LGBTI Human Rights: Supporting Struggles for Decriminalisation and Change in Commonwealth States

There are 42 member states of the Commonwealth that criminalise same-sex sexual relations.  These laws are mostly a legacy of British colonialism, although some have emerged in recent years as a reactionary response to struggles for equality and non-discrimination for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) people. 

The Institute of Commonwealth Studies (ICWS), with the support of the Human Rights Consortium, has initiated a series of activities to support both researchers and activists in securing decriminalisation of same-sex sexual relations and debating the strategies to this end.  The ICwS co-organised with the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) a conference in London on 17 January 2011 entitled,  LGBT Rights in the Commonwealth: Historical Legacies and Contemporary Reforms’.  The conference aimed to bring together mostly UK-based researchers on decriminalisation as a starting point for further and wider collaboration both within the UK and beyond. 

A key output of that conference is the book Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in the Commonwealth: Struggles for Decriminalisation and Change, edited by Corinne Lennox (ICWS) and Matthew Waites (University of Glasgow).  The book is the first to focus on sexual orientation and gender identity in the Commonwealth and brings together country and thematic case studies from activists and academics across the Commonwealth.

The book was launched in Toronto in June 2013 (in partnership with Envisioning Global LGBT Human Rights) and in London in July 2013.  There is a podcast of Matthew Waites speaking at the launch of the book in London, where contributing authors Conway Blake and Philip Dayle also spoke about their contributions to the volume.  There is also  Facebook page for public engagement and discussion.

ICWS' former associate think tank, the Commonwealth Advisory Bureau (CAB), published two briefs on decriminalisation, both drafted by leading human rights activists in the Global South.  Justice Albie Sachs was formerly of the Constitutional Court of South Africa that played a pivotal role in securing constitutional rights on non-discrimination on the basis of gender or sexual orientation.  He was interviewed on the issue of decriminalisation for the CAB’s Policy Briefing for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2011.  Colin Robinson, Executive Director of Trinidad and Tobago’s Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (CAISO), offered his views on the role of Northern NGOs and activists in the CAB Opinion Piece, Decolonising sexual citizenship: who will effect change in the south of the Commonwealth? The piece stimulated a debate with Justice Michael Kirby from Australia, who has also been a leading advocate for decriminalisation on the national and Commonwealth stage.

In May 2011, the ICWS was pleased to host the International Gay and Lesbian Association (ILGA) for the launch of the 2011 State-Sponsored Homophobia Report.  The State-Sponsored Homophobia reports can be downloaded here.

The ICWS and HRC welcome collaboration with researchers and activists across the Commonwealth on decriminalisation of same-sex sexual relations and human rights protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.  Applications to study are strongly encouraged from post-graduate students with an interest in these areas.