News this weekend that the President of Malawi pardoned a queer couple who had been sentenced to 14 years hard labour for “gross indecency and unnatural acts” after a visit by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon was welcomed by human rights advocates everywhere. On Parliament Hill, there was positive reaction to the news as well.
“It clearly shows that international pressure on human rights issues is effective,” says Liberal MP Rob Oliphant. “Countries should stand up for the rights of gay and lesbian people around the world, and we do have an effect. Whether we do that multi-laterally or bi-laterally, either way it’s important for Canada and other countries who have a strong human rights record to make suggestions and comments to other countries because they do eventually change their practices.”
The President of Malawi pardoned the couple on compassionate grounds, but indicated he wasn’t changing his position on homosexuality.
“It’s a positive step, and it’s certainly better than the alternative,” says NDP MP Bill Siksay. “It shows that international pressure has had influence on the government of Malawi. Canada participated in that pressure, and I was glad to see that the President took that step.”
“The UN has been very clear on issues relating to discrimination and oppression based on sexual orientation, and I’m glad that the Secretary General personally intervened,” Siksay adds. “I think that we need to keep raising it, pushing countries about their anti-gay criminal law, pushing them about their lack of explicit human rights protection. We know that it takes some countries a while to do that. It took us a while to do that, so we should remember that we also went through a long process of getting to where we are today on these issues, and encouraging other countries to take those same kinds of steps. I don’t think there’s anything that is exclusive about our progress on those issues, that isn’t transferrable or doesn’t apply to other countries and other cultural settings.”