancy laws. Very few Commonwealth countries have legislation to recognise, prevent and punish hate crimes including those committed on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

(CW: The following film contains scenes of physical violence and mention of abuse and sexual violence against LGBT people which some viewers may find distressing and/or traumatic.)

Since 2015, the Trust has been analysing the need and options for legislative reform of sexual offences and related laws that discriminate against LGBT people, women, children and other marginalised groups. We provide technical assistance upon request to governments seeking to reform such laws.

During the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London in April 2018, UK Prime Minister Theresa May announced that as Chair-in-Office of the Commonwealth, the UK would support Commonwealth governments that want to reform their laws that discriminate against women and girls and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, many of which are a colonial legacy. Mrs May acknowledged such laws were wrong then and are wrong now.

These laws were . . . wrong then, and they are wrong now . . . I deeply regret both the fact that such laws were introduced, and the legacy of discrimination, violence and even death that persists today.

Prime Minister Theresa May

As part of our work in support of legislative reform, we co-founded the Equality & Justice Alliance, a two-year programme (April 2018 – March 2020) funded by the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office aimed at responding to requests for technical assistance from Commonwealth governments seeking to reform their laws. The Human Dignity Trust was the lead partner in providing technical expertise and resources to deliver reform of sexual offence, hate crime and anti-discrimination legislation. We provide this support this through legal research and tools, country and thematic policy papers, technical legal assistance with legislative drafting, consultation mechanisms and related legal processes, and complementary technical assistance with media and communications strategies around law reform.

In September 2020 the Trust received renewed funding from the now renamed UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to continue with our highly acclaimed work in support of Commonwealth governments seeking to reform out-dated laws that discriminate against or fail to protect LGBT people, women and children.

Through our innovative Changing Laws, Changing Lives programme, the Trust will continue to provide technical legal and communications assistance to Commonwealth governments, champions of reform and civil society in their quest to build fairer, more equal and inclusive societies, and with this boost in funding will expand our work into several additional countries.

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