If you want to understand how half the countries that still criminalise homosexuality came to do so, look no further than the British Empire. The list of 84 jurisdictions across the world, compiled by the newly formed Human Dignity Trust (HDT), includes 42 Commonwealth countries, or 80 per cent of the Commonwealth community.
Almost all imported British laws in place in the late nineteenth century that, at that time, outlawed homosexual acts. It took until the 1967 Sexual Offences Act before England and Wales repealed its own legislation and until the 1980s before Scotland and Northern Ireland did the same. But those laws originally imposed during colonial times remain largely in place elsewhere, even in a post-independence era.
In five countries around the world, same sex sexual conduct carries the death penalty while across the Commonwealth penalities for homosexuality include a 20-year jail sentence plus flogging. According to the HDT, half a dozen Commonwealth countries specify life imprisonment.
Last month the Prime Minister David Cameron used a Commonwealth summit to threaten the withdrawal of British aid from countries that fail to respect gay rights. Human rights barrister and director of HDT Jonathan Cooper refuses to be drawn on “aid conditionality” but says: “Our only purpose is the decriminalisation of homosexuality and the only way to do that is through the rule of law.”
Cooper says that the organisation — which has secured £2m of pro bono work from UK law firms over the next three years — will aim to initiate at least five, and up to ten, cases a year.
The first case will be heard next month in Belize where the organisation will attempt to help overturn section 53 of the country’s criminal code. This asserts that “every person who has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any person or animal shall be liable to imprisonment for 10 years.”
List of countries/regions criminalising homosexuality
23. Nigeria São Tomé and Principe
24. North Sudan
27. Sierra Leone
29. South Sudan
6. some parts of Indonesia (South Sumatra and Aceh Province)
9. The State of Jammu and Kashmir in India
18. Saudi Arabia
20. Sri Lanka
22. Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (internationally unrecognised)
24. United Arab Emirates
27. Occupied Palestinian Territory
Latin America & Caribbean
1. Antigua and Barbuda
8. St Kitts & Nevis
9. St Lucia
10. St Vincent & the Grenadines
11. Trinidad and Tobago
4. Papua New Guinea
6. Solomon Islands
9. the New Zealand associate of Cook Islands