Commonwealth Praises India for Decriminalising Homosexuality

By The Commonwealth Secretariat, PRNE
Sunday, February 6, 2011

HYDERABAD, India, February 7, 2011 - 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

"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

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

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.

For media enquiries please contact Yvonne Chin, media officer, at

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

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