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International News - Rex Wockner
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Report: UK responsible for half of world's Gay sex bans
More than half of the world's remaining bans on Gay sex are relics of British colonial rule, Human Rights Watch said in a report published Dec. 17.

In a statement, the group "urged governments everywhere to affirm international human rights standards and reject the oppressive legacies of colonialism by repealing laws that criminalize consensual sexual activity among adults of the same sex."

The 66-page report, "This Alien Legacy: The Origins of 'Sodomy' Laws in British Colonialism," describes how laws in more than three dozen countries, from India and Uganda to Nigeria and Papua New Guinea, derive from a single law on Homosexual conduct that British rulers imposed on India in 1860. (The High Court in Delhi recently ended hearings in a years-long case seeking to decriminalize Homosexual conduct, and a ruling in the landmark case is expected soon.)

"In the early 19th century, the British drafted a new model Indian Penal Code, finally put into force in 1860," HRW said. "Section 377 punished 'carnal intercourse against the order of nature' with up to life imprisonment. Versions of Section 377 spread across the British Empire, from Africa to Southeast Asia."

Many of the laws persist despite the fact that England and Wales decriminalized Gay sex in 1967, Scotland did so in 1981, and Northern Ireland saw its sodomy ban struck down by the European Court of Human Rights in 1981.

"From Malaysia to Uganda, governments use these laws to harass civil society, restrict free expression, discredit enemies and destroy lives," said Scott Long, director of HRW's LGBT Rights Division.

Colonies and countries that retain versions of the British/Indian sodomy law include Bangladesh, Bhutan, Botswana, Brunei, Gambia, Ghana, India, Kenya, Kiribati, Lesotho, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Myanmar (Burma), Nauru, Nigeria, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Swaziland, Sudan, Tanzania, Tonga, Tuvalu, Uganda, Western Samoa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Governments that inherited the law but have repealed it include Australia, Fiji, Hong Kong and New Zealand.

Eleven former British colonies in the Caribbean also retain sodomy laws, derived from another British model.

Baltic nations to stage joint Gay pride
Gay pride organizers in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have decided to stage their yearly pride events jointly, rotating among the nations from now on.

The first Baltic Pride is planned for May 15-17 in Riga, Latvia, consisting of seminars, a cultural program and a parade.

"For us it is important to follow the example of Estonia and Latvia, where pride parades have already taken place for a few years and the understanding of freedom of assembly and expression has grown bigger than in Lithuania," said Lithuanian Gay League Chairperson Vladimir Simonko.

"We believe that together we are stronger than when we act each organization individually," added Linda Freimane, chairperson of the Latvian GLBT group Mozaika.

After marching inside a fenced-in park for their own safety in 2007, Gay pride celebrants took to the streets of downtown Riga in 2008. About 300 marchers and 400 anti-Gay demonstrators turned out. Police blocked the street at both ends of the march as well as streets that intersected the route. At the parade's end, the marchers escaped in buses.

In 2006, after the City Council banned the pride parade, organizers held a service at a church and meetings at a hotel. Attendees were attacked with eggs, rotten food and feces by Christian, ultranationalist and neo-Nazi protesters.

In 2005, about 150 marchers attempted to march in the streets. They were outnumbered by around 1,000 anti-Gay protesters who hurled insults, bottles and eggs; blocked the street; and forced the parade to be rerouted.

Sweden will not recognize Canadian marriage
Two Swedish Lutheran ministers, Lars Gårdfeldt and Lars Arnell, have lost their final appeal in a case seeking recognition of their Canadian same-sex marriage.

The Supreme Administrative Court agreed with lower courts Dec. 16 that foreign same-sex marriages can be recognized in Sweden only as registered partnerships.

The case targeted Sweden's taxation authority for allegedly mislabeling the couple's union.

The ruling, however, may have a limited lifespan. Sweden's government favors granting same-sex couples full access to marriage, and a new law is expected to be in place by the middle of 2009.

African Trans activists meet in Cape Town
Fifteen Transgender activists from nine East and Southern African countries met in Cape Town in mid-December in the first-ever gathering of its kind.

The African Strategy Workshop, organized by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and South Africa's Gender DynamiX, attracted delegates from Botswana, Burundi, Kenya, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

"Transgender people throughout the world experience frequent and unacceptable discrimination, violence and abuse," said IGLHRC Executive Director Paula Ettelbrick. "IGLHRC is proud to be ... taking the fight for human rights in Africa to a whole new level."

Gender DynamiX is the only Trans-rights group on the continent, and African Gay activists have concentrated primarily on GLB issues, IGLHRC said.

The Trans activists established priorities for future work, targeting education, access to health care (including hormone treatment and gender-reassignment surgery) and arbitrary arrests.

"This was a dream come true," said Skipper Mogapi of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Association's Trans secretariat. "Seeing Trans people together in their space raising their concerns without being intimidated -- we know what the issues are and can now deal with them."

Ugandan Gay activists win lawsuit
In a landmark victory, the High Court of Uganda ruled Dec. 22 that constitutional rights apply to GLBT people.

Activists Victor Mukasa and Yvonne Oyoo had sued the attorney general following a 2005 raid at Mukasa's home in which documents were seized and Oyoo was arrested, assaulted and sexually harassed. Mukasa was not present at the time of the raid.

Justice Stella Arach Amoko found that the raid violated the activists' rights to, among other things, liberty, privacy, dignity, and protection from unlawful entry, unlawful search, unauthorized seizure and inhuman treatment.

"The actions of the officials that molested Victor Mukasa and Oyoo were unconstitutional, inhuman, and should be condemned," Arach Amoko said.

"It was my dream that justice would come and it has come," Mukasa said after the ruling. "And it is my bigger dream that justice will come to every human being in Uganda who is oppressed. This does not mark the end. The struggle continues until every human being is free."

With assistance from Bill Kelley

pictures top: Scott Long
bottom: Riga

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