Lawmakers in the Cook Islands are moving to recriminalise homosexuality in the Pacific nation only two years after they removed language around “indecent acts between men” from a draft Crimes Bill.
A select committee that was handling the bill has now backflipped on the issue after coming under pressure from religious leaders, and the reinstated language punishing homosexuality is gender neutral so will also criminalise lesbians for the first time.
If the select committee gets its way, consensual sex acts between adults will be punished with up to five year in prison in the Cook Islands, and up to seven if anal penetration occurs.
“There were provisions removed from the draft Bill and people said they have got some concerns about it and the committee has taken that into account,” select committee chairman Tingika Elikana told the Cook Island News.
“One of the arguments surrounding it, is people are saying there is no one charged with those kind of offences like homosexuality, witchcraft, sodomy and all that.
“But they say on the other side of the coin, maybe because those provisions are there in the Act that’s why nobody is doing it, so they are doing it in the privacy of their homes which is another argument.
“If you remove those provisions then you more or less encourage it to be in the open because now there is no law that says that kind of conduct is prohibited.”
However Elikana said he did not believe the new law would be enforced if the revised Crimes Bill is made law.
“Nobody has been prosecuted and I don’t think anybody will be prosecuted but having that in the law books is probably a deterrent to people to come out in the open and be open about it,” he said.
Cook Islands LGBTQI rights group Te Tiare Association has launched an online petition campaign against the language in the revised Crimes Bill, noting that the Cook Islands is a signatory of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex.
“These nations cling to anti-gay laws enacted under colonial rule and the influence of conservative Christian missionaries,” the group wrote in an online statement.
“Our LGTBI Rainbow communities continue to experience discrimination, stigma, homophobia, violence and suicide.”
The Cook Islands are a self governing country within the Realm of New Zealand along with Niue and Tokelau.