Retired Australian High Court judge Michael Kirby has called on Asian and Pacific nations to decriminalise homosexuality.
Mr Kirby told Radio Australia’s Asia Pacific program that in 41 of 54 Commonwealth nations, laws against homosexuals are still “steadfastly in force”.
“They [the laws] isolate people, stigmatise them, and make them second-class citizens,” he said.
Mr Kirby made the comments from Oslo, where he is attending a meeting of the Global Commission of HIV and the Law – a body set up by the United Nations Development Program.
Mr Kirby said laws criminalising homosexuality were “counter-productive”, particularly when it comes to HIV prevention programs.
“In respect of sex workers, it’s necessary to empower them so that they have power over their bodies, in relation to their clients. And you can’t do that if you’re criminalising them by locking them up.”
“Some very strong measures are necessary and strong political leadership is necessary.”
Mr Kirby said some countries, like Fiji, have already taken those steps.
The interim government has indicated that laws against homosexuality will not be enforced and the country’s courts have said such laws are against the constitution.
“So, strangely enough at the moment, Fiji is a leader in that respect.”
Mr Kirby remains optimistic countries in the region can overcome entrenched homophobia, in the same way Australia has.
“When people are taught to understand a certain proportion of people are gay, then punishing them is the same as punishing a person because a person is a woman, or because the person is of a different colour of skin.”