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Govt urged to honour rights of LGBTQ+ people

Friday 28 January 2022 | Written by Sian Solomon | Published in Economy, National

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Govt urged to honour  rights of LGBTQ+ people
The Pacific Sexual and Gender Diversity Network (PSGDN) Chief Executive Officer Isikeli Vulavou. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Efforts led by the Cook Islands LGBTQ+ advocacy groups to decriminalise homosexuality has received support from a regional group.

The Pacific Sexual and Gender Diversity Network (PSGDN) called on the Cook Islands and governments of the other Pacific nations to honour the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQ+) people by ending all forms of violence, hate, and discrimination against them.

In a statement, chief executive officer, Isikeli Vulavou said governments need to “act urgently” to protect the human rights and dignity of the most vulnerable in our communities.  

Vulavou said LGBTQ+ people around the Pacific island region continue to face “widespread human rights violations” including violence, hate crime, cyberbullying, and discrimination.

He went on to say that the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has also made matters worse for the LGBTQ+ people, generating “complex challenges and risks” and hitting marginalised communities disproportionally hard.

“International human rights law establishes legal obligations on States to ensure that every person, without distinction, can enjoy these rights,” Vulavou said. 

“Failure to uphold the human rights of LGBTQ+ people against abuses such as violence and discriminatory laws and practices constitute serious violations of international human rights law and have a far-reaching impact on society – contributing to increased vulnerability to ill health, economic exclusion, poverty, strain families and communities, and social ills.”

Homosexuality is illegal in the Cook Islands. Moves to repeal the anti-homosexuality law and extend it to women in the new Crimes Bill has been delayed multiple times.

In June 2021, the Cook Islands government disclosed that work was underway to ensure that the draft Crimes Bill, which proposes to remove the ‘indecency’ provision and was stalled since its introduction in 2017, will not contain any provisions that discriminate against any resident of the Cook Islands.

The move comes after an online petition and campaign were launched back in 2019 after the Crimes Bill Select Committee recommended that provisions previously removed from the 2017 draft (criminalising homosexuality) be reinstated and extended to women following strong public opinion.

Last year the Office of the Prime Minister said the Bill had been referred to New Zealand’s Parliamentary Counsel Office for final drafting after MP’s had granted another six-month extension to the select committee charged with scrutinising the Bill and undertaking public consultations.

Cook Islands News reached out to Crown Law for information about the final draft of the Crimes Bill which was expected in November last year, and was told the Crimes Bill is “still a work in progress”.

Acting Solicitor-General, Annabel Maxwell-Scott, said: “Covid and other pressing matters have not allowed this huge piece of legislation to be completed.”

“We do have a team working on it, including technical assistance for Professor Kris Gledhill of (the) Auckland University of Technology (AUT).”

Cook Islands News reached out to a number of local rights groups including the Te Tiare Association, the local LGBTQ+ advocacy organisation, for comments but received no response.

Late last year the governments of New Zealand and the Kingdom of the Netherlands announced a partnership with PSGDN to champion equality and promote equal rights for persons of diverse sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics known as SOGIESC.

Both governments acknowledged the challenges involved in protecting and advancing SOGIESC-related rights in the Pacific.

In a joint statement, both countries said a partnership with PSGDN would help strengthen the capacity and reach of the organisation, empowering Pacific Islanders of diverse SOGIESC to have a voice in decision-making, and help achieve meaningful change for those most affected. 

They said the Covid-19 pandemic has also intensified existing barriers that prevent communities from enjoying their full human rights, including equitable access to healthcare, employment, and personal safety.

Both governments said that any persons facing multiple and intersecting forms of violence, discrimination, criminalisation, and structural exclusion can manifest as poor development outcomes for individuals as well as their countries and territories.

“All people have an equal right to live free from violence, persecution, discrimination, and stigma,” said PSGDN’s Vulavou.