Foreign Minster Kevin Rudd will call for an end to laws criminalising homosexuality at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Perth next week.

A spokeswoman for Rudd said he would raise the issue with foreign ministers from Commonwealth countries attending the meeting.

“Australia is a global advocate of non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation,” the spokeswoman said.

“Australia encourages all countries to decriminalise homosexuality by removing all laws imposing criminal penalties for homosexual conduct.

“Mr Rudd will be raising these matters with Commonwealth foreign ministers at CHOGM.”

CHOGM advisory group the Eminent Persons Group (EPG), which includes retired High Court judge Michael Kirby as its Australian representative, has recommended Commonwealth countries repeal legislation that criminalises homosexuality because anti-gay laws are hampering efforts to combat the spread of HIV.

The EPG report is part of the formal CHOGM agenda.

“Australia is encouraging all governments to respond substantively to the EPG recommendations,” Rudd’s spokeswoman said.

Earlier this month Kirby told the Star Observer he has high hopes for the three-day meeting.

“The levels of HIV infection in Commonwealth countries are double the levels in non-Commonwealth countries. It is therefore a specific Commonwealth problem,” Kirby said.

“In 41 of the 54 Commonwealth countries, the law is still in place that makes homosexual activity illegal and criminal.

“That has to change if there is to be an effective response to HIV and AIDS and I hope our prime minister can make that point as respectfully but forcefully as possible to friends in other Commonwealth countries.”

South Australian Labor MLC Ian Hunter and Melbourne-born British human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell have called for LGBT rights to be put firmly on the agenda at the meeting.

Hunter has written to Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma twice to raise concerns about homophobia and hate crimes in some Commonwealth nations and to ask that this issue be addressed at CHOGM.

Tatchell has written to British Foreign Secretary William Hague calling for LGBT issues to be raised.

“CHOGM has never even discussed — let alone declared its support for — LGBT equality and human rights,” Tatchell wrote.

“Like the United Nations, the Commonwealth is a significant international forum. CHOGM’s support for the decriminalisation of homosexuality would be a symbolic and moral victory in the long global battle for LGBT human rights.”

Many Commonwealth countries still have anti-gay laws on their statute books, often as a legacy of British colonial rule.

Despite calls for action at CHOGM in 2009, Australia did not confront Commonwealth country Uganda over a proposed anti-homosexuality bill which called for the death penalty for gay Ugandans.

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