Britain urged to speak up for gays mistreated abroad

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The human rights organisation Amnesty International has criticised the British Government for failing to protest about the plight of gays and lesbians tortured abroad.

The first report into the problem by a human rights organisation details the criminalisation and official mistreatment of people on grounds of sexuality in more than 70 countries.

Amnesty also reveals prejudice and ignorance on the matter among eminent international organisations. The UN's World Health Organisation only removed "homosexual orientation" from its International Classification of Diseases in 1992.

Human rights activists complained that the Government's "ethical foreign policy" does not appear to extend to any meaningful campaign against the mistreatment of gays and lesbians overseas.

The new Foreign Office minister Ben Bradshaw is gay and one of the areas he will be looking after is the Middle East, where some countries practise homophobic policies.

"We fear that this issue is not something the Foreign Office tends to raise with oppressive governments," a spokesman for Amnesty said. "It will be interesting to see whether the arrival of Mr Bradshaw would lead to this very important issue being taken more seriously. We have had a recent report from Saudi Arabia of a group of men being subjected to severe lashings for being allegedly homosexual. In some places lesbians and gays can be stoned to death. We have systematic abuse against people based solely on their sexual identity."

The report, entitled Crimes of Hate, Conspiracy of Silence: Torture and ill-treatment based on sexual identity, was launched at the Cadogan Hotel in south-west London, the scene of the arrest of Oscar Wilde for homosexuality in 1895.

The study points out that some of the countries engaged in discrimination are members of the Commonwealth and others have strong trading and political links with Britain, including Saudi Arabia and India. In the US, 20 states have laws discriminating against homosexuals.

Kate Allen, the UK director of Amnesty, said: "Laws which police the bedroom and criminalise a kiss are part of a web of global discrimination which is helping to perpetuate an appalling level of human rights abuse against people solely because of their sexual identity.

"We need to break the silence and challenge the laws and practices that can lead to sexual identity-based abuse from Colombo to Caracas."