International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:32 pm on 16th May 2019.

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Photo of Nick Herbert Nick Herbert Conservative, Arundel and South Downs 3:32 pm, 16th May 2019

The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the rise in hate crime in this country. While the UK does so much to promote LGBT+ rights abroad, we must remember that there is work still to do in our own country. I will come to that.

I want to talk about the reverses in LGBT+ rights seen elsewhere in the world, some of which are really serious. In Tanzania in November last year, LGBT activists were forced into hiding in Dar es Salaam after officials announced a taskforce to identify and punish gay people. In the same month, there were police arrests at a same-sex ceremony in Zanzibar. The national Government in Tanzania has refused to intervene in worrying provincial crackdowns, following a ban on NGOs that had been distributing contraception and outreach to control the spread of HIV/AIDS.

There have been other crackdowns on private events, meetings and roundtables convened to ensure HIV advocacy. That development, seen in Tanzania, in other African countries and in Asian countries, is worrying because it interferes with the important global public health agenda to tackle HIV/AIDS. If some of our most discriminated-against and marginalised groups are oppressed in that way, we will make it harder to ensure that they have access to treatment. The concern is not just about human rights, important though that is. It is also about effective global healthcare programmes. That gives us a second and important reason to be concerned about the discriminatory policies and practices in these countries.

Notoriously, earlier this year Brunei announced that it would apply sharia law, which would impose the death sentence for homosexual conduct between men. There was an outcry, with action by civil society and business boycotts. It was discussed in this House, and I know the Government took action at a diplomatic level to persuade the Sultan of Brunei that enforcement of this sharia law was completely inappropriate for a modern country. It is therefore good that the Sultan announced that the death penalty moratorium will be extended for these offences, but it is important to say that that is not good enough. The status quo ante is restored for that specific offence, but that still leaves in place sharia law for other offences. Frankly, we should not welcome that as an advance when all that happened was, following an international outcry, the leadership in Brunei, buckling under pressure, were required to reverse a terrible announcement.

While that sharia law remains in place, despite what the Government have said about signing up to conventions on torture, it remains a huge concern that we see, in this country and others, increasing pressure on LGBT+ people with religion used as a pretext. We must stand up for the universality of human rights and say it is wrong to have such offences, which should not be on any kind of statute book. They certainly should not be enforced.

In Armenia, incredibly, Members of Parliament called for a trans activist to be burned alive after she addressed their Parliament’s human rights committee last month. In Turkey, Istanbul pride was cancelled and last week in Ankara 75 LGBT+ activists were arrested and are currently awaiting release.

In the debate last year, Members raised the brutal treatment of gay men in Chechnya. We expressed concern about the fact that the Russian Government had not done enough to crack down on that terrible treatment of gay people. There was meant to be an independent inquiry and there was meant to be a report, but nothing effective has happened.

Worse still, since our debate there has been a further crackdown. There have been reports that at least 40 people in Chechnya, presumed to be LGBT+, were detained in concentration camps and tortured, and that there were at least two deaths. Human Rights Watch has reported that it interviewed four men who were detained for between three and 20 days between December 2018 and February this year at the Grozny Internal Affairs Department compound. Police officials there kicked them with booted feet, beat them with sticks and polypropylene pipes, and tortured three of the four with electric shocks. One man was raped with a stick. There have even been murders of gay men by the authorities in Chechnya.

What have the Russian Government done to condemn that, and to assure the global community that such activities will not be permitted in future in the state for which they have responsibility? Russia is a member of the Council of Europe and a signatory to the European convention on human rights. It is absolutely intolerable that it should permit such brutal treatment of any section of the community—any minority—in a state for which it has responsibility. The message must go from this House to the Russian Government, loud and clear, that we will not accept these egregious breaches of human rights, that we and the global community will hold the Russian Government to account, and that we will not stop raising this issue until they do something about it.