Uganda anti-gay bill has potential to divide Commonwealth leaders
Uganda's anti-gay bill has the potential to divide Commonwealth leaders who are scheduled to meet in Port of Spain, capital of Trinidad and Tobago, from November 27-29, where the global challenges of climate change, poverty and the financial crisis will be discussed.
The Commonwealth convenes for a summit this week amid growing furor over a proposed law that would impose life imprisonment on homosexuals in Uganda, whose President is chairing the gathering.
The law, proceeding through Uganda's Parliament and supported by some of its top leaders, would imprison anyone who knows of the existence of a gay or lesbian and fails to inform the police within 24 hours. It requires the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality" – defined as any sexual act between gays or lesbians in which one person has the HIV virus.
The controversy is growing because Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni is the chairman of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Trinidad and Tobago, which opens on Friday with Stephen Harper joining the leaders of 52 other countries.
If it is raised at the summit, the issue has the potential to divide Commonwealth leaders, who hold deeply polarized views on homosexuality. A number of Commonwealth countries, including Canada and Britain, have liberal views on the subject, but many African and Caribbean nations are socially conservative and maintain laws on their books that criminalize homosexuality.
Commonwealth member-states with diverse social, political, and economic backgrounds co-operate within a framework of common values and goals.
The goals include the promotion of democracy, human rights, good governance, the rule of law, individual liberty, social justice, fair trade, multilateralism, regional and global peace.
Its mandate is to strengthen civil society and gender equality, and the priorities include poverty reduction, sustainable people-centred development, and promotion of arts and culture.
The Commonwealth is a unique organisation. Its membership includes countries of all continents. Almost one-third of the world's population lives in the Commonwealth countries. Countries of all races and religions are its members, including the richest and the poorest.
Within the Commonwealth, there are the Commonwealth Foundation, Commonwealth Games, Commonwealth Business Council and Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation. They all are based on cooperation characterised by commonwealth values.
Two Commonwealth Declarations are important -- one is the Harare Declaration of 1991 on democracy and the other is the Edinburgh Declaration of 1997 regarding trade and economic cooperation. The Harare Declaration affirmed that the Commonwealth countries must abide by democratic pluralism and free media.
Whenever any country strays from these ideals, it is either suspended or expelled. Zimbabwe pre-empted its expulsion by withdrawing from it in 2003 because of its undemocratic practices. Pakistan was twice suspended (1999 and 2007) for its military rule.
The conference meets every two years in capitals of member-states. Normally, the heads of states/governments meet to discuss global and regional issues affecting them. Bilateral issues are also discussed on the sidelines.
Declining an invitation to attend as a special guest, President Barack Obama will not attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.
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