Agence France Presse (10.25.11) - Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM)
this week in Perth, leaders tasked with developing reform
options for member nations said homophobia and laws that
criminalize gay sex must be addressed.
Anti-gay statutes are still in force in 41 of 54 Commonwealth
nations. "It's a very special British problem. And the problem
is it makes it very difficult to get messages about HIV out,"
said Michael Kirby, a retired High Court judge and Australia's
representative on the Eminent Persons Group (EPG).
Kirby expects cultural and religious objections from member
nations, mainly comprising former British colonies from Canada
to Cameroon and from New Zealand to Nigeria. "But you need to
remove the criminal laws, and that is what the [EPG] is
suggesting for the CHOGM meeting," Kirby said.
Though not every Commonwealth country actively prosecutes
gays, the effect of punitive laws is the creation of an
environment in which people are fearful about seeking help or
advice, said Rob Lake, executive director of the Australian
Federation of AIDS Organizations. "When people are forced to
hide, or cover who they are and what they do ... they are not
the people who get the messages about prevention, get the
messages about treatment," he said. "And that's one of the
factors in these high rates in Commonwealth countries," which
are home to some 30 percent of the world's population but 60
percent of HIV/AIDS cases.
CHOGM leaders also will debate whether the body should adopt a
charter of common values and create an office of commissioner
for democracy, rule of law, and human rights.