1 Fiji first PI nation with colonial-era sodomy laws to decriminalize homosexuality 3/10
4 March 2010 – UNAIDS
Fiji first Pacific Island nation with colonial-era sodomy laws to formally to decriminalize homosexuality
Marking a significant step towards achieving the country’s universal access goals, Fiji passed a law decriminalizing consensual homosexuality through the Fiji National Crimes Decree on 1 February 2010. With this legislation Fiji becomes the first Pacific Island nation with colonial-era sodomy laws to formally decriminalize sex between men*. The new Crimes Decree removes all clauses about “sodomy” and “unnatural acts” and uses gender neutral language in the remainder of the sexual offences section.
“We’d like to congratulate the Government of Fiji on taking a bold step by removing the punitive law,” said Stuart Watson, the Pacific Coordinator of UNAIDS.“This reform is an important milestone towards achieving a rights-respecting legal framework, not only for men who have sex with men but the entire community in Fiji.”
HIV, the law and human rights in the Pacific
In 2007 the UNAIDS Secretariat and UNDP reviewed the legislation of 15 Pacific Island countries relevant to HIV issues, including discrimination, ethics, access to treatment and privacy and confidentiality. The Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu were included in this project. This reform is an important milestone towards achieving a rights-respecting legal framework, not only for men who have sex with men but the entire community.
Stuart Watson, Pacific Coordinator of UNAIDS
Following this review, UNAIDS’ Pacific office along with the UNDP Pacific Center, and the Regional Rights Resource Team (RRRT) convened a meeting in New Zealand with Attorney Generals and Ministers of Health from the countries. Together with leading international and regional experts they discussed HIV, the law and human rights to relation to the specific national laws in the region that impact the response to HIV. The aim was to better support effective and rights-based legal responses to the epidemic.
The participants reaffirmed the importance of implementing “The Pacific Regional Strategy on HIV/AIDS 2007-2008”, endorsed by Pacific Heads of Governments in Samoa in 2004. This regional strategy is an all-encompassing plan that highlights the importance of human rights in any HIV intervention.
Call for review, reform and enactment of appropriate legislation
The Attorney Generals and Ministers of Health then called for the review, reform and enactment of appropriate legislation that reinforces universal human rights to protect and ensure the dignity of all people affected by HIV; that promotes an integrated response to HIV taking into account the interrelation between sexual and reproductive rights and prevention of HIV; and further protects the rights of people in communities regardless of gender, sexuality, sexual or gender identity, or other defining characteristic.
As a result of this initial UN-sponsored consultation, the Republic of the Fiji Islands requested technical assistance from UNAIDS and WHO to help draft comprehensive rights-based HIV legislation for the country. Parallel to the drafting and community consultation process for the national HIV Decree, and based on the High court’s ruling, the colonial era law criminalizing sex between men was removed. This became law on 1 February 2010 through the Fiji National Crimes Decree.
HIV in the Pacific
The 2009 AIDS Epidemic Update notes that there is generally a very low HIV prevalence in the Pacific compared with other regions. In these small island nations adult HIV prevalence tends to be well below 0.1%. National epidemics are overwhelmingly driven by sexual HIV transmission, although the specific populations most affected vary substantially within the region. According to the Report of the Commission on AIDS in the Pacific the extent to which HIV is transmitted by sex between men in the Pacific is not known. Since most sex between men in the Pacific is hidden, illegal and denied, it is not addressed appropriately in most national HIV plans.
Behavioural surveillance identifies male-to-male sex among youth in Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Samoa, as well as police and military in Fiji Islands, STI clinic patients in Fiji Islands and Samoa, and seafarers in Kiribati. Despite a possible link between unprotected sex between men and relatively high rates of HIV infection in Papua New Guinea, Fiji, New Caledonia, French Polynesia and Guam, none of these countries has conducted recent behavioural surveillance surveys or qualitative studies about the characteristics of these men, or initiated targeted campaigns to encourage them to use safer sexual practices.
Major obstacles to making such campaigns effective remain, both with the social stigma and the illegal status of homosexual activity. Not only are men ashamed of or embarrassed about disclosing their sexual activity, they are also deterred from finding out what they need to know to reduce their risk or to buy condoms. Stuart Watson, believes that legal reform will enable better outreach to these communities. “The change in law is a huge step towards being able to approach all communities with education programmes and prevention resources. This would enable better access to HIV prevention services for all, reducing HIV and sexually transmitted infection risk,” said Mr Watson.
September 29, 2010 – The Fiji Times
Gay students band together
– The University of the South Pacific (USP) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_of_the_South_Pacific0 is a public university with a number of locations spread throughout a dozen countries in Oceania. It is an international centre for teaching and research on Pacific culture and environment. USP’s academic programmes are recognised worldwide, attracting students and staff from throughout the Pacific Region and internationally. USP is owned by the governments of 12 Pacific Island countries: the Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.-GG
by Tavai Bale
A Support group for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and trans-genders has been formed at the University of the South Pacific. The ‘Drodrolagi’ (Fijian word for rainbow which is the international symbol for gay, lesbian and bisexual pride) Movement had its first meeting on Monday afternoon with a good turnout of students and supporters both queer and straight.
Coordinator and avid GLBT activist, Kris Prasad said he was inspired by the work of the Drodrolagi Association that was set up in 1997 and wanted to mirror their initiative in providing a safe environment and support structure for queer students and raise awareness at USP. When asked about the risks of marginalisation and alienation of students that might intend to join Drodrolagi Movement, Kris expressed concern. "Safety is paramount for us. We want students to be comfortable in their own skin, and joining the movement is totally voluntary."
Students present at the meeting expressed their excitement with the Movement. Members of the gay community in Suva shared similar sentiments, saluting the efforts of young activists such as Kris Prasad in creating awareness and establishing safe spaces for queer students in such an impressionable institution as USP. Reigning Miss Senikau, Rani Ravudi, a strong advocate for gay rights and equality, said "this would be the stepping stone for GLBT students on campus to help eradicate homophobia and other issues they face". Rani also stressed the importance of HIV and health awareness.
Also present at the meeting was 2010 Hibiscus contestant, Miss Youth Coalition, Paulini Saurogo and the Young Women’s Officer from the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement, Filomena Tuivanualevu. Both women, being former students, worried about opposition to the idea, but were positive about the movement’s objectives ¡¡¡¡ù pledging their support for future events and activities.
April 12, 2011 – Figi Times
HIV Fijian deported
by Margaret Wise
Two Fijians were brutally assaulted in the Cook Islands about two weeks ago, just days after a Fijian national was tested HIV positive and deported out of the island country. Local HIV advocacy groups said one of the youths who was attacked almost lost an eye in the "hate crime". The incident sparked outrage and concern among locals living with HIV and calls were made for a review of the Cook Islands health legislation. As a result the Cook Island government has tasked Pacific Islands Aids Foundation to draft a sample HIV law.
PIAF legal training officer and policy analyst Laitia Tamata confirmed he travelled to the Cook Islands to investigate the matter. "The Fiji national was working in the Cook Islands and as part of requirements for renewing his work permit, he had to undergo a medical test. The tests came back positive and the medical professionals were shocked they had to diagnose someone who was HIV positive," he said.
"They were not ready and they failed to keep the results confidential. They then attempted to do contract tracing. So news spread quickly since they do not have doctor patient confidentiality laws. The medical officers said they reported the Fiji national for deportation under the Public Health Act – but on scrutiny it only covers TB and leprosy."
Mr Tamata said after speaking with authorities the PIAF immediately held rights and responsibilities workshops with health care providers. Discussions with the Cook Islands national HIV committee also discussed HIV laws already in place in Fiji and Papua New Guinea. "We asked them to decide what laws they wanted. Pacific Island countries need to create an enabling environment to respond better to the virus ù prevent further infection and protect positive people from stigma and discrimination."
"I came back and spoke with UNAIDS and UNDP and so we are currently drafting a sample law, and if that works it will be given to other Pacific island countries. Support was needed as we need to hire a draftsman who will work on the sample, a local consultant to tailor the sample according to local laws and the crown law office for verification. This will then be given to the national HIV committee before it is given to Parliament." This draft law will include the input of HIV positive people and should be ready for Parliament by October this year.
April 12, 2011 – Fiji Times
Why all iTaukei at HIV meet
The indigenous community in Fiji appears to be more accepting of people living with HIV ù and this is reflected in the number of locals choosing to step out in public. This was the observation of Joana Qereqeretabua, the chairperson of Fiji Network of Positive People (FJN+). She was responding to queries about the absence of PLWHIV from other groups that live in Fiji at this week’s gathering of positive people from around the Pacific.
"We have all iTaukei participants because I feel that awareness in other communities is lacking and they are worried about the stigma," she said. "There was a case involving one community where the HIV person’s eating utensils were kept separate, she was isolated in almost everything until we intervened and educated the family that HIV was not contracted through utensils. Fijians are way ahead in accepting their people diagnosed with HIV because the culture itself is different and provides for a family support system."
She said families of PLWHIV from other communities were more worried about the repercussions to the family than the wellbeing of the infected individual. "Stigma is still an issue for these communities. It is more about the impact on the family so in the end the individual misses out on a lot of support, like advice and counselling. They miss out on the opportunity to be with people they can identify with and to lift the burden of secrecy. All this is part of healing when you share openly," Ms Qereqeretabua said.
"Healing is important because you are grieving as soon as you are diagnosed and you start preparing for death and your funeral. Through support systems and medication you can overcome all this and live positively. That is what families need to understand."
The inaugural week-long gathering in Nadi is hosted by FJN+ in collaboration with Igat Hope, Pacific Islands Aids Foundation and the Asia Pacific Network of Positive People. Sponsored by UNAIDS with support from UNWomen and AusAID, the participants are HIV positive people from Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, New Caledonia, Tahiti, Kiribati, Tonga and Fiji. Ms Qereqeretabua said participants would have the opportunity to learn and share experiences and discuss issues like access to HIV treatment and services, and responding to HIV-related stigma and discrimination.
13 April, 2011 – Fiji Times
President lays down challenge
by Margaret Wise Article
President Ratu Epeli Nailatikau of Fiji has stepped up the fight against HIV/AIDS, challenging Pacific governments to do away with laws that contribute to stigma and discrimination. He also urged people living with HIV to "stand up, raise your voices and appeal to your governments" to review legislative framework that contributed to stigma and discrimination.
Ratu Epeli, who is also the UN HIV Ambassador for the Pacific, made the call while speaking at a Nadi gathering of HIV positive people from around the Pacific. He told participants a recent UNICEF Report stated those at the highest risk of HIV infection had one thing in common: their personal status, identity or behaviour were criminalised by law. "Sex workers and men who have sex with men all face the constant threat of arrest, conviction, and incarceration in our Pacific areas and in many countries," Ratu Epeli said.
April 18, 2011 – Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS
LGBTI Student Group in Fiji Gain University Affiliation
After facing some opposition and intimidation, a student group providing social, educational and support services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex (LGBTI), pinapinaaine, fa’afafine, fakaleiti and other identified students at the University of the South Pacific is now fully affiliated with the USP Students’ Association, Laucala Campus, Suva, Fiji. The Drodrolagi Movement‘s President, Kris Prasad said that the group gained affiliation through a strong and sustained campaign. This included direct lobbying of university stakeholders and an open letter signed by 150 individuals and organisations from around Fiji and the Pacific. “Our members and supporters are very proud of this victory”, he said.
"Despite following due process and being able to demonstrate considerable community support, our initial application to register was rejected by USPSA Laucala Campus Student Council. We then lodged a formal appeal with the USPSA Federal Council who wisely overturned the earlier decision.” said Kris Prasad. "USP is the premier regional academic institution serving 12 Pacific Island countries. Unfortunately when students enrol at USP, they are automatically placed into certain associations based on their ethnicity and discipline of study. In contrast, the Drodrolagi Movement (also known as droMo) prides itself on being the only affiliated group on campus whose membership is open to all students regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity, ethnicity, citizenry, age, ability, religion, or discipline of study." Prasad added.
Noelene Nabulivou of feminist collective ‘Women’s Action for Change’ (WAC) said, “WAC warmly congratulates droMo. This outcome has wider significance than the immediate result of USPSA affiliation. During the campaign, droMo members dealt with both personal and structural homophobia that reaffirmed the urgent need for such networks. droMo have also demonstrated that Pacific educational institutions have an important role to play in human rights advancement. This requires full policy compliance with international human rights standards and state commitments, and institutional cultures that celebrate diversity, intersectional identity and fluidity as positive Pacific norms.”
droMo supporter and youth activist, Merewalesi Nailatikau is excited about Drodrolagi’s mandate of action, and the support and awareness that the group is set to provide to members of the LGBTI community, as well as to the USP community at large. "I have every hope that the group will play a positive role in empowering through knowledge, understanding and peaceful dialogue on issues relating to sexuality and reproductive health. Co-existing peacefully in diversity is vital for our progress and development, whatever your sexual orientation."
For further information, please contact Kris Prasad, droMo President at email
Drodrolagi Movement (droMo), PO Box 386 , Nausori , Fiji
03 Aug, 2011 – IRMA
Laws fail to protect HIV patients, says advocate
by Frederica Elbourne
Pacific political leaders have remained silent over the protection of the rights of people vulnerable to and affected with HIV, an organisation that champions AIDS awareness said. The Pacific Islands AIDS Foundation said laws governing those infected with the virus failed to protect their privacy. The existing legal frameworks condemned behaviour such as anal sex, sex between men, and sex work, the PIAF report launched by Minister for Women Doctor Jiko Luveni in Nadi last month said.
Such denunciation drives these practices underground, the PIAF said in a report that highlighted the plight of HIV positive women in Fiji and Papua New Guinea. "Public Health Acts also reflect mentalities of the colonial periods and these acts usually provide wide powers to public health authorities, impose heavy duties on infected people and others who must notify and take precautionary measures," the report pointed out.
The acts rarely gave privacy to people who are subject to these provisions, PIAF said.
08 Aug, 2011 – MSM Global Forum
Secret Lives, Other Voices – Male to Male Sex, Gender Identity and HIV Transmission Risk in Fiji
The sample consisted of a diverse group of 212 MSM and TG. Respondents ranged in age from 18 to 51 years and the median age was 25.5. Approximately half lived in the Greater Suva Area and the other half in the western locations of Lautoka and Nadi.
Fijians made up 38.6% of the sample, Indo-Fijians made up 50.0%, and people of “other” ethnicities made up the remainder. One-third of the respondents had completed high school, and over half (56.0%) went on to some form of further study. 8.1% of the respondents reported having had no formal education at all. Over half of the respondents were Christian, nearly one third was Hindu, and 13.2% were Muslim. The majority of the respondents were working (70.5%) and nearly one in five were studying. Just fewer than 10% were not working or studying. The majority of respondents had never been married (79.1%), while 16.5% had ever been
married to a woman.
Sexual and Gender Identity and Gender Expression
Gender and sexual identity terms are used in complex and inconsistent ways by MSM and TG in Fiji. Although the terms used are often the same as in other countries, the meanings can be quite different. The respondents were asked to self-identify their sexuality and gender. These were put together to create four categories:
Respondents expressed their masculinity and femininity to varying degrees. In terms of dress and gender expression, straight men were exclusively masculine, bisexuals were more masculine than feminine, gays were both masculine and feminine, and TGs were more feminine than masculine. The
majority of TGs dressed with a mixture of how men and women usually dress. A significant finding was that “globalised” and “local” sexual/gender identities exist in Fiji simultaneously. Some MSM and TG identify with more international understandings of terms like “gay”, while others have more “local” understandings that are in line with traditional ways of understanding sexuality and gender.
View this article’s attachment here
August 28, 2011 – Paul Causey
AIDS Task Force of Fiji Launches Landmark MSM-HIV Report: “Secret Lives, Other Voices”
Busan, South Korea – Less than a day after his speech won rave reviews at the opening ceremony of the 10th ICAAP, the president of Fiji, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, joined United Nations officials and representatives of a key NGO from the Pacific island-nation at the launch of a landmark report on men who have sex with men, transgender people and HIV. “Secret Lives, Other Voices”, subtitled “A community-based study exploring male-to-male sex, gender identity and HIV transmission risk in Fiji,” is the first such research to be conducted with MSM and transgender people in that country since 1998.
“We fully involved the communities in every stage of the process,” explained Niraj Singh, Project Manager of the AIDS Task Force of Fiji and its Amithi project, whose study was funded by a competitive grant from the HIV and AIDS Thematic fund of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). “This included initiating the research, the planning and study design, data collection, analyzing the data and reporting it. Instead of being treated merely as subjects, the communities in this instance were key players in the research.”
The study, encompassing more than 200 MSM and transgender persons, revealed some important and disturbing findings. Despite higher levels of knowledge than before regarding HIV and AIDS, many individuals from these marginalized communities are not motivated to use condoms. Fiji recently lifted discriminatory laws that were a relic of the colonial era, but stigma and discrimination towards MSM and transgender persons remains high, proving a significant barrier to HIV testing, and leading to what the study calls a “fatalistic attitude” caused by homophobia and transphobia. “There is a huge lack of trust in clinics, concern over privacy and confidentiality, the feeling that one is constantly being judged by health care providers and society as a whole,” said Ben Bavinton, community researcher with ATFF and associated with the AIDS Council of New South Wales (ACON), Australia, which provided key technical expertise for the study. “Moreover, almost a third of the respondents had experienced physical violence, often really brutal violence, in the six months prior to the study being conducted.”
“The data and findings clearly show that specific strategic and targeted approaches to prevention and sexual health services for MSM and transgender persons are urgently needed,” said Clifton Cortez, UNDP Regional Practice Leader, HIV/AIDS Health and Development. “Peer prevention programmes need to be designed and implemented, clinical and sexual health services should be scaled up, and health care providers and workers need to be sensitized. In all of this, community-based organizations should be involved in helping design and shape these interventions to ensure the end results are what the communities want and need.”
President Nailatikau concurred with these recommendations, complementing the remarks he made the previous evening at the opening plenary of the 10th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific. There, before the president spoke, the Executive Director of UNAIDS, Michel Sidibe, had praised Fiji and its leadership for having just days ago revised the country’s HIV Decree, lifting HIV-related travel restrictions and removing the section criminalizing ‘willful’ HIV transmission and exposure. In his speech, the president said it was important for Fiji to be “internationally compliant” in this regard. The president also expanded on his own personal commitment to a rights-based approach in addressing HIV, as articulated in the United Nations resolution stemming from the High Level Meeting of June this year.
“The declaration meant a whole lot to me personally, as well as to the rest of us closely involved in the response to HIV/AIDS because the declaration speaks for the voiceless, the very people we should put at the centre of all that we will be doing during the course of this Conference. The voiceless include men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs and the sex workers. It includes women and girls are who often are denied control over their bodies, who are denied a voice in decision making and who are denied protection from violence. It also includes innocent children who are born with HIV and the 15 million people who need life saving treatment by 2015.
We, as representatives from the global community – the Family – as Leaders in our own right need to respond to these voices irrespective of the faith we confess, the morals we uphold, the social classes we belong to and the political affiliations that we hold dear.” Enlightened political leadership in facing the HIV challenge, important research and steps forward in empowering MSM and transgender persons in a long conservative nation – and an example for other nations in the Pacific and elsewhere to follow.
August 30, 2011 – The Fiji Times
Fiji first to declare gay rights in Pacific
by Frederica Elbourne
FIJI became the first Pacific island nation to formally decriminalise consensual homosexuality last year, the world’s second largest gathering on HIV/AIDS was told. Despite this significant step forward, there was a distinct lack of information about men who had sex with men (MSM) and transgender people in Fiji, a report tabled at the congress on AIDS said. The report from Amithi Fiji ù a project that focuses on Fijian of Indian descent transgender and MSM ù said attempts were made by the Government to include in HIV surveillance studies of MSM and transgender (TG) issues.
According to the report, very little was published in the academic literature about MSM and TG in Fiji. The 100-page document said a review of published materials about MSM and TG in Asia and the Pacific in 2009 to 2010 revealed no academic articles specifically about HIV and MSM/TG in Fiji. "It appears that the only study relating to HIV and risk behaviour among MSM and TG in Fiji was conducted by the AIDS Task Force of Fiji in 1998, with the results being released in 2001," the report said.
AIDS Task Force of Fiji, a community-based HIV organisation established in 1993, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the University of the South Pacific (USP) and the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society at La Trobe University were also responsible for the findings contained in the report.
September 13, 2011 – The Fiji Times
Sex workers rights debate
by Ropate Valemei
The winners of the inter-tertiary debate competition held two weeks ago had their first experience with the AIDS forum organised by ICAAP 10. Shanistika Shivalni and Navneet Narayan of the Fiji National University were granted an internship with UNAIDS as part of their prize. "Being able to be part of the ICAAP debriefing was a privilege – it broadened our knowledge of the issue of AIDS in the region," said Mr Narayan, a journalism student at FNU.
Speaking on the topic – Sex-workers should be decriminalised – at the debate, the affirmative side winner advocated for the rights of sex workers in Fiji. "Fiji opted for human rights. Human dignity is human rights," said Mr Narayan. "It’s good for sex work in Fiji to be decriminalised because once it is accepted by the public, there will be a safe ground to practise safe sex thus combating HIV/AIDS," said Ms Shivalni, a nursing student.
According to their contribution to the debate, they said sex work was the oldest profession and it was in demand. Ms Shivalni said if sex work was decriminalised, compulsory screening for sex workers for safety and hygiene should be implemented. "Decriminalising sex work also has an impact on the reduction of HIVAIDS," she said.
For the HIV Decree, they believed that it should be implemented and not just on paper. "The HIV decree should be written in such a way that it should be understood at grassroots level as well and not just educated people," said Narayan. "There’s a lot of legal jargon that even we don’t understand."
29 September 2011 – Drodrolagi (LGBT) Movement
Drodrolagi (LGBT) Movement in Fiji celebrates one year
The Drodrolagi Movement (droMo) celebrated its first birthday on Tuesday 27th September 2011 with an afternoon tea with members, allies and friends at the Citizens’ Constitutional Forum’s Outdoor Space in Suva, Fiji. (Drodrolagi is the Fijian word for ‘rainbow’.) droMo is a social, support and educational network of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex (LGBTI) students at the University of the South Pacific, Laucala Campus, Fiji, and their allies and friends.
Reflecting on the first twelve months, droMo President Kris Prasad said it had been a challenging yet positive year for the group. “It has not been easy with the homophobic intimidation, emotional bullying and opposition that we have faced but we are thriving thanks to the dedication and courage of droMo members and support from allies such as the NGO Coalition on Human Rights (NGOCHR), Youth Coalition Fiji and wider civil society and community in Fiji and abroad.”
NGOCHR Chair and Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre Coordinator Shamima Ali congratulated droMo on this milestone. “The NGO Coalition on Human Rights is proud to have the Drodrolagi Movement as a member and urges everyone to promote, protect and respect the human rights of all people regardless of who they are. droMo must be commended for its perseverance and for putting LGBTI rights on everyone’s agenda.”
Hibiscus King 2011 Mr Youth Coalition Fiji Peter Waqavonovono said that human rights are about respect and accepting people for who they are. “Because of homophobia, many citizens in Fiji are denied their rights and face discriminatory practices. We owe it to ourselves to learn to protect each other and enable everyone to contribute positively to society regardless of their differences,” he added. “The way ahead for droMo is challenging and exciting”, said Kris Prasad. “We look forward to building our strong youth and community movement and working on social justice and human rights for those with diverse sex, sexual orientation and gender identity,” he added.
Decriminalizing Homosexuality–first step to establish equality
Op-ed by Matilda Bogner
Decriminalizing homosexuality is an essential first step towards establishing genuine equality before the law
Calls for truly universal application of human rights have been gathering momentum at the global level. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, and UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon have both called for measures to counter discrimination and violence against those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex (LGBTI). Last year, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched an appeal for the worldwide decriminalization of homosexuality and for every country to ensure equal rights for all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, he said, is just that. It is universal and it applies to us all—whoever we are, whatever we look like, whoever we share our lives with. No exceptions.
Pacific Island countries have supported this call, with Australia, Fiji, Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, New Zealand, Palau, Samoa, Tuvalu and Vanuatu signing onto a joint statement of over 80 countries at the UN Human Rights Council condemning violence based on sexual orientation in March this year. The statement expressed concern at the continued evidence in every region of acts of violence and related human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity, including killings, rape, torture and criminal sanctions.
This message was underlined by a historic Human Rights Council resolution on 17 June 2011, expressing grave concern at acts of violence and discrimination, in all regions of the world, committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. The resolution requested the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to commission a study, to be finalized by December 2011, documenting discriminatory laws and practices and acts of violence against LGBTI individuals, in all regions of the world, and how international human rights law can be used to end these violations. Laws criminalizing same-sex relations between consenting adults remain on the statute books in more than 70 countries globally, including the Pacific Island countries of Cook Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Tuvalu. Such laws are an affront to principles of equality and non-discrimination and fuel hatred and violence—in effect giving homophobia a State-sanctioned seal of approval.
Recognising this, Palau and Nauru accepted recommendations to decriminalize homosexual acts during their appearances at the Human Rights Council. Pacific Island countries have now all completed the first round of the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of their human rights situation. Each country will return to the review in four years time to see what progress has been made in implementing their human rights commitments. During the most recent UPR meeting at the Human Rights Council, Samoa, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea rejected recommendations relating to the decriminalization of sexual relations between consenting adults of the same sex – citing cultural or religious reasons.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is encouraging countries to make progress in the area of LGBTI rights, and in particular the decriminalization of sexual relations between consenting adults of the same sex. In a speech on Human Rights Day (10 December) 2010, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: “As men and women of conscience, we reject discrimination in general, and in particular discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity… Where there is tension between cultural attitudes and universal human rights, universal human rights must carry the day”.
Decriminalizing homosexuality is an essential first step towards establishing genuine equality before the law. But real, lasting progress cannot be achieved by changing laws alone. We must change minds as well. Like racism and misogyny, homophobia is a prejudice born of ignorance. And like other forms of prejudice, the most effective long-term response is legal equality backed-up by information and education.
*Matilda Bogner is the Regional Representative for the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Regional Office for the Pacific, based in Suva, Fiji.
For further information and media requests to OHCHR’s Regional Office for the Pacific in Suva, please contact Communications Officer Jacob Quinn at + (679) 331 0465 (ext. 211), or by email