Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma made history when he voiced his support for gay rights in his keynote address at the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth People’s Forum (CPF) in Perth, Australia on Tuesday
Sharma was addressing the ngo CPF delegates ahead of the Commonwealth Heads Of Government Meeting (CHOGM), which begins on Friday.
“We recall the 2009 Affirmation of Commonwealth Values and Principles, which includes a clear commitment to tolerance, respect and understanding. This means we embrace difference, and that includes sexual identity.
Discrimination and criminalisation on grounds of sexual orientation is at odds with our values and I have had occasion to refer to this in the context of our law-related conferences,” Sharma told the CPF delegates.
His speech is a tacit rebuke to the more than 40 Commonwealth member states that continue to criminalise homosexuality, with penalties ranging up to life imprisonment.
In Malawi homosexuality is criminal and one can get a maximum setence of 14 years in prison with hard labour.
President Mutharika, Robert Mugabe, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni and many other African leaders are attending the summit and are expected to oppose the Commonwealth stance on gay rights.
Sharma’s statement follows months of intensive lobbying by influential lobby groups like the Peter Tatchell Foundation, Justice for Gay Africans, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative and other LGBT and human rights organisations from the global north and global south, including the Commonwealth People’s Forum, Commonwealth Foundation, International HIV/AIDS Alliance, Commonwealth HIV/AIDS Action Group and Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations. .