Jan 24, 2012 7:13 AM GMT
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird urged Commonwealth countries to protect the rights of homosexuals Monday, singling out African and Caribbean countries for criminalizing homosexuality and failing to protect gays from homophobic attacks.
Canadian gay rights activists said they were both “stunned” and “delighted” to hear Baird defend gay rights abroad.
Addressing a meeting of the Royal Commonwealth Society in London, Baird called laws criminalizing homosexuality a “hangover” from a bygone era.
“Dozens of Commonwealth countries currently have regressive and punitive laws on the books that criminalize homosexuality,” Baird said. “Throughout most of the Commonwealth Caribbean, colonial-era laws remain on the books that could impose draconian punishments on gay people simply for being gay.
“This contributes to social stigma and violence against gay people,” he said.
Baird called on Commonwealth governments to follow the example of “progressive countries” like Canada and the United Kingdom, and not “wilfully ignore” their obligations to protect the rights of citizens regardless of sexual orientation.
“We will continue to press countries in the Commonwealth to live up to their international obligations, and uphold the basic contract any government should have with its people,” he said. “The criminalization of homosexuality is incompatible with the fundamental Commonwealth value of human rights.”
[...] Helen Kennedy, executive director of Egale Canada, said she was both “stunned” and “delighted” to hear Baird sticking up for persecuted gays around the world.
Egale Canada is a Toronto-based human rights organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.
“I didn’t know it could possibly come out of mouths of one of our Conservative government members,” she said. “Kudos to Mr. Baird for stepping up.”