Human rights under the spotlight ahead of the Games

Human rights experts will join athletes, media and spectators in Glasgow today in advance of the Commonwealth Games.

Five days before start of the competition, and on the eve of Glasgow Pride, activists from around the world are joining with academics attending the ‘LGBTI Human Rights in the Commonwealth’ conference, which opens today at the University of Glasgow.

Currently, 42 out of 53 states in the Commonwealth criminalise same-sex sexual behaviour between adults. The recent Anti-Homosexuality Act in Uganda has extended and intensified such criminalisation, and a Supreme Court ruling in India has dashed hopes of decriminalisation.

The one-day event will discuss the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in the Commonwealth.

The conference aims to create a focus for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) human rights discussions in the run up to the Commonwealth Games and provide a space to share ideas, practice and campaigns, engaging participants in global human rights issues and ensuring the visibility of Commonwealth LGBTI people and culture.

The conference will feature three keynote speakers:

  • Fiona Hyslop MSP – Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs.
  • Frank Mugisha – Executive Director, Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG).
  • Purna Sen – Former Head of Human Rights at the Commonwealth Secretariat and current Chair of Kaleidoscope Trust.

Dr Matthew Waites, Senior Lecturer in the Glasgow Human Rights Network at the University of Glasgow, said: “The primary reason for the criminalisation that we see in Commonwealth nations today is the British Empire, which historically outlawed same-sex sexual acts around the world.

“We are interested in promoting self-conscious recognition of the historical responsibility of British imperialism for the criminalisation of relationships that exists today.  From that starting point we can then discuss our revulsion at recent renewals and extensions of colonial criminalisation and how to address these inequalities.

Dr Purna Sen, Chair of Kaleidoscope and former Head of Human Rights at the Commonwealth Secretariat, who is one of the opening keynote speakers at the conference, said: “Across the Commonwealth lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people are denied equal access to rights, education, employment, housing and healthcare, often on the basis of laws that date back to the British Empire. While it is important to note the colonial origins of much homophobic legislation, Commonwealth nations and the Commonwealth itself must do much more to uphold the values of anti-discrimination set out in the Commonwealth Charter.”

The conference has been initiated and led by Equality Network, Scotland’s LGBTI organisation for equality and human rights, in partnership with Glasgow Human Rights Network at University of Glasgow, and with Kaleidoscope Trust and Pride Glasgow.

Fiona Hyslop MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, will be representing the Scottish Government as the opening speaker. Professor Anton Muscatelli, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Glasgow, will be greeting her with other speakers including Frank Mugisha and Purna Sen, Chair of Kaleidoscope.   Further speakers will include Patrick Harvie MSP, and Monica Tabengwa of Human Rights Watch.

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