LGBTQ+ groups slam bill deferral

Wednesday 25 November 2020 | Written by Emmanuel Samoglou | Published in Local, National

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LGBTQ+ groups slam bill deferral
Te Tiare president Valery Wichman and patron Lady Tuaine Marsters. 20072434.

LGBTQ+ rights groups say the fight for equal rights will continue, despite further delays put up by elected officials.

Same sex rights activists are blasting the government over its treatment of a draft piece of legislation that if passed in its current form would decriminalise homosexuality in the Cook Islands.

Activists and advocates for the LGBTQ+ community were hoping a select committee of MPs that has been reviewing the bill and receiving submissions from the public would submit its recommendations to Parliament during a one-day sitting of the House scheduled this Friday.

But this week Pukapuka MP Tingika Elikana, who chairs the select committee, said the review process has still not been completed and an interim report on the bill to be submitted to Parliament will seek an extension to produce the final report. That same report also says a majority of public submissions on the bill have come out against decriminalisation of homosexuality.

Yesterday, Pride Cook Islands supporter Dr Debi Futter-Puati slammed the conduct of elected officials involved in the Select Committee process.

“The constant delays and drawn out process could almost be considered a tactic to tire those of us that, for years, have been lobbying to ensure that the human rights of all Cook Islanders are upheld,” she said.

Futter-Puati said the Cabinet of Prime Minister Mark Brown has been informed that the country will be found in violation of international law if same sex relationships continue to be classified as a criminal act.

“Criminalisation of homosexuality is one of the root causes of grave and pervasive human rights violations on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity,” she said.

“These forms of criminalisation of consensual sex between adults violate international human rights law. The Cook Islands Government and Crown Law are well aware of this. Same sex relations between consenting adults should not be a crime, it is as simple as that.”

The law that currently defines criminal offences in the Cook Islands contains three provisions that have been excluded in the draft Crimes Bill, which if passed by Parliament, would supplant the older legislation.

LGBTQ+ rights activists have called for the removal of the provisions, specifically sections 154, 155, and 159 of the Crimes Act 1969.

Section 154, labelled “indecency between males” is an offence punishable by up to five years in prison.

Section 159 of the act cites “Keeping place of resort for homosexual acts” as a criminal offence. Under that section, a landlord of a premises who knowingly rents a property that’s used for “indecent acts between males” can face a prison term of up to 10 years.

In its current form, the 2018 draft of the bill does not include those sections, however the Select Committee’s interim report says a “majority” of submissions by members of the public want the controversial provisions reinstated or included in the new bill.

President Valery Wichman of local rights group Te Tiare Association said further deferral is “not favourable and we do not support it as we have waited for far too long”.

“It also brings into question the rules around deferring Select Committee recommendations and how these delays can hinder progress,” Wichman said.

“Our movement will continue to campaign and we will not give up on our campaign for equality.”

The Select Committee report tabled in Parliament in September said including the provisions in the bill would violate the Constitution if passed by lawmakers.

As a workaround, the committee tasked Crown Law with amending the 1969 Crimes Act “to ease the concern raised by the public” over exclusion of the controversial provisions.