Category Archives: World Affairs

Democracy Rules the waves

Gay Rights Flag

The right of someone to love another of the same sex has progressed exponentially over the past 50 years in the United Kingdom, Europe and America.  In the UK, it was the Buggery Act 1533 which outlawed homosexuality which was punishable by death – defined as “unnatural sexual act against the will of God and man”.

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This Act remained on the statute books until being repealed and replaced by the Offences against the Person Act 1828, with buggery remaining a capital offence until 1861.  It was not until the Sexual Offences Act 1967 that homosexuality was decriminalised – sort of…there were a couple of caveats:

1) it had to be consensual
2) take place in private
3) only involve people 21 years or older

Sitting in 2014 – with all the comforts that modern living brings with it – including a feeling of security and state protection, it’s difficult to fully comprehend what my life would have been like had I not been born in the late 1970s.

Well, kind of.  We need to look no further than Africa or Russia to see how a government and the people within it – can persecute and harass minority groups who pose no threat to them or their way of life – other than a dislike of their practice.

Gay rights campaigner arrested in Russia
Gay rights campaigner arrested in Russia

But lets be reasonable, the maltreatment of minorities – in whatever form it be, is not new; is not limited to sexuality and does not seem likely to end any time soon.

Listening to Radio 4’s serialisation of the book/turned film “12 Years a Slave” today, I was reminded that as human beings, we have a history of being horrible to each other.  There appears no end to our nailing, hanging, whipping, stabbing, slapping, dicing or slicing each other.  In the book Solomon Northup regales such horrific tales of torture and enslavement – you cannot read those events without deep feelings of enragement and pity.  Pity for those humans enslaved and the human race for all our inadequacies that allow us to do horrible things to other people.

Solomon Northup
Solomon Northup

That so much progress can be made in one part of the world whilst rescinded in another is heartbreaking.  But the curbing of minority rights in countries such as Uganda or Russia should be seen in their totality.  The Russian state has been curbing any kind of dissent – especially that which highlights corruption at a local or national level.  Russia is a hostile place to live if you want to be critical or outspoken about the Putin’s government.

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Reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch highlighted “In the year since Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency in May 2012, the Russian government has unleashed a crackdown on civil society unprecedented in the country’s post-Soviet history.  The authorities have introduced a series of restrictive laws, harassed, intimidated, and in several cases imprisoned political activists, interfered in the work of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and sought to cast government critics as clandestine enemies, thereby threatening the viability of Russia’s civil society.”

However, it is not the state acting alone, especially when it comes to homophobia.  Data which has been published by the Pew Research Centre shows that nearly three quarters of Russians believe that homosexually is morally unacceptable.  The Russian Orthodox Church has been very vocal in its anti-gay rhetoric .

In 2013, ahead of a vote on the “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” bill, gay rights activists attempted to hold a “kissing rally” outside the Duma, the Russia legislative building in Moscow.  CBS News reported that the activists “were attacked by hundreds of Orthodox Christian activists and members of pro-Kremlin youth groups. The mostly burly young men with closely cropped hair pelted them with eggs while shouting obscenities and homophobic slurs.”

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In Uganda, political corruption is rife and government spending out of control.  There is a  HIV/AIDS epidemic with more than 1.1 million people, or 4% of the population living with AIDS; leading to high mortality rates, high infant mortality rates with the overall standard of living decreasing.  In Uganda there is only one political organisation that is allowed to operate without any restrictions.  Literacy rates are low with only 56.5% of females and 30.7% of males having any form of literacy.  With religion playing such a crucial role in the country – daily preachings from the pulpit denouncing people who are gay –  no wonder the population are suspicious. So, don’t blame the people – blame the government and blame religion.

The Russian’s think we in the West are all Fascists and many Africa states think that we are still trying to impose our old colonial ways and dictate how they live and think.

Frankly, the homophobia that spills out from the governments of these countries is endemic of places that are in the midst of turbulent times where the value placed on life is low and individuality a sign of disobedience.  We in Britain are lucky. We have a functional government and although we moan and complain about our politicians – I have no doubt that they and our leaders do have our interests at heart.  Whether it be David Cameron, Ed Milliband or Chris Smith of the Environment Agency – when confronted by angry members of the public – the only thing hurt is their ego.  We should be pleased about that.

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Chris Smith gets grilled

Accused of genocide? Better get here quick….

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We have a peculiar set up in 21st century Britain whereby If I was to say or write something derogatory about someone in another country – if they were to protest and take me to court – chances are I’d be hauled in front of a Judge to defend my words.  It seems, however, if someone abroad commits horrendous acts of slaughter, rape or genocide and then flees to our country, our Government is rendered incapacitated to extradite them back to their country of origin by our Courts – in case to do so leads to their torture or death.

And so, they flood here, knowing that our strong humanist beliefs will shelter them from their past indiscretions and enable them, sometimes people who have killed many, to share the same bus or restaurant as our unsuspecting non-murderous citizens who’d be affronted if they knew the true unpleasant history of the person(s) that shares their space.

We wonder why our country has such a bad reputation the further East one sails – we are seen to espouse standards and export morals that we ourselves do not abide by.  If you live in Africa, Iran, Afghanistan or Iraq and know, or even simply suspect, that a man who’d killed, tortured and maimed many people – including some of your own relatives, was walking free and protected by England and English law you’d be sick to your stomach.  You’d wonder at the double standards that doesn’t allow this man who’d brutalised your friends, neighbours, your children to be brought back to your country and account for the crimes committed.

And they are right.  We often condemn Russia for protecting known hitmen and I’m sure there would be absolute outrage in this country if a person killed hundreds of our citizens, fled to Iran and was then protected by the state.  Yes, you can argue that once returned we would not torture and we would not executed. However, with regard to the latter these are our standards that are not universally excepted.

Human rights are crucial and come from one of the worst moments in our history on this planet – Hitler and the Nazi’s.  We must not forget the circumstances that brought in these laws, however, must not allow the continual reinterpretation between different generations of judges and lawyers to decimate credibility in what is about protecting the innocent – not harbouring the guilty.