Finding a voice for those who don't have one
The upcoming Sochi Winter Olympics has focused global attention on Russia’s new odious anti-LGBTI legislation, ostensibly targeting ‘gay propaganda’. Whilst this legislation has dire implications for Russia’s LGBTI community, it also raises questions over how Australia should respond to threats to the human rights of LGBTI people on the international stage.
Globally the picture is far from a pretty one. Although many countries have made great strides, over 78 countries continue to criminalise ‘homosexual relations,’ and some even mandate the death sentence. These laws dehumanise people, they undermine HIV prevention efforts and they violate fundamental human rights.
But, even in some countries with protections from discrimination for LGBTI people, the situation on-the-ground is often far from the one envisaged by lawmakers. In South Africa, where lesbian women continue to be targeted for so-called ‘corrective rape’, national Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa has resisted efforts by the Premier of the Western Cape, Helen Zille, and civil society groups, to establish a commission of inquiry into policing in Khayelitsha. This is the same area where 19 year-old lesbian Zoliswa Nkonyana was brutally murdered in 2006, because of who she was. The fact that a national taskforce on such hate-crimes, established in 2011, has made little headway, and that a police officer even helped Nkonyana’s murderers during an escape-attempt during the trial, seems not to weigh on Minister Mthethwa’s mind.
"We don’t just need a short-term band-aid solution for Sochi, we need a permanent, principled and durable commitment to ending the persecution of LGBTI people everywhere."
Such developments are indicative of a dangerous, and insidious, tendency to treat the lives of LGBTI people as less worthy than others, even in cases where constitutional or statutory protections for LGBTI rights prevail. They are salient reminders that the struggle for the human rights of LGBTI people is an ongoing one; and an international one at that.
So, what role can the Australian government, and Australian organisations, play in promoting respect for human rights, including in life or death situations?
The first would be stronger bi-lateral advocacy, led by our Foreign Minister, and targeting countries that are backsliding on LGBTI rights.
The second would be the Australian Government using its power as chair of the World Health Organization’s Executive Board to raise the profile of LGBTI health and wellbeing issues, working with other countries.
Finally, Australian civil society organisations can ensure that local non-government organisations, including in countries such as Russia and South Africa, are supported in their efforts to hold their own governments to account through United Nations reporting processes, including the Universal Periodic Review process.
We don’t just need a short-term band-aid solution for Sochi, we need a permanent, principled and durable commitment to ending the persecution of LGBTI people everywhere. This is an endeavour the Australian government can, and should, spearhead, right now.