A new British legal rights group will this week kick off a global campaign to decriminalise homosexuality in scores of countries across the world when it embarks on a first test case in the courts of Belize.
The Human Dignity Trust (HDT), which launched its campaign in London on Thursday, is targeting the 80-odd states where consensual sexual activity between adults of the same gender is outlawed. More than half are Commonwealth countries which inherited their regulations from British colonial rule. In some like Uganda, Kenya, Cameroon and Ghana the laws are seen by some as justification for violent attacks on gay and lesbian people.
Lord Goldsmith, the former attorney general, will be among the team of lawyers fighting to overturn section 53 of Belize’s criminal code, which enacts that: "Every person who has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any person or animal shall be liable to imprisonment for 10 years."
The hearing, scheduled to begin on 5 December, has been brought by the gay Belizean activist Caleb Orozco. It is shaping up to be a constitutional legal clash with international political dimensions.
Belize’s evangelical, Anglican and Catholic churches have united to oppose the application. They are expected to set out their objections in a pre-hearing review on Friday and seek to introduce evidence that homosexuality can be "cured".
In a joint statement earlier this summer, the churches in Belize declared: "In every country that has granted a new ‘right’ to homosexual behaviour, activists have promoted and steadily expanded this ‘right’ to trump universally recognised rights to religious freedom and expression."
Announcing that they have also retained a high-powered legal team, the Catholic bishop Dorick Wright, the Anglican bishop Philip Wright and the evangelical Rev Eugene Crawford said: "The people of Belize will not surrender our constitution, our moral foundations, and our way of life to predatory foreign interests."
The courtroom battle in Belize is the first in the HDT campaign. Challenges to homophobic laws in Northern Cyprus and Jamaica, where there are so-called "anti-sodomy laws", should be lodged before Christmas. Cases in other states will follow in the new year.
Criminalising homosexuality is illegal under international law, according to Jonathan Cooper, a human rights barrister who is the trust’s chief executive. Among the legal authorities establishing that precedent is a 1994 ruling by the UN’s human rights committee based on a case in Australia.
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