20 years ago: the Toonen watershed case from Tasmania

April 13, 2014

On 12 April Dan Harrison, in the Australian newspaper ‘Daily Life”, recalls how the famous Toonen case – decided 20 years ago – had a tremendous impact: “The fax arrived from Geneva on a Saturday almost exactly 20 years ago. The message on United Nations letterhead that landed on the fax machine at the Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Groups office in Hobart’s Battery Point would change the lives of millions. It carried the UN Human Rights Committees finding that Tasmanian laws, which made consenting sex between adult men in private a criminal offence punishable by up to 21 years jail, were in violation of Australia’s international obligations.”Toonen’s complaint was the first about Australia to be taken to UN human rights bodies.Its success gave the Keating Government the power to pass legislation effectively overriding the Tasmanian laws and prohibiting arbitrary interference with the sexual conduct of adults in private.But its impact was felt far beyond the island state.The finding was the first time the UN had found that human rights protections extended to gay and lesbian people, providing a precedent that has led to the repeal of anti-gay laws across the globe. The case has been cited by the Indian High Court in overturning its anti-gay laws, and by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon in urging the President of Malawi to release men imprisoned for being gay .

Since then Mr Toonen has gone on fight for redress in other cases in which Australia has been found in breach of its international obligations (according to them in only in six out of 33 cases of the remedies have been complete). He  and other human rights defenders have launched a new organisation, Remedy Australia, with the aim to bring Australia’s human rights record into line with what the international community and the Australian people expect of its country. “The UN provides authoritative decisions on our human rights performance, and its up to us to ensure they’re implemented”.

via How a Tasmanian gay rights battle influenced the world.

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