Pride Cook Islands is elated to see the decade long active push for decriminalisation finally take place in Cook Islands Parliament.
The Crimes (Sexual Offences) Amendment Bill 2023 was passed in Parliament on Friday, 14 April. Among other things, the Bill decriminalises homosexuality which under the Crimes Act 1969 was punishable by up to five years in jail.
Pride Cook Islands, a public campaign supporting efforts to decriminalise same-sex relations in the Cook Islands and raise awareness of the LGBTQI+, says this landmark legislation will forever be remembered as the nation’s acknowledgement of the Rainbow Community and their value, importance and rightful place in society.
“It speaks to Human Rights and Equality for all,” said Karla Eggelton, president of Pride Cook Islands.
“While emotions are celebratory, we are for the most part grateful. Grateful for the support from many over the years – individuals, NGO’s, human rights movements, allies, the Government and some of the Opposition.
“This has been an exercise in endurance, commitment and faith. Pride Cook Islands along with our sister organisation, Te Tiare Association, join our Patroness – the ever-gracious and steadfast Lady Tuaine Marsters, to acknowledge all those that came before us and were not able to bear witness of this historic event.
“The journey for the Cook Islands to get to this day was one weaved with love, respect and faith. We are now truly one nation and one people.”
The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) also welcomed the decriminalisation of same sex relations by the Cook Islands Parliament.
In a statement, UNAIDS says it applauds the recent decision by Cook Islands lawmakers to remove laws prohibiting consensual sexual acts between men from the Crimes Act.
By decriminalising sex between same-sex partners, the Pacific nation joins a global movement toward affirming the human rights to non-discrimination and privacy, it said.
UNAIDS Asia Pacific regional director, Eamonn Murphy said: “Cook Islands’ latest move is part of a wave of global progress around removing laws that harm. It will inspire countries across the Pacific, Asia and the world to follow suit. Decriminalise, save lives.”
Criminalisation of same sex relations undermines the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. Punitive laws reinforce stigma and discrimination against LGBT people, eroding their access to the rights, remedies and opportunities available to other people. Such laws also obstruct access to vital services, including sexual and reproductive healthcare, said UNAIDS.
“This decision by Cook Islands will save lives,” Murphy said. “The abolition of punitive and discriminatory colonial laws across the world is essential for public health, including for ensuring the end of AIDS.”
Bi-partisan support for the Crimes (Sexual Offences) Amendment Bill demonstrates that policy-makers, civil society and communities can dialogue to develop laws that create more just and equitable societies, it said.