Trinidad and Tobago Humanist Association

tt.humanist :: forum :: commentary :: 2018 :: humanity

Commonwealth Heads of Government must address LGBT rights

16 April 2018 • 476 words

Homophobic attitudes and legislation are widespread among former British colonies. The issue therefore inevitably presents a challenge to the Commonwealth, and an opportunity for that organisation, faced as it is with accusations of irrelevance, to emphasise its key virtue: the vigorous promotion at world level of respect for human rights.

Happily, since the recent landmark decision of our High Court decriminalising adult homosexual relations, Trinidad and Tobago is no longer among those former British colonies whose legislation punishes the private activities of adults, and a constitutional ban on discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation must surely follow.

Activists and even legislators in various countries, including the UK, have urged the Commonwealth to take a progressive stand in the matter, and indeed a previous Secretary General has stated "Our position continues to be that we oppose discrimination and stigmatisation on any grounds, including those of sexual orientation".

But now the British are shying away from advocacy of LGBT rights under the nebulous ambition of future trade with errant countries, and not only will the UK be in the chair of the Heads of Government meeting about to be held in London, but the current Secretary General is British (though she is also Dominican).

Since its foundation, the Commonwealth has been in the forefront of the promotion of democracy and human rights. Its observer and good offices missions have ensured free and fair elections in a number of countries, and it has not hesitated to suspend member countries until they returned to compliance with democratic principles. A notable example of the exercise of moral suasion by the Commonwealth was the insistence by an earlier Secretary General, the Guyanese Sir Shridath Ramphal, on maintaining sanctions against the South African apartheid regime, for which he had to face down the Government of the United Kingdom.

Recently, however, the relevance of such an organization as the Commonwealth in the twenty-first century has been called into question, most notably by the failure of the previous Secretary General to condemn the massacre of Tamils in Sri Lanka. If the Commonwealth no longer applies moral suasion for the maintenance of human rights, the argument runs, then what is it for?

Given the sinister decision of our Attorney General to appeal against the High Court judgement, on legalistic but barely concealed political grounds, it is entirely possible that the Trinidad and Tobago delegation to the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting now taking place in London will not see fit to press the issue of LGBT rights. The Trinidad and Tobago Humanist Association believes that this would be a serious mistake, and urges the government not only to demand that the question be on the agenda, but also to take an unequivocal position in favour of support and extension of LGBT rights everywhere; incidentally, thereby, reaffirming the Commonwealth as a force for good in the world.

T&T Humanist Association

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