International gay rights convention not feasible says minister

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A Labour MP has asked a series of questions in the House of Commons about what steps the government is taking to bring about the universal decriminalisation of homosexuality.

Ashok Kumar, who represents Middlesbrough South East Cleveland, also asked junior Foreign and Commonwealth Office minister Meg Munn to support the introduction of an international convention which explicitly recognises gay rights as essential human rights.

Ms Munn referred to a joint statement she made last year as Minister for Women and Equality with the then Minister for Trade, Investment and Foreign Affairs Ian McCartney.

They pledged support for the worldwide protests against homophobia planned to mark the International Day against Homophobia.

“Our High Commissioner in Singapore made representations to Singapore’s Attorney-General on 26th October 2007 about various human rights issues, including the decriminalisation of homosexuality,” she continued.

“The UK has long been at the forefront of encouraging the EU to speak out in favour of promoting and protecting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people.

“The EU condemned the fact that relationships between adults of the same sex are criminal in two participating states, namely Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

“Over the last year we have lobbied in support of the UN-Economic and Social Council continuing to grant consultative status to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered non-governmental organisations.

“We also lobbied to persuade Rwanda not to criminalise same sex acts in the revised penal code, and Nigeria not to outlaw advocacy in favour of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered rights.”

The idea of an international treaty or convention on the human rights of LGBT people, however, was not feasible, Ms Munn told MPs.

“The government judge that there is not sufficient consensus globally to justify pursuing an international convention at present; though it is willing to work for the engagement of countries which would produce a worthwhile such instrument.

“In the meantime, the government consider that it can pursue equality and non-discrimination through existing human rights mechanisms, through multilateral action with like-minded partners and bilaterally. The government consider engaging positively in any mechanism which promote these rights.”

Mr Kumar told that while he was proud of the government’s record on gay rights, politicians must not be complacent about homophobia.

“There are still many places across the world where people are criminalised because of their sexuality and even more where they are persecuted,” he said.

“I think an international convention which explicitly recognises gay rights as essential human rights would be a welcome step forward and could improve the lives of millions of gay and lesbians worldwide.

“I agree with Meg Munn that in the meantime the government should pursue non-discrimination through existing frameworks and I will continue to raise these issues in Parliament.”