I thank Nick Herbert for securing this debate, which is important, particularly in light of some of the recent reports from Azerbaijan, Egypt and Crimea.
I visited Azerbaijan many times, in particular Baku and Ganja, when I was a member of the Council of Europe’s advisory council on youth. I found the young people there to be tolerant, progressive and open-looking. It is often young people who help to create change in our societies. The reports of a Government crackdown are worrying. I remember raising the reports of a Government crackdown in Azerbaijan in 2006, after one of my first visits there. The ambassador’s comments are reassuring, but we need more than just warm words. We need some concrete action from the Azeri Government. I am sure that Mark Menzies, who is the vice-chair of the APPG on Azerbaijan, will follow that up.
The youth are often the predominant group that the authorities crack down upon. The case in Egypt, where the crackdown was at a pop concert, is an example of where young people, as well as LGBT people, are disproportionately targeted. They were targeted for flying a flag—I mean, really! It beggars belief.
We cannot just be bystanders. We must be clear that we have a moral duty to speak out for human rights and against human rights abuses. Why are there laws against LGBT people in so many countries? Why is there section 377 of India’s penal code? Why are there sections 76 and 77 of Jamaica’s Offences Against the Person Act 1861? The date might give us a clue. Why is there section 377A of Singapore’s penal code—the exact same number as the similar section of India’s penal code? Why? Because, of course, those laws were imposed by British colonial rule and imperialism.
It was the imperial law—combined with our imposition of the imperial Christian religion at the time and expressed by an imperial English language—that enforced the homophobia that still exists in so many of our Commonwealth countries. It was often enforced against the practices and will of the local historical narrative in those countries. Study after study shows that former British colonies are more likely to criminalise homosexual acts than any other former colonial state or state that was always independent. Some 57% of states criminalising homosexuality have a British colonial background.