Commonwealth Praises India for Decriminalising Homosexuality

HYDERABAD, India, Feb. 7 /CNW/ - Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma has praised India's justice system for being the guardian of the nation's constitution. He said the Indian Supreme Court has played a pivotal role in interpreting and championing human rights.

Sharma applauded the landmark decision of the New Delhi High Court in July 2009, which decriminalised homosexual acts conducted in private by consenting adults. The Secretary-General said this was clear evidence of the judiciary's commitment to securing human rights for all, on the basis of non-discrimination.

"In July 2009, Justice Shah of the Delhi High Court took the landmark decision to decriminalise homosexual acts conducted in private by consenting adults in this country, progressively addressing a legal legacy of the British colonial era that continues to affect more than three quarters of Commonwealth countries long after Britain itself has moved on," Sharma said.

"International legal standards require that constitutions should be treated as living documents. Many Commonwealth countries are challenged with reconciling Commonwealth principles of dignity and equality and non-discrimination as well as the fundamental Commonwealth value of respect for fundamental human rights on one hand, with issues of unjust criminalisation found in inherited current domestic legislation in this area, on the other."

The Secretary-General delivered the keynote address to hundreds of Commonwealth lawyers, judges and civil society at the 17th Commonwealth Law Conference in the Indian city of Hyderabad on Sunday (6 February 2011). He said it was a pleasure to be speaking in his own country.

Mr Sharma, a career Indian diplomat, said the Commonwealth is a Commonwealth of laws and central to that is respect for the rule of law. He however added that the mixture of home-grown 'customary and religious laws' has not always addressed the needs of the core Commonwealth constituency of the vulnerable - most notably children, women and others who are disadvantaged.

Religious laws, he said, can sometimes undermine the very values of freedom and tolerance which the Commonwealth holds dear.

Pointing to the Trinidad and Tobago Affirmation of Commonwealth Values and Principles which was adopted in 2009, the Secretary-General said that member countries affirmed that their country's legislature, executive and judiciary are the guarantors of the rule of law and access to justice. They also declared that an independent judiciary is fundamental to the rule of law and is enhanced by effective, transparent, ethical and accountable governance.

Addressing the theme of the Commonwealth Law Conference, which was 'Meeting the challenges of emerging economies in keeping the rule of law,' the Commonwealth Secretary-General stressed that both democracy and development are important to achieving sustainability.

The Secretary-General was accompanied by Akbar Khan, the Commonwealth Secretariat's Director of Legal and Constitutional Affairs, who also participated on a panel discussing 'International Courts and Tribunals versus Local Justice Initiatives - the best method of achieving justice?'

The Commonwealth Law Conference is organised by the Commonwealth Lawyers Association, an international non-profit association of lawyers from across the Commonwealth.

Its aim is to maintain and promote the rule of law throughout the Commonwealth by ensuring that an independent and efficient legal profession and an independent judiciary, with the highest standards of ethics and integrity, serve the people of the Commonwealth.

SOURCE The Commonwealth Secretariat

For further information:

For media enquiries please contact Yvonne Chin, media officer, at y.chin@commonwealth.int

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