My Lords, I bring before your Lordships an international issue of great importance. Injustice and inhumanity stalk our world and, sadly, they take many forms. I have sought this short debate in order to draw attention to one of their cruellest and most pervasive manifestations: the gross discrimination suffered by homosexuals in many countries of the world.
Millions of our fellow human beings today are liable to arrest, conviction and punishment-punishment of great severity-because of their sexual orientation and that alone. Their human rights, enshrined in internationally agreed conventions for the benefit of all mankind, are breached many times over. Equality, privacy, dignity, freedom of expression, assembly and association, freedom from torture and from inhuman and degrading treatment-all these and other rights which form part of the established code of human rights law are being flouted in many countries where homosexuals are concerned.
Under international law, popular dislike or moral disapproval of homosexuality can never be a sufficient justification for setting aside human rights. As the head of the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe, Chief Justice Gubbay, stated, in 2000, as regards equality rights:
"The courts cannot be dictated to by public opinion ... Those who are entitled to claim the protection of rights include ... the marginalised members of society".
Yet in many developing countries, homosexuals are marginalised, unprotected and oppressed because of the lack of respect for their human rights in the laws under which they live. In at least 76 countries, consensual, adult, same-sex relations are criminal offences for either men or women, or in some cases both. Punishment can be death in seven countries, including Iran, Sudan, and parts of Nigeria and Somalia. In six others, including Malawi and Malaysia, same-sex relations are punishable by hard labour or by corporal punishment.
Long terms of imprisonment, often far in excess of 10 years, can be imposed on homosexuals in 38 countries, including Jamaica, Barbados, Kenya, Gambia, Tanzania, Libya, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Even if they are not enforced rigorously, these grossly discriminatory laws create a climate of grave anxiety and fear for homosexuals in the many countries where they are on the statute books. It is a climate in which violence and persecution can flourish virtually unchecked. Its victims cannot seek protection from the state, for the state regards them as criminals, and the forces of law and order may well collude with their persecutors. Many instances of persecution and suffering have been carefully recorded and documented by the Human Dignity Trust, an international non-governmental organisation dedicated to challenging discriminatory laws against homosexuals, with which I have worked closely in preparing for this debate.
Here are just two case studies. The first relates to Uganda where a young man, Toby, was attacked at school for being gay. The police were called; they beat him severely. Returning home, he told his parents about his sexuality. Fearing for his safety, they hid him in the attic of the house. That night a mob, accompanied by the police, came to the house. Unable to find Toby, they turned on his family. When Toby came out of hiding after the attackers had departed, he found, in his words, "The house covered in blood and his own family, his mother, father, two brothers and two sisters dead in the sitting room. They had all been shot". Toby now lives in the United Kingdom.
My second shocking story, which comes from the Human Dignity Trust's thick files of cases, is set in Jamaica whose criminal code prohibits sex between men. A wave of persecution and violence has been suffered by gay people connected with the Jamaican Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays, known as J-Flag. Its co-founder was brutally murdered in 2004. But a 30 year-old social worker, Gareth, refused to be deterred from working for the organisation, despite sustained threats. "No matter where you go", he was told, "we are going to find you, kill you and burn J-Flag down". Yet for years Gareth remained in Jamaica, committed to promoting the welfare of the homosexual community. Eventually, with many misgivings, he felt forced to claim asylum in Canada. The Human Dignity Trust is now bringing a case on behalf of Gareth and J-Flag before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Last week, Gareth and a group from Jamaica came to Westminster. It was a privilege to listen to them describing in calm, resolute and unemotional terms their determination to secure humane and just treatment for homosexuals in the land they love.
There are many Tobys and many Gareths in many countries in our world today. They are the inevitable consequence of laws which criminalise homosexuality. The Organisation for Refuge Asylum and Migration has this year estimated that more than 175 million people-nearly three times the population of the United Kingdom-live in circumstances where they are at risk of persecution because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. But as we grieve and as we protest at this state of affairs, we must also remember where the laws criminalising homosexuals in many countries came from. They came from Britain, which alone among the European empires of the 19th century possessed a criminal code under which homosexuals faced severe penalties just for expressing their love and physical desire for one another.
In India in the 1820s, Thomas Macaulay, later the greatest of all the Whig historians, devised a legal system which incorporated Britain's then firm and unbending intolerance of homosexuality. The Indian penal code became the model for the legal systems of Britain's colonies in most of Africa and Asia. The love that had freely spoken its name and found expression in their native cultures became, in the definition of their new British-imported law, an unnatural offence. Thus it is that today, 42 of the 54 nations of the Commonwealth criminalise same-sex relations.
A wind of change has blown briskly and steadily in other parts of the world since that remarkable turning-point in 1959; the publication of the Wolfenden report. The strength of the movement for change has been powerfully assisted by rulings of the European Court of Human Rights, most notably, as far as the United Kingdom is concerned, by the case brought by my friend Jeff Dudgeon which extended the legalisation of homosexuality to Northern Ireland. The crimes for which homosexuals were once punished for simply being homosexuals no longer exist in any European country from the Republic of Ireland in the west to Vladivostok in the Russian Federation in the east, although the threat of discriminatory laws remains in some parts of the east. They have also been eliminated from the older countries of the Commonwealth.
Voices of compassion are being heard strongly in the world today, particularly in the Christian churches. The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York has affirmed,
"the equality of all human beings, 'heterosexual' or 'homosexual'".
The Anglican Church of Southern Africa has made clear its opposition to the criminalisation of homosexuality. In 2008, the Vatican's delegation to the UN General Assembly called for the elimination of,
"every sign of unjust discrimination towards homosexual persons".
Many people the world over are now asking the Churches to put their position beyond all doubt by saying simply and clearly: criminalisation is wrong.
How is the message of justice and compassion that is coming from so many quarters, particularly our Churches, to be translated into action? It has been, and continues to be, done through the courts of law. Judicial challenges have helped to overturn laws criminalising homosexuality in countries as diverse as Fiji, Ecuador, the United States and India. This veryday, a challenge is being mounted in the Belize courts supported by the Human Dignity Trust, the International Commission of Jurists and the Commonwealth Lawyers Association. Their leading counsel is the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, who is as a result unable to contribute to this debate as he wanted to do. He has authorised me to say on his behalf that "the case, if successful, is likely to have an important impact on similar laws in other former British territories. In my view there is no conceivable legal or moral justification for continuing in the 21st century to criminalise homosexual activity between adults. To treat this as criminal conduct has no single redeeming feature".
The time has come for all the world's principal international institutions to commit themselves unequivocally to this important cause. The United Nations has this year given a ringing endorsement of the case for urgent action. Speaking in March, the Secretary-General gave powerful support to decriminalisation. Clear plans are now needed to put his strong and most welcome words into practice.
Here in Britain, we look naturally to the Commonwealth too, not just because of historic ties, but because under this Government it features more prominently in our foreign policy. In 2010-11 an Eminent Persons Group was established to consider the future of the Commonwealth. Its report called for the repeal of laws criminalising homosexuality. Their existence, the report said, called into question,
"the commitment of member states to the Commonwealth's fundamental values and principles, including fundamental human rights and non-discrimination".
This is probably the first debate to be held in a national legislature on the global persecution and criminalisation of the LGBT community. I pay tribute to all the organisations and campaign groups which strive for the full application of human rights to the LGBT community. On many occasions, the Government have underlined their strong belief that compassion and justice must prevail. I ask my noble friend the Minister to make it clear in her reply to the debate what action the Government are taking now, and whether they are considering fresh initiatives to help rid the world of laws which have sustained inhumanity and injustice for far too long.
My Lords, many people in the developing world will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, for raising so cogently this important and disturbing issue. Although we may condemn the draconian laws and practices he has described, we should not forget that it is only quite recently in historical terms that this country and other industrialised democracies have repealed laws which prohibited same-sex relationships. Although the law has been liberalised in the UK and other countries in the north, and many prominent people, including MPs and Ministers, are now able openly to declare their sexual orientation, powerful prejudice is still there among a substantial minority of the population. A well-known example of that is the problem that the most reverend Primate has had with some of his bishops both here and abroad. The noble Lord, Lord Lexden, has pointed out that the intolerant and puritanical attitudes to gay sex that prevail in many developing countries may be a relic of colonialism, and that before the colonial era there was a much more permissive attitude.
How does this social and legal condemnation of homosexual people affect their health, particularly in terms of HIV infection? I was privileged to serve last year on the House of Lords Select Committee that looked into HIV and AIDS in the UK, which was chaired very ably by the noble Lord, Lord Fowler. Although sexual orientation and HIV infection are different entities, there are parallels, particularly regarding stigma and social rejection. To quote from the Select Committee's report, we found that:
"Stigma and lack of understanding can undermine HIV prevention efforts ... and can also impact upon adherence to treatment".
The double prejudice that gay people with HIV suffer from makes it even more difficult for them to get access to treatment and the follow-up which is necessary. In many countries they are thwarted in obtaining treatment by laws and attitudes that criminalise or shun them.
HIV infection was of course first discovered 30 years ago among gay men, so the disease is associated with gay sexual behaviour. However, heterosexual transmission in Africans is now more common than homosexual transmission both at home and among the diaspora. HIV infection itself is nevertheless still much more common in gay men than heterosexuals both here and in Africa; 19 times more common, in one study quoted in the recent excellent report of the Global Commission on HIV and the Law. Stigma and discrimination play a significant role in causing and maintaining these high rates. In Caribbean countries where homosexuality is criminalised, such as Jamaica and Guyana, which are both Commonwealth countries, the prevalence of HIV is around one in four gay men, while in countries that do not criminalise same-sex sexual activity, such as Cuba and the Bahamas, it is only around one in 15. Can the Minister who is to reply outline the response of DfID to this unacceptable situation? I am aware that the Government are concerned about the issue and that they have played an important role in bringing it on to the international stage.
However, there is still a long way to go, with discriminatory legislation being passed or debated in Uganda and several other countries in the Commonwealth and elsewhere; I mention particularly eastern Europe. A fundamental step should be to encourage and support citizens and civil society who oppose these outdated and misguided laws in those countries. We should encourage them to put pressure on their Governments to repeal them as soon as possible.
This is not an impossible task. For example, the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, the Independent Commission on AIDS in Asia and the UN special rapporteur on the right to health, as well as a meeting of Commonwealth Foreign Affairs Ministers, have all recommended repealing laws that prohibit sex between consenting adults of the same sex, as have courts in Hong Kong and Fiji, as was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Lexden.
However, action on the ground is less evident than declarations of intent. The clear evidence that punitive discriminatory laws encourage the spread of HIV infection should act as a stimulus to repeal them. I hope that the noble Baroness can outline the moves the Government are taking to encourage international action as well as words.
A further line of attack should surely be to encourage treatment centres for HIV and AIDS to be freely open to people of any sexual orientation. DfID devotes a substantial proportion of its budget to the prevention and treatment of HIV. I hope the noble Baroness can assure the House that the special problems encountered by gay and other sexual minority groups in getting access to medical help are taken fully into account.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, for his powerful and comprehensive speech. I declare a number of interests. I am a patron of the Human Dignity Trust; I am also a friend of the Sigrid Rausing Trust and on the board of the OSI Justice Initiative, both of which have given vital funding support to the Human Dignity Trust, without which the work could not be done.
This is a unique human rights issue. There is an overwhelming body of comparative domestic and international case law which treats provisions that purport to criminalise private, consensual, adult homosexual conduct as contrary to fundamental human rights and constitutional protection. This is in no sense about the imposition of western values in supporting decriminalisation; all that is being asked is that each state uphold its own properly understood guarantees of dignity, privacy and equality.
I am to be followed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester. Whatever the different views on gay marriage within the church, I am sure he will confirm that there is no disagreement among the Bishops that criminalisation is wrong and unjustifiable.
This is also an important refugee issue. The words of wisdom of the two Scottish members of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom in the Cameroon case that was decided in 2011 warrant repetition. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, explained:
"For many years the risk of persecution in countries where it now exists seemed remote. It was the practice for leaders in these countries simply to insist that homosexuality did not exist. This was manifest nonsense, but at least it avoided the evil of persecution. More recently, fanned by misguided but vigorous religious doctrine, the situation has changed dramatically. The ultra-conservative interpretation of Islamic law that prevails in Iran is one example. The rampant homophobic teaching that right-wing evangelical Christian churches indulge in throughout much of Sub-Saharan Africa is another. The death penalty has just been proposed in Uganda for persons who engage in homosexual practices. Two gay men who had celebrated their relationship in a public engagement ceremony were recently sentenced to 14 years' imprisonment in Malawi. They were later pardoned in response to international pressure by President Mutharika, but he made it clear that he would not otherwise have done this as they had committed a crime against the country's culture, its religion and its laws. Objections to these developments have been greeted locally with derision and disbelief".
The noble and learned Lord continued:
"The fact is that a huge gulf has opened up in attitudes to and understanding of gay persons between societies on either side of the divide. It is one of the most demanding social issues of our time. Our own government has pledged to do what it can to resolve the problem, but it seems likely to grow and to remain with us for many years. In the meantime more and more gays and lesbians are likely to have to seek protection here, as protection is being denied to them by the state in their home countries. It is crucially important that they are provided with the protection that they are entitled to under the Convention".
This is a very different issue. Lord Rodger, the other Scottish member of the Supreme Court, also went into the extent to which we are obliged under asylum law to give protection to gay people who are facing persecution elsewhere. We have a direct, practical interest in this country in eliminating elsewhere persecution of gay people who otherwise will have to seek safe haven here. I hope that this debate will help to stimulate the work already being done by the Government.
I have written to my noble friend the Minister with some questions in order that she might be able to seek advice on some of them, and I very much hope that she can. They are: where does the decriminalisation of homosexuality across the globe fit into the Government's priorities? Should the protection of the LGBTI communities from persecutory harm not be a specific priority of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office? Can the Minister clarify exactly how the Government work with the Commonwealth to promote decriminalisation? Can she also clarify the Government's position on aid conditionality as it relates to serious systemic violations of gay and lesbian people's rights in countries which receive UK aid? Do the Government agree that the criminalisation of consensual sexual relations between adult men in private is a violation of international human rights law and the rule of law? Finally-I apologise for so many questions, but at least I have given notice of them-will the Government consider joining as a partner Government making a donation to the Global Equality Fund established in December 2001 by the United States State Department to advance and protect the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons around the world?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, for spelling out so powerfully and persuasively the scale and horror of the threats faced by many gay people around the world. Noble Lords will be aware that in 1967 it was the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, who spoke in this House to support the decriminalisation of homosexuality in this country, thus making a clear distinction in British law between a moral and a criminal issue.
As noble Lords will now know, no such distinction exists in many parts of the world and, as a result, people are suffering horrendous abuse and even death for being who they are and loving who they love. Many of us have met people who have shared the most disturbing personal stories, including a very small number who have been granted asylum on grounds of sexual orientation in this country.
Others in this debate have rehearsed the ways in which laws criminalising same-sex sexual activity between adults have been repeatedly found in international law to violate fundamental human rights, and this debate serves also to highlight effectively the way in which criminalisation gives rise to persecution. I want, however, to concentrate on the way in which discriminatory interference in the private sexual conduct of consenting adults is an affront to the fundamental Christian values of human dignity, tolerance and equality.
It is of course no secret, as others have made clear, that on the ethics of homosexual practice the churches in general and the Anglican communion bishops in particular are deeply divided, but that cannot and must not be any basis for equivocating on the central issue of equality before the law of all human beings whether heterosexual or homosexual. Further, many of us who are bishops in this country value and treasure our links with particular dioceses around the Anglican communion. We respect and appreciate the different, and often sharply divided, theological approaches which lead to different stances on the ethical issues. But, as the Lambeth Conference of 1998 made clear, there is not and cannot be any place for homophobia in the church, and all are to be welcomed regardless of sexual orientation.
Few have spoken on this issue as unequivocally as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who said in 2010 at the United Nations High-level Panel on Ending Violence and Criminal Sanctions on the Basis of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity:
"All over the world, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are persecuted. They face violence, torture and criminal sanctions because of how they live and who they love. We make them doubt that they too are children of God-and this must be nearly the ultimate blasphemy".
Indeed, in recent years, successive statements from the leaders of major Christian denominations in the West have made similar points, including perhaps most consistently, those from the Society of Friends, which has stated:
"We affirm the love of God for all people, whatever their sexual orientation, and our conviction that sexuality is an important part of human beings as created by God, so that to reject people on the grounds of their sexual behaviour is a denial of God's creation".
The noble Lord, Lord Lexden, has issued a direct challenge in his opening speech. He said that many people the world over are now asking the churches to put their position beyond all doubt, by saying simply and clearly that criminalisation is wrong. I will put my position beyond all doubt-and I know I speak for other Members of this Bench-by stating it in as clear terms as I can. If criminalisation leads, as it evidently does, to gay people concealing their own identity, that must be wrong; if criminalisation leads to many living in fear, that must be wrong; if criminalisation leads to the prospect of persecution, arrest, detention and death, that must be wrong; and if criminalisation means that LGBT people dare not turn to the state when facing hate crimes and violence, that must be wrong too.
It is within the adult lifetime of most of us in this House that the law was changed in this country to decriminalise homosexual acts. However, for our children's generation, such a state of affairs must feel like ancient history-as appropriate to the moral climate of today's society in this country as the burning of witches. We must all urgently pursue this journey to a completely new climate in those many countries of the world where same-sex relations are criminal offences. I very much hope that this debate will serve that cause.
My Lords, I strongly agree with everything that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester has said and applaud the lead that he has just given. It was an exceptionally strong speech and one that deserves to be well heard around the country.
The trouble with this House is that you wait for weeks for a debate that you want to take part in and two come along on the same day. My noble friend spoke with great force and I congratulate him on two counts: first, on the debate itself, which is of crucial importance around the world; and, secondly, on choosing a subject that I and the noble Lord, Lord Black of Brentwood, can agree on after our slight difference of emphasis on the media.
The extent of discrimination against homosexual men and women is not really remotely in dispute. The figures speak for themselves, and many of them have been given already: 175 million people are living under conditions where they are at the risk of persecution on account of their sexual orientation, and 76 countries criminalise consensual, adult, same-sex relations, among them 42 of the 54 countries of the Commonwealth.
I want to concentrate for one moment on some of the consequences that that discrimination can have. As perhaps one or two Members of the House know, I seek to work and help in the HIV/AIDS area and will just remind the House of the position there. Some politicians talk, optimistically, about a cure, but the fact is that almost 2 million people a year die from AIDS. For every person put on treatment, two new people are infected. Hundreds of thousands of people do not get the treatment they need, or come to it too late for it to be fully effective
Consider what effect discrimination can have in that context. If there is the threat of criminal sanction, people do not come forward for testing, let alone for treatment. The result is that HIV spreads. Health providers are obviously less likely to offer their services if they can be accused of aiding a crime. The laws are often used by the police to prohibit HIV prevention activity. That is a disastrous position. I must add that it is by no means restricted to developing countries. The Culture Select Committee in the other place said that it thought that homophobia in football was a bigger problem than racism.
The worst problem in Europe is in Russia, where the treatment of gay and lesbian people can be discriminatory and severe, and where Madonna, no less, is being prosecuted. Her offence is calling for tolerance towards sexual minorities. I remember being in another country and talking to the organiser of a group who was hoping for better treatment. I said, "You must be on radio and television a lot". "Oh no", he said, "I am not that brave". He feared the ostracism that he would encounter.
I give just one further example. Earlier this year, I spent a week in Ukraine, considering the HIV situation. At a meeting with groups representing men who had sex with men, sex workers and drug users, I heard a long list of complaints about police harassment and corruption, backed up by the courts, which would invariably accept the police story. I must have looked a bit sceptical until a worker with the excellent international HIV/AIDS Alliance intervened to say, "I can confirm it all; I worked for the police for 12 years". That is the nub of the position. In Ukraine, there is now the prospect of a new law which would prevent essential health education and information aimed explicitly at the homosexual community.
In brief, five o'clock on a Thursday evening in a short debate may not be exactly the best time to start this debate, but the public should be in no doubt of the importance of the subject that my noble friend has raised. They should be in no doubt that discrimination against gay and lesbian people around the world is not just a major problem, it is an affront to everything that most of us feel is decent. We should also recognise that, in some countries, far from advancing, the position is getting worse. We need to take action against that.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, for initiating this important debate. As he and other noble Lords have so clearly stated, criminalisation of homosexuality violates international law. It denies rights to privacy, equality and dignity and has a negative impact on HIV/AIDS prevention, as the noble Lords, Lord Fowler and Lord Rea, so powerfully argued.
The figures that form the backdrop to this debate deserve repetition: 76 countries around the world still have penal laws; that is 42 out of the 54 Commonwealth countries. That includes 11 in the Caribbean which, in the short time available, is the area on which I shall concentrate. Most Caribbean countries have penal punishments of 10 years or more. There are a few, such as the Dominican Republic, Cuba and the Bahamas, where the LGBT community enjoys some degree of security, and the British Overseas Territories, such as Anguilla and others, where the law was changed in 2001. Although celebrating the fact that the law has been changed, public antipathy is still high and discrimination remains. So it was good that the issue of human rights, including discrimination against the LGBT community, was raised at CHOGM in Perth last year.
The Prime Minister, in an interview, went further and linked human rights reform to the allocation of British budgetary support. While I agree with his motives, I am unsure that this approach will work. When you look at the response in the Caribbean, I think the Government need to think again. No independent Caribbean country receives general budget support from Britain and therefore would not be affected by this policy. However, this fact did not get in the way of an angry response in the media about an ex-colonial power exerting undue influence over other Governments, especially as it was the same colonial power that had devised the laws in the first place.
Some civil society groups think that this announcement will be counterproductive as it will,
"tend ... to exacerbate the environment of intolerance in which political leadership scapegoat LGBTI people for donor sanctions".
Moreover, the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition has said that the threat, if acted upon, would erode gains made by the Caribbean over the past 10 years in reducing deaths from AIDS through access to retroviral treatments. There have also been accusations of foreign intervention by opponents of the legal challenge mounted by the United Belize Advocacy Movement to Section 53 of the Belize criminal code which, as has been said, is being supported by international organisations.
I share the view of many in the developing world when I say that I do not believe that support for advocacy groups in the countries where change is needed causes the same problems as imposing conditionality by donor nations. This is especially true in Caribbean countries where there is a lack of educational information, a reluctance to engage in the issue of decriminalising homosexuality and where a culture shift is required. Sadly, most churches in the Caribbean also have a strong influence on the political parties to maintain the status quo. However, if they heard the speech by the right reverend Prelate they would probably change their minds because it was very powerful. Supporting civil society groups in changing the nature of the debate and understanding would go a long way to help change public opinion, and I would like to hear from the Minister what the Government are doing to promote civil society groups.
The Caribbean will be affected by the European Parliament's decision to concentrate future support on the least developed countries, as highlighted by the new Jamaican Prime Minister in her address to the General Assembly. During last year's Jamaican election campaign, Portia Simpson Miller, as leader of the PNP, responded to a question about homosexuals in government in a TV debate by saying:
"Our administration believes in protecting the human rights of all Jamaicans. No one should be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. Government should provide the protection", and that she would review the legislation. Given that Time magazine had asked if Jamaica was the most homophobic place in the world, given the violence and the culture of murder music, this was a very courageous thing to say in the middle of an election campaign. However, since her landslide election victory she has made no moves to change the law. Reports to J-Flag, which is the only gay rights organisation in Jamaica, show that violence and discrimination have tripled since 2008, but Time magazine has selected Portia Simpson Miller as one of the world's 100 most influential people because of this stance. Activists have welcomed her inclusion on the list, even though there has been no action, as a way of incentivising her to follow up on that election commitment. Perhaps in the parlance of No. 10's nudge unit, she should be nudged to make some progress. As the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, said, advocacy groups have lodged a case with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a favourable ruling would obviously add to the pressure for change.
Pressure and support for civil society groups must continue to be applied at every opportunity. In January this year, four British Ministers, led by the Foreign Secretary, attended the biennial UK-Caribbean Forum in Grenada. The meeting took place on a Cariforum-wide basis with the Dominican Republic as a full participant and Cuba and the British Overseas Territories attending as observers. Instead of the usual communiqué at the end, there was a more detailed action plan talking about the economy, security and all those very important issues which promote British and Caribbean interests, but nowhere can I find any reference to the Secretary of State raising the issue of human rights and the treatment of homosexual men and women in the Caribbean. I know that the Secretary of State raised it at the Commonwealth People's Forum in Perth last year when he said:
"The UK would like to see the Commonwealth do more to promote the rights of its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens. It is wrong in our view that these groups continue to suffer persecution, violence and discrimination".
Everyone would agree with that, and I think it deserves repeating, but I am concerned that no opportunity is lost to raise these issues, and I would be very grateful if the Minister could allay my fears and confirm that this issue was raised by the Foreign Secretary or any of the other Ministers who attended that meeting, and that they will continue to do so.
My Lords, I express my gratitude to my noble friend Lord Lexden for securing today's debate on this significant human rights issue and for his excellent and helpful opening speech. I am glad that the coalition Government promote homosexual rights around the globe, pledging support for LGBT rights worldwide and working with the European Union and United Nations in persuading other nations to do the same.
The EU and the UN agree that LGBT rights are human rights. However, as we have heard in this debate, the picture elsewhere is not so encouraging. The African Union does not mention LGBT rights in its charter, and some developing nations in Africa abuse homosexuals with what amounts to a state mandate. What is the UK doing within international organisations to encourage developing nations to adopt policies for the protection of homosexuals?
In the 2012 DflD Equality and Diversity Information Report, the Government claim that:
"Quiet diplomacy is often the most effective way to make progress in this sensitive area".
However, our complicity in these abuses endangers the lives of individuals in these nations, to which the UK provides millions of pounds in aid.
According to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, it is illegal to be a homosexual in two-thirds of the world's least developed countries, as categorised by the UN Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States. Although the Government say that they intend to improve this situation, not enough is being done to inhibit those nations from prosecuting, jailing or killing people simply for being gay.
Two of the world's worst offenders are Somalia and Sierra Leone. In Somalia homosexuality is a crime punishable by imprisonment, flogging or even death. Somalis who dare to speak out in gay support centres online often receive death threats. In Sierra Leone the police harass and beat citizens as punishment for their sexual orientation. Shockingly, the rape of lesbians in Somalia is sometimes arranged by the victim's own family in a cruel attempt to alter their sexual preferences, according to a US Department of State report. Discrimination against LGBT individuals is rampant in Sierra Leone's education, employment and housing and, sadly, the Sierra Leone constitution offers no protection to homosexuals for the abuses committed against them.
The Prime Minister hinted that UK foreign aid will be contingent upon LGBT rights in Prime Minister's Questions on
It is time that more nations emulated developing nations like Nepal. Though local activists admit that there is a lot more to be done, Nepal's LGBT rights have been determined in their peoples' own terms. Instead of translating European labels and terms, Nepal uses its own concept, "metis". This culturally relevant identification has led to widespread acceptance and support of homosexuals. In fact, Nepal is home to Asia's first openly gay parliamentarian, Sunil Pant. Mr Pant is an iconic LGBT rights advocate in Nepal. He founded the Blue Diamond society, credited with persuading his Government to make reforms such as including the defence of homosexuals in its budget. In 2011 Nepal began to collaborate with NGOs in formulating even better protections for LGBT individuals in its new constitution. Nepal is a least developed nation but also a pioneer of LGBT rights.
Sadly, as other noble Lords have suggested, past British colonialism has been credited by Human Rights Watch, among others, with spreading homophobia worldwide. It is time for the Government to ensure that there are fewer cases like Sierra Leone and Somalia and more like Nepal. Are we encouraging developing nations to formulate culturally relevant definitions to promote LGBT rights? The time has come for the Government to help to replace a legacy of hate, which we condemn, with one of tolerance and acceptance that we strive for.
My Lords, we should all be indebted to my noble friend Lord Lexden, who has worked hard to secure this debate. His speech was extremely powerful, its contents raw and shocking, and its message profoundly important.
I start with a simple question: why should this matter to us? It is important to explain why the UK, with this House in the vanguard should care. I have four reasons. First, as my noble friend explained, we caused this problem. That so many people around the globe still suffer from legal discrimination is one toxic legacy of empire. It is our duty to help sort that out.
Secondly, we must recognise that if we do not do anything to tackle the problem, it will manifest itself at our borders, as the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, said, as people persecuted on grounds of sexual orientation rightly seek asylum here, for in their own country they may be degraded, tortured or killed. It is our duty to help.
Thirdly, we should understand that this is not a problem simply confined to faraway parts of the globe. It occurs in countries that we regularly visit. Many do business in Russia, yet many regions in Russia, most notably St Petersburg, have introduced legislation to punish homosexual propaganda. In Lithuania, a member of the EU, the Parliament is currently progressing an anti-gay Bill. In Tunisia, where many people go on holiday, the Government have recently refused to decriminalise homosexuality. This problem is on our doorstep. It is our duty to help.
Finally, we owe it to those who fought prejudice and legal barriers to equality in our own country to take their legacy, and apply it in those countries where intolerance and bigotry still exist. As a gay man who has lived his life in a tolerant, liberal atmosphere and who has never had to fight discrimination because my forebears fought that battle for me, I believe we need to act in gratitude and, sometimes, in memory of them. That is why we should care, and should help.
In those tasks, we have the support of a number of organisations: the Human Dignity Trust, which is tackling the issue at its core, Stonewall and Kaleidoscope, which are working to make this world a better place. I salute them.
I am an optimist. The march of history is on our side. We should recognise that some progress has been made. In recent years, Fiji, as we have heard, India, Nicaragua, Panama and Nepal have all decriminalised homosexuality, with others such as the Seychelles committed to do so. Botswana, Mozambique and Mauritius have adopted legislation to prevent workplace discrimination, though penal codes still punish private behaviour in those countries.
The awful news is that as we debate this here today, at least 12 people world wide are currently in prison for violating laws that punish those who are born gay, lesbian or bisexual. Another 13 await trial. Three imprisoned are in Nigeria and eight in Cameroon. One-a 27 year-old man-is in Saudi Arabia, where his five-year prison sentence was accompanied by 500 lashes. In Cameroon, Jean-Claude Rogere Mbede is appea1ing a three-year sentence for sending an intimate text message to man who he thought was his friend. I am delighted that the Human Dignity Trust, supported by Clifford Chance, will be using his case to challenge the law criminalising homosexuality. In the same country, Yntebeng Pascal is awaiting trial for being "too effeminate".
Perhaps they are in some ways the lucky ones, for they are still alive. Those figures of the number of people in prison do not include people executed in one of the seven countries where being gay is a capital crime. They do not include thousands who die from AIDS because LGBT people are excluded from effective HIV prevention programmes, or where stigma drives the illness underground where it is untreated. I was appalled to hear from the brave Jamaicans that I met with my noble friend Lord Lexden that HIV infection rates in that country are 32 times higher among men who have sex with men than among heterosexuals. Nor do the figures include the gay men who commit suicide because of the scorn they suffer when the structure of law discriminates against them-as many as 250 in Peru in recent years. They do not include those, such as David Kato in Uganda, who have been murdered for standing up for gay rights, or the Kenyan man stoned to death in a Nairobi slum by a mob in June of this year. In the chronicle of man's inhumanity to man, in too many parts of our world, the suffering of gay men and women still stands out as a terrible indictment, including a significant number, as we have heard to our continuing shame, in the Commonwealth.
I said earlier that I was an optimist. I am also a realist and I know that there is a limit to what our Government can achieve. But we can do something. Of course, resources are tight, but we should, as a priority, commit to supporting decriminalisation programmes. We can work with the EU, which magnifies our influence, to tackle the problem. DfID can make sure that its human rights commitments include LGBT rights and decriminalisation in particular. That would sit in tandem with the vital work that the Human Dignity Trust is doing to tackle the problem at source in the structure of law. We must hold the feet of the Commonwealth to the fire to turn its fine words into action.
Finally, success in the areas that we have been talking about today-legislation, human rights, litigation and institutional barriers to equality-is but one first step. In many ways, the second is even more difficult; that is, cultural change. Let us consider this: in the UK, the structure of law changed in 1967. It probably took four decades for public opinion to catch up with the change in law. In the Commonwealth, in the developing world, that task will be even greater. That is but one reason why we must not delay in the first step. Time is not on our side.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, for tabling this important debate and for the compelling way in which he introduced the subject to us. During the past 15 years, we have made huge progress in the UK in securing the rights and liberties of lesbians and gay men. We have recognised, thank goodness, that the love of one man for another or one woman for another does not make them any less valid or human.
Across all Europe and some parts of the United States, the same is true. But elsewhere, especially in the developing world, it is a much sadder story. In this debate, we have already heard about the 76 countries which have criminal laws against same-sex relationships, especially that 42 of the 54 countries of the Commonwealth have such criminalised laws. The continued existence of discrimination, violence and criminalisation in so many Commonwealth countries is particularly shaming. There is a bitter irony, as we have already heard, in that most laws in these countries have been inherited from us. I believe that that gives us a special responsibility to do whatever we can to help to change things.
There is an even more perverse irony. Many of these countries justify their laws and behaviour by arguing risibly that somehow homosexuality is something imposed on them and imported from the colonial west. In fact, precisely the reverse is true. Discrimination was imposed on them by the colonial west. There are horrific stories of the treatment meted out to people simply because they are gay.
In Jamaica, Brian Williamson and Steve Harvey were brutally murdered because they had dared to found the Jamaican Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays. In Uganda, a young lesbian woman was denounced and beaten by her father, thrown into prison, and beaten and brutally raped by the police in prison. Two young women in Cameroon were attacked by a mob for being lesbian, with their arms broken by being snapped. Of course, the anti-homosexuality Bill now proposed in the Ugandan Parliament by Mr David Bahati MP would impose life imprisonment and, in some cases, a death penalty for sexual acts between men. These sorts of laws and actions shame our humanity; they mock any hopes that we might have of nurturing civilisation and decency across the world.
So what can we here in the UK do to help to bring about change? First, we can support the excellent work of organisations such as the Human Dignity Trust, the Kaleidoscope Trust and Human Rights Watch, which are challenging what is happening. Secondly, as individuals and Governments, we can speak out about these abuses, highlight them, give international publicity to them and protest formally and informally. International pressure can work; we have already heard about the Malawi case of the two gay men who were convicted of unnatural acts and gross indecency for holding an engagement ceremony. They were sentenced to 14 years' hard labour in prison. Because of international pressure, the president pardoned the couple in question-but even more, the president who then took over from him, Joyce Banda, has announced that her Government will repeal the ban on homosexual acts. She has since indicated that progress may not be very fast in doing this, but the principle has been established as a result of international pressure.
Thirdly, we can ensure that when desperate people flee to our shores seeking asylum because of their fear or experience of discrimination and violence arising from their sexual orientation, we do not turn them away. Fourthly, we can and should support as strongly as we can those brave people who are standing up for their human rights and dignity in their own countries. Last week, I met a young man called David Kuria Mbote, who is the first openly gay black person to run for national office in Africa. He is a candidate for the Kenyan senate in next year's elections; he is a remarkable person, and very brave. Part of his argument to his electors is that he is an outsider; he is different-he is not part of the establishment. That gives him a real advantage when it comes to rooting out corruption and reforming the political system. People are responding well to his message, although I fear that there are tough times for him ahead.
Ultimately, this is about winning the world for diversity and a welcoming of difference. Some 28 years ago, the leaders of the then group of seven major countries said:
"We believe in a rule of law which respects and protects without fear or favour the rights and liberties of every citizen, and provides the setting in which the human spirit can develop in freedom and diversity".
That is what it is all about-recognising, accepting, welcoming and enjoying diversity, seeing it as an essential ingredient of freedom and making sure that that message is spread right around the world.
My Lords, I am delighted to join other noble Lords in supporting my noble friend Lord Lexden in this debate. For the second time this week, I find myself a tail-end Charlie, at the end of a debate in which many points that I planned to make have been powerfully and eloquently made by other noble Lords. The red pen has once again been busy through my speech.
Being gay in many countries may be legislatively legal but a practical impossibility. The sad reality is that oppressive regimes and political persecution deny homosexuals the rights that we here in Britain have come to take for granted. Simple acts, such as Pride marches or even efforts to tackle HIV among homosexual men, are outlawed. When modest progress has been made, it is often all too easy to turn back the clock and deny people the rights that they have only just begun to enjoy. That is why this debate is so important. Britain's strength lies in the freedom that it offers and the tolerance that it shows to all individuals; we, therefore, must be committed to supporting fundamental principles of human rights. In my view, that must include standing against efforts to persecute and discriminate against individuals on the basis of their sexuality. While accepting our international obligations, there are limitations to how Britain can influence and guide. As we have heard, many countries, especially those within the Commonwealth, still wrestle with legislative structures from a bygone colonial era which codify punishment for homosexual activity. As the noble Lord, Lord Smith, said, we have also seen recently in countries such as Uganda a highly effective propaganda effort to caricature homosexuality as a western affliction imported to threaten traditional values.
We should also take this opportunity to reflect on the scale of the challenge that remains. As we have seen in this country, legislative change is an important precursor to changes in society, with strong political leadership precipitating huge shifts in public attitudes to homosexual men and women. Consequently, while government efforts to ensure that British aid is not abused by homophobic regimes are welcome, we must also strive to ensure that these efforts do not inadvertently deprive deeply vulnerable people of vital aid to feed or care for themselves and risk inflaming further homophobic sentiment. The UK's approach, set out in July 2011, goes some way to remedying this situation. The Government, while reducing the amount of aid given to support the budgets of other Governments by half, will ensure that trusted NGOs and other channels will be used to make sure that poor people in poverty do not suffer as a result. I believe that this approach will make better use of UK aid money and at the same time target support for the most vulnerable people in our world.
However, the Government are only one agent for change. We must also recognise the importance of business and commerce which provide vital inward investment and employment in many developing countries. They are engines of change, too. In preparing for this debate, I read Stonewall's helpful, recently published booklet which provides guidance for employers on how they can further support their homosexual staff wherever they may be based around the world. It features the work of major employers such as Barclays, Ernst and Young and Simmons and Simmons, which are making enormous strides in practical ways to ensure that they can have the best personnel wherever they need them around the world. By doing so they are beginning to shift attitudes of their global workforces, both in their offices and beyond, whether in London or Lagos, São Paulo or Singapore.
In conclusion, what further efforts are the Government making to ensure that British aid is reaching the most vulnerable in our world while at the same time ensuring that this aid is not abused by homophobic regimes? How are the Government working with British businesses to support equality in the developing world? Finally, what are the Government doing to promote the idea that our success as a 21st century nation has been, and will continue to be, best secured by ensuring that all our citizens can live and work free from this discrimination?
I wish to speak briefly in the gap and raise two issues which I think have not been raised in the debate. A number of noble Lords have referred to the fact that in October 2011 the British Government announced conditionality in regard to the overseas aid budget. Will the Minister tell us exactly how the Government intend to monitor that policy and its implementation? The noble Baroness, Lady Nye, well expressed the fear that that policy could create a gap into which right-wing evangelical churches might step to influence poor people in developing countries. I do not think any of us would wish to see that. However, we do wish to see the overseas aid budget being used to advance equality and diversity. If our Government were to monitor this carefully, we could come up with a new model of overseas aid funding for ourselves and other Governments. That would be an important provision.
My second point is a very minor one. Could the Foreign and Commonwealth Office operate a scheme whereby its travel advice states the factual case of each country in relation to the law governing lesbians and gay men? I think that many people know about the awful situation in Uganda, Ghana and perhaps in the Ukraine. However, there are other countries where the situation is perhaps as bad but is not as well known. I would like travellers to be able to use their own independent economic power to not support those countries which are highly discriminatory and to support the ones which are not. We might include in that some of the states of the United States of America which currently appear to be going back to a time of discrimination which we thought had passed.
My Lords, if there is a coalition I am extremely proud of it is the one that has initiated and backed this debate. In particular, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, for putting down the Question which has prompted the discussion.
This country can celebrate the fact that all the major parties are united on this subject. Over the last 25 years the situation for lesbian, gay and bisexual people in Britain has changed significantly. I am also proud that much of that progress was made under the last Government though we should not underestimate the problems that remain, in particular the level of homophobia in our schools. However, Britain can now rightly claim to be a beacon of equality to the world of gay people. Sadly, as we have heard in this debate, this progress is not reflected in the developing world. From Iraq to Uganda, lesbian and gay people are still systematically persecuted. As we have also heard in this debate, this prejudice often stops gay people accessing the healthcare, education and employment they need.
This is why decriminalisation worldwide is so important. However, even in countries where homosexuality is legal, lesbian and gay people are often subjected to human rights abuses. South Africa was the first country in the world to enshrine the human rights of gay people in its constitution in 1993. Yet lesbians in South Africa still live in fear of so-called "corrective rape". As we have also heard, the freedom of expression and association of gay people is regularly denied in countries closer to home such as Russia, Ukraine and Serbia.
As the noble Lord, Lord Black, has said, we cannot pretend that this does not affect us here. Gay people around the world look to Britain to offer them refuge from this discrimination. Britain and our partners have an important role in challenging these human rights abuses. It is not, however, without risk. There is increasing opposition to the "western" notion that gay rights are human rights. We need only to look at the recent resolution, proposed by Russia at the United Nations Human Rights Council and passed with the support of 25 other states, affirming that "traditional values" should be the basis of human rights. This has given credibility to the abuses perpetuated by anti-gay Governments around the world. This is one of the many reasons why diplomatic action is so important. I welcome the way that the FCO is now working closely with organisations such as Stonewall, the Kaleidoscope Trust and others that have been mentioned in the debate, on how they can oppose these efforts to legitimise human rights abuses of gay people worldwide. Placing conditions on the recipients of development aid might also play a role, but we cannot ignore the risk that removing aid from countries for human rights abuses against gay people may affect the poorest in those countries. Not only would that give fuel to those who argue that homosexuality is something being imposed on those countries by the West, it may-as we have also heard in this debate-worsen the situation for gay people. They are likely in any case to be among the poorest and most disadvantaged in countries that receive aid, and unable to access jobs, education or healthcare. Nor can we ignore the fact that we are not the only suppliers in the aid marketplace. It would be disastrous if we pushed recipient countries into the arms of donors such as Iran and China, and we must not lose what influence that we already have in those countries.
As we have heard-and this is a main issue-real progress on gay equality will ultimately come from grass-roots movements. However, we need to help create the conditions where those local gay rights movements can emerge. So in conclusion I should like to ask questions of the Minister. What direct assistance will the Government provide, either financially or politically, to support the development of lesbian, gay and bisexual movements worldwide? What will the Government do to encourage aid charities, through which significant amounts of DfID investment is delivered, to support lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals and movements globally? Finally, will the Government ensure, through the UK Border Agency, that lesbian and gay people are provided with a real safe haven when they flee from the persecution that has been described today?
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Lexden for introducing so effectively this important debate on the treatment of homosexual men and women in the developing world. We have heard from him, the noble Lord, Lord Black, and others the terrible circumstances that many homosexual people face across the world.
I am glad that we have given sanctuary to Toby, whose terrible case my noble friend Lord Lexden cited, but I recognise that he can never fully recover from his appalling experience. I hear what my noble friend Lord Lester has said about religious fundamentalism and how this may be becoming worse. I welcome the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester's statement that discrimination is "an affront" to Christian values. I welcome his clear condemnation of such discrimination. I also commend the work of the Human Dignity Trust, Kaleidoscope and other organisations that are working to address these issues internationally.
We are talking about people who are often scared to be who they are. In many cases they conceal their sexual orientation or gender identity from their family, friends and societies. They often rightly fear victimisation, violence, detention, imprisonment and even death, simply because of who they are.
We are absolutely clear that human rights are universal and apply equally to all people. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 affirms as such, but we hear from my noble friend Lord Lexden and others how these rights are breached. However, I can confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Lester, that criminalisation of homosexuality is clearly a violation of international law. We have strong commitments both to international human rights and to international development. Development cannot be achieved without respecting rights, and my noble friend Lady Jenkin is right to link those.
UK aid is used to promote an environment in which all people can claim their rights in open societies. We look for ways to ensure that people who are marginalised or excluded for whatever reason, including sexual orientation, can access the information, service and resources they need to lift themselves out of poverty. It is often those people who are at the risk of human rights abuses in developing countries who need our help the most. In 2011-various noble Lords referred to this-we strengthened our partnership principles. These require that before providing direct support to Governments, we assess their shared commitment to reducing poverty, respecting human rights, improving public financial management, fighting corruption and being more accountable to their own citizens.
The noble Lord, Lord Smith, noted the actions taken in Malawi. Recipients of aid are aware of the pressure in relation to human rights, and I hope that that is also reassuring to the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin.
The noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked about the assistance that we provide to support the development of relevant movements world wide and what we do to encourage charities to support these movements. As other noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Nye, and others, have noted, civil society plays an important role in supporting the rights of homosexuals in developing countries. We provide targeted support to locally led groups so that they can tackle discrimination and support communities in accessing the resources and services that they need. For example, through a £52 million partnership with the International Planned Parenthood Federation, we are supporting members of the LGBT rights organisations in improving access to health services.
The noble Baroness, Lady Nye, was right that it is very important to support groups in civil society, but she pointed out the difficulties of being, as it were, heavy-handed-a point reiterated by the noble Lord, Lord Collins. Clearly, working internationally to ensure the recognition of human rights law is very important, although I heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Nye, that that can be counterproductive. She also asked what we are doing to challenge these countries. Obviously, how we approach this matter varies from country to country.
Noble Lords have heard what is happening in Malawi. I point out that we have raised our concerns about the Bill in Uganda at the most senior levels. The former Minister for Africa raised this when he met President Museveni in March and he did so again with the vice-president in August. We have also raised our concerns regarding the Bill in the Ukraine, and that has been reiterated through the EU. In Ethiopia, Lynne Featherstone, my honourable friend in the Commons, has raised this issue with the former Prime Minister. In Russia, we have made it clear that legislation is incompatible with Council of Europe guidelines.
My noble friend Lady Brinton asked about Somalia and Sierra Leone. In relation to Sierra Leone, the principle of human rights will kick in because that country has just received the last tranche of budget support. Therefore, human rights provisions will be applied if and when more money is sent through.
If I miss out anything, given the number of issues that noble Lords have raised, I shall write to them.
The noble Lords, Lord Rea and Lord Fowler, raised the issue of HIV/AIDS and the stigma attached to it, as well as the difficulty that people have accessing the care that they need. Both noble Lords will be aware that the United Kingdom is strongly supporting the funding of the International HIV/AIDS Alliance. We are acutely aware of the particular challenges that homosexuals face in this regard. Alan Duncan, the Minister of State, announced in July new DfID resources for the Robert Carr fund, supporting global and regional networks to improve HIV responses reaching key populations.
My noble friend Lord Lester asked whether the Government are considering joining, as a partner Government, the Global Equality Fund. We are impressed by the model of the Global Equality Fund. We are not currently considering supporting it but we are funding work that complements the fund. When I was briefed on this, I was particularly pleased to hear about the support that we are giving to a four-year programme at the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex to strengthen effective policy options on sexuality, poverty and law. This is the biggest programme of its kind that we know of, and the UK is putting £1.25 million into it. That is a very welcome development.
We support country-level funding for LGBT programmes and groups, as well as providing opportunities to access funding through the FCO's human rights and democracy programme. Noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Lester, asked me about that.
Clearly, this is a major challenge and despite the work we are doing, we do not underestimate the huge amount that still needs to be done. The UK is working internationally, as I have mentioned. It plays a key role in building support through a number of international organisations, including the United Nations, working towards global decriminalisation of homosexuality. We also work with EU partners, which is increasingly important in this area. EU member states and the European External Action Service have committed to develop a strategy on co-operation with third countries on the human rights of LGBT persons, including working through the UN and the Council of Europe. We are determined to contribute fully to a robust and effective EU strategy in this regard.
We are also pleased that the refreshed Canada-UK joint declaration, signed by our two Prime Ministers and by the Foreign Secretary in September, now includes a commitment that we will work together to continue to press countries around the world to repeal aggressive and punitive laws criminalising homosexuality, which are incompatible with human rights.
My noble friends Lord Lexden, Lord Lester, Lord Black and others mentioned the Commonwealth. We are hugely encouraged to hear that Commonwealth Foreign Affairs Ministers, at their meeting on
The Commonwealth modernisation agenda for 2012 includes the delivery of a charter for the Commonwealth which reflects its core values, including strengthening language on opposing discrimination on all grounds, which would cover this area. I can assure my noble friend Lord Lester and others that our embassies and high commissions around the world also play an important part in this regard. I know that the Department for International Development is seeking opportunities to promote human rights, including in this area.
My noble friend Lady Barker flagged up an interesting point. The FCO travel advice includes guidance specifically on the situation for LGBT people in relevant countries. It may be that some of that information might be used to good effect in the way that she suggests.
The noble Lord, Lord Collins, is right: we are united on this. The UK has an important role to play in international efforts to promote tolerance and non-discrimination against homosexuals and to address discriminatory laws. This debate has been an important reminder of how this is indeed a case of human rights and individuals' ability to live their lives free from poverty or fear.