The protection and promotion of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people is an integral part of the Government’s wider international human rights agenda. We believe that human rights are universal and should apply equally to all people, as enshrined in Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and that to render consenting same-sex relations illegal is incompatible with international human rights laws, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Unfortunately, this position is not universally shared. According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, 76 countries still retain laws that discriminate against people on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. In at least five countries the death penalty may be applied to those found guilty of offences relating to consensual same-sex relations. Internationally the LGBT community continue to experience violation and abuse of their human rights, including torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, restrictions on their freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, and discrimination in employment and access to health services and education. They continue also to be subjected to violence and hate crimes.
Our work to protect the rights of LGBT people through international institutions, including the EU, UN, Council of Europe, Commonwealth and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), is an important part of our international efforts to address this issue. Through these institutions and through our embassies and high commissions, we take action on individual cases where persecution or discrimination has occurred and lobby for changes in discriminatory legislation and practice. We are in regular contact with civil society organisations working on LGBT issues, both in London and overseas.
Our embassies and high commissions also support the work of civil society organisations in their efforts to change social attitudes and behaviour toward LGBT people.
Former FCO Minister of State Jeremy Browne and former International Development Minister Stephen O’Brien marked International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO) in May by a statement calling for “an end to this hateful discrimination” and supporting the LGBT community in their “fight against inequality and injustice”.
To mark the day, our Embassy in Russia participated in a round table with the local diplomatic community and LGBT NGOs to discuss local LGBT issues. In Moldova our Ambassador spoke at the opening of Moldova Pride. In Bulgaria our Chargé d’Affaires spoke at the opening of an exhibition of “Images against Homophobia”. In Chile and Mexico our embassies flew the rainbow flag. In Gibraltar our Governor issued a statement supporting IDAHO and their global work for LGBT equality and justice. Our Governor in the Turks and Caicos Islands issued a statement announcing a review of Turks and Caicos Islands legislation to ensure that it does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. In Jamaica the embassy supported a public forum on homophobic bullying in schools in partnership with the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays. Our Ambassador also signed a joint article printed in the Jamaica Gleaner, bearing the signatures of 10 Ambassadors and High Commissioners, which spoke of the need for Jamaicans to recognise a common humanity and work for open, inclusive and honest dialogue to end discrimination and oppression. The GREAT campaign was designed to use the platform of the Olympic and Paralympic Games to showcase Britain’s capabilities, to promote and enhance our reputation abroad and to maximise the economic potential of the games.
In Germany, the British Embassy’s GREAT Technology and Innovation Bus was a central participant in the local Christopher Street Day (Gay Pride) Parade. The organisers dedicated this year’s parade to Alan Turing, the English mathematician, wartime code-breaker and pioneer of computer science. The event received media attention, including local TV coverage.
We were concerned about a number of reports of Pride events and diversity marches overseas being cancelled and allegations violence towards participants and organisers. Former FCO Minister for Human Rights Jeremy Browne was clear in his message on 28 May when he condemned all such violence and discrimination and encouraged governments to “act to ensure that all people, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens, are free to live their lives in a safe and just environment”. In response to the cancellation of the 2012 Belgrade Pride Parade in October, Minister for Europe David Lidington stated, “Every government has a responsibility to protect and promote the rights of all its citizens, not least those marginalised by society. In banning the 2012 Belgrade Pride Parade, the Serbian government has failed to meet that responsibility.”
Combating discrimination against LGBT people was one of the UK’s priorities for our chairmanship of the Council of Europe. On 27 March, the UK delivered a conference in Strasbourg on “combating discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity across Europe”. The conference highlighted the concern that discrimination against LGBT people continues to be widespread in Europe, and significant challenges remain to be addressed. During the conference, the UK announced a voluntary contribution of £100,000 to assist the work of the Council of Europe’s LGBT Issues Unit. In September, the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers held a debate on the subject of “Discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity”, which identified concrete action to take this issue forward, including a review in 2013 of the implementation of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers Recommendation 2010(5) on measures to combat discrimination against LGBT people.
In March, the UK participated in an expert panel and interactive session at the Human Rights Council to discuss the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights report on “Discriminatory laws and practices and acts of violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity”. The report, published in December 2011, called on member states to repeal laws used to criminalise individuals on grounds of homosexuality. In 2012, we raised sexual orientation or gender identity with Poland, South Africa, Zambia, India and Ukraine through the mechanism of the UN’s Universal Periodic Review.
Our work with the EU on this issue has also been important. The EEAS Human Rights and Democracy Strategic Framework, adopted in June, includes a commitment that EU member states and the EEAS will work together to develop a strategy on cooperation with third countries on the human rights of LGBT people, including through the UN and the Council of Europe. The UK is determined to contribute fully to a robust and effective EU strategy that will make a real difference to the lives of LGBT people globally.
At their meeting of 29 September, Commonwealth Foreign Affairs Ministers agreed the Eminent Persons Group recommendations that access to treatment for HIV/AIDS should be without discrimination and that discriminatory laws that impede access to treatment should be addressed.
There were some further positive developments on LGBT rights in 2012. For example, in Chile the President signed the first ever anti-discrimination law, which included discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, and which came into effect in July. In Hungary legislation which extends hate crime to include sexual orientation and gender identity will come into force in July 2013. In Croatia embassy representatives took part alongside Croatian government ministers in the Gay Pride March in Split in June. The event saw less intolerance than that witnessed the year before, and received strong support from the Croatian government.
But there were also concerns. In response to new legislation banning the promoting of homosexuality in some regions in Russia, the UK supported a statement on tolerance and non-discrimination delivered by France at the OSCE Permanent Council on 22 March. In Uganda the former FCO Minister for Africa raised our concerns with the President regarding the proposed private member’s bill which would strengthen their anti-homosexuality legislation. The former Home Office Minister for Equalities also raised this issue with a number of senior government figures, including the Vice President. We are working closely with Ugandan civil society groups, and have raised our concerns at the highest levels of the Ugandan government. FCO Minister for the Middle East and North Africa Alistair Burt spoke out on 1 June to condemn the reported execution of four men on homosexuality charges in Iran. We continue to call for Iran to respect the rights of its LGBT community and abolish its use of the death penalty in all circumstances. In Ukraine, we have worked with the EU to lobby the government against introducing an amendment to their existing legislation which will ban the promotion of homosexuality.