The island nations of Palau and Nauru have pledged to decriminalise homosexuality following an audit of their human rights as part of the UN Human Rights Council’s (UNHRC) Universal Periodic Review (UPR). The review saw an unprecedented push for an end to sodomy laws in the Pacific region.

But Western Samoa, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea (PNG) have refused to reform their laws in the face of international criticism.

At the UPR, Slovenia and France urged PNG to decriminalise homosexuality. The United Kingdom urged it to include sexual orientation and gender in anti-discrimination laws.

Spain joined Slovenia and France in urging the Solomon Islands to decriminalise homosexuality.

France, Norway and Canada urged Western Samoa to decriminalise sex between consenting adults of the same sex, while the United States urged that Samoa, “Continue its reconsideration of laws that restrict the human rights of individuals based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and repeal all such laws”.

The three nations cited cultural and religious reasons for rejecting requests to amend their laws.

In response, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Pacific regional representative Matilda Bogner called Pacific laws criminalising homosexuality “an affront to principles of equality and non-discrimination”.

“Such laws … fuel hatred and violence, in effect giving homophobia a state-sanctioned seal of approval,” Bogner wrote.

All Pacific nations recently completed their UPR appearances. The Cook Islands, Kiribati, PNG, Western Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tonga and Tuvalu all retain colonial-era anti-sodomy laws.

The OHCHR is encouraging all countries to make progress on LGBTI rights, and Bogner praised Palau and Nauru for committing to change their laws and urged them to take further steps.

“Decriminalising homosexuality is an essential first step towards establishing genuine equality before the law,” Bogner wrote. “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.”

Australia, Fiji, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, New Zealand, Palau, Western Samoa, Tuvalu and Vanuatu signed a joint statement by more than 80 countries at the UNHRC in March condemning violence based on sexual orientation and expressing concern at human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity, including killings, rape, torture and criminal sanctions.

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