A LEADING Australian LGBTI advocate who was present for some of the high-level talks of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Sri Lanka has spoken out against police interference and homophobic attitudes prevalent in the South Asian country.
Kaleidoscope Human Rights Foundation’s Dr Paula Gerber called on the Australian government to commence “genuine dialogue” with nearby Pacific nations on the decriminalisation of homosexuality following the final recommendations to CHOGM by the Commonwealth People’s Forum to respect and promote the rights of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.
Gerber, along with International Lesbian and Gay Association’s Oceania representative Joey Jolene Mataele, had lobbied for the recommendations to be included in the report’s section relevant to all members of the Commonwealth, but it was eventually placed in the “recommendations relating to small states” category after lobbying by African nations and some others.
“What our recommendations would be is that the government engage in genuine dialogue with these states,” Gerber told the Star Observer soon after arriving back in Melbourne following the week-long round of meetings and talks in Colombo.
“What I mean by that is, not telling them that they must repeal these laws but having a conversation about what’s their resistance to law reform in this area, having a conversation about ways to address concerns they have about the decriminalisation of homosexuality.
“Most importantly, encouraging them to have dialogue with the LGBTI community in their country and listening to and respecting their wishes. We don’t want it to be a repeat of colonisation along the lines of, ‘you must do this’ but rather have this genuine conversation.”
A member of Monash University’s Law Faculty, Gerber (pictured) said her trip to Sri Lanka last week was an eye opener on the kinds of discrimination LGBTI people may face in the region.
The decision for Sri Lanka to host the recent CHOGM had attracted criticism from political activists as well as other Commonwealth nations, such as India and Canada, who pulled out over concerns of the Sri Lankan government’s involvement in war crimes and censorship of the media.
Gerber admitted that in her short time in the country she was made aware of several disturbing reports of homophobia and discrimination.
“Getting arrested and detained by police on absolutely trumped-up charges. Knocks on your door by the police in the middle of the night, death threats on the phone … Just intimidation tactics,” she said.
Main photo: Prime Minister Tony Abbott meeting Sri Lankan leader Mahinda Rajapaksa (CHOGM)