Commonwealth nations to have aid cut for gay rights abuses

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Countries that persecuted homosexuals and refused to "adhere to proper human rights" faced losing British aid, David Cameron warned yesterday.

He was speaking after Commonwealth leaders clashed over strengthening protections against prejudice and discrimination. A protracted wrangle about the appointment of an envoy to monitor human rights and democracy across the group of 54 nations failed to reach agreement.

Mr Cameron warned that state-sponsored hostility to gays and lesbians would persist for years in some Commonwealth nations – notably in Africa.

He said he had raised the issue with leaders of some of the countries responsible at the meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government in Perth, Western Australia.

A critical internal report into the Commonwealth's future relevance demanded that all member states that outlawed homosexuality lift their bans.

Mr Cameron said: "We are not just talking about it. We are also saying that British aid should have more strings attached. This is an issue where we are pushing for movement, we are prepared to put some money behind what we believe. But I'm afraid that you can't expect countries to change overnight."

He added: "Britain is one of the premier aid givers in the world. We want to see countries that receive our aid adhering to proper human rights.

"We are saying that is one of the things that determines our aid policy and there have been particularly bad examples where we have taken action."

Malawi has already had some of its aid support suspended because of its attitude to gay rights, while ministers have also raised concerns over the issue with the Ugandan and Ghanaian governments.

Interviewed by the BBC, Mr Cameron also warned Sri Lanka to improve its human rights record or face boycotts of the next summit, which it is due to host in 2013. The Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, has said he will not attend because of accusations of war crimes by Sri Lanka against defeated Tamil separatists.

Mr Cameron refused to discuss whether Britain would also stay away from the summit. "The message I have given is: The Tamil Tigers have been defeated, you're in government, you have an opportunity to show magnanimity and also to show a process of reconciliation and demonstrate to the rest of the world that you don't have things to hide."

The heads of state decided against formally publishing the report by the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group, which includes the former Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind, into how the organisation can be modernised. Sir Malcolm is said to have described the decision as a disgrace.

A British source stressed that Mr Cameron had pushed for its publication, adding: "We were trying to apply pressure, as were Australia and the Canadians. But it is an organisation that works by consensus."