Justin Koonin is a co-convenor of the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby.


Justin-Koonin1On July 19, Foreign Minister Bob Carr issued a statement affirming the federal government’s commitment to making LGBTI rights a core priority for foreign policy.

Barely a couple of hours later, the government announced its new policy to send all asylum boat arrivals to Papua New Guinea (PNG).

In PNG, homosexuality is a crime whose penalty carries imprisonment for up to 14 years.  While the laws are not strictly enforced, LGBTI people face discrimination in their daily lives, and often struggle to find employment.

Even without imprisonment, can we imagine how difficult it must be for an asylum seeker, possibly fleeing their home country because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, to be made to settle in a country where at best they are confined to a life of secrecy?

The question barely needs to be asked. In light of Minister Carr’s announcement and commitment, what will he do to ensure that the human rights of LGBTI asylum seekers sent to PNG are protected?

Further afield, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his government seem to be waging a veritable war on LGBTI people.   A month ago, Russia’s lower house passed a law making it illegal to promote “homosexual propaganda,” or to speak about homosexuality to minors.  The government has carried through with its threats, arresting four Dutch activists who had travelled to Russia to make a film about LGBTI rights in that country.

With concerns that Russia’s new laws would affect the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, the International Olympic Committee has issued a rare statement providing assurances from the “highest levels” of the Russian government that the news laws will not apply to athletes or visitors.

There have been further calls to boycott the Games entirely.  It remains to be seen what direction the Russian Government offensive will take.  While one would hope that full-scale boycotts will not be necessary, there can be no doubting the effect such measures had, for example, in the campaign against apartheid in South Africa in the 1980s.

We have made tremendous strides over the past few decades in securing our own freedom to live and love, but if we then turn a blind eye to our compatriots around the world who still suffer persecution, we have neglected out duty.

The Government’s commitment to LGBTI rights at an international level is significant and welcome.  We now need to see words translate into action.

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