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