Article Title:"It just gives hope"
Author or Credit:Jacqui Stanford
Published on:5th June 2010 - 11:47 am
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Story ID:8897
Text:After personally writing to the UN Secretary-General to commend him for his intervention in the case of a Malawian couple jailed for sodomy, New Zealand's first openly-gay MP Chris Carter is encouraging New Zealanders to continue speaking out on global glbt rights. Ban Ki-moon Ban Ki-moon raised the case of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga with Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika during a visit to Malawi last week. The couple had been jailed under archaic sodomy laws, but was pardoned by the president almost immediately following a conversation with Ban. It was an apparently reluctant pardon, with wa Mutharika stating: "These boys committed a crime against our culture, our religion and our laws, however, as the head of state I hereby pardon them and therefore ask for their immediate release with no conditions.” “I have done this on humanitarian grounds but this does not mean that I support this,” he added. The turnaround came on the back on an international outcry against the sentences of 14 years of hard labour for the couple, who were arrested after holding an engagement ceremony. In New Zealand, the gay community spoke out through signing petitions and joining groups such as the one started by Auckland MC and radio host Steven Oates on Facebook Rainbow Labour also spoke out, calling for Malawi to honour its human rights obligations. Chris Carter One of the group's MPs Chris Carter has revealed to he's sent a letter to Ban Ki-moon, to commend him for intervening in the case. The Te Atatu MP says Ban has shown he has courage and is genuinely committed to human rights, pointing out it would have been a very hard issue to raise with Malawi's president. “I thought it was really important to try and encourage and acknowledge positive steps that had been taken. I was just so inspired by Ban Ki Moon raising this issue … I just think it was fantastic that he did.” Carter says despite New Zealand's distance from African countries like Malawi, our connections in the Commonwealth have given us a relationship with them. “Don't forget Helen Clark is also visiting these countries very regularly as UNDP Administrator. And so again they've got a connection with a New Zealander – and one who feels passionate about these issues.” The MP would now like to see law change in Malawi. He points to Africa and the Caribbean as regions with outdated colonial sodomy laws are impacting the everyday lives of glbt people and making their lives unsafe. He says India is a good example of a country that is making incredible advances towards changing its laws, adding the first gay film festival has been held in Mumbai, while it's also had its first gay liberation demonstration. “So it gives you hope that countries will eventually move with the times, really.” Carter agrees the Malawi case shows the power the international community can have when it speaks out. He is encouraging New Zealand's glbt community to continue our long tradition of being supportive of human rights and speaking out on such issues, as all international pressure helps. “It should encourage all of us that in this increasingly interconnected world, not just electronically but with mobility of people even in the developing world, that Governments are aware of foreign opinions – particularly Africa with its dependence on aid and its need to lift its own development. It will be conscious particularly of European opinion. And also that of the UN's big development agencies,” Carter says. “And it just gives hope to people that are in these countries. Never forget that there will be a huge network of gay and lesbian people in all of these developing countries.” Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga Chris Carter's letter: Mr Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary-General Executive Office of the Secretary-General of the UN Mail Centre, The United Nations 1 United Nations Plaza New York City, NY UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Your Excellency On behalf of the New Zealand Labour Party I would like to congratulate you on having the courage to intervene on behalf of Mr Steven Monjeza and Mr Tiwonge Chimbalanga; the two young men imprisoned in Malawi for being public about their homosexual relationship. This was a brave and admirable action on your part because l know many people in Malawi feel strongly about the issue of homosexuality. Without your intervention those two young men would still be serving their harsh sentence of 14 years with hard labour. A commitment and belief in human rights is very strong in New Zealand society. New Zealanders believe that freedom and respect for individual rights is something which is very important to all our people regardless of their race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. Malawi's history as a former colony should have given many Malawians an appreciation of how prejudice and stereotyping can create images of groups and communities which are harmful to individuals and can perpetuate injustice. I was fortunate to serve as Education Minister in our last Government, led by your colleague the Rt Hon Helen Clark. I know from my last role as a Government Minister that politicians have an opportunity to send important messages to the communities they represent. I hope the action of Malawian President HE Dr Bingu wa Mutharika in pardoning the two young men will cause some Malawians to think again about their attitudes toward homosexual people in their country. Your actions in seeking justice for those two young men in Malawi was very admirable and will no doubt add to your already considerable reputation as a man of honour and justice. Yours sincerely Hon Chris Carter MP New Zealand Labour Party Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Member of Parliament for Te Atatu Jacqui Stanford - 5th June 2010    
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