The UK's Supreme Court has ruled that asylum-seekers fleeing homophobic persecution in their own countries should not simply be sent back and told to keep their sexuality a secret. The ruling was warmly welcomed by human rights and asylum campaigners.
Previously, asylum tribunals in the UK have tended to rule that gay, lesbian and bisexual victims of persecution should not be granted asylum if it was thought that life in their own countries would be “reasonably tolerable” if they hid their sexuality. This approach has now been overturned.
The Supreme Court declared that, “To compel a homosexual person to pretend that his sexuality does not exist or suppress the behaviour by which to manifest itself is to deny his fundamental right to be who he is”. They added that, “gay people should be entitled to the same rights of freedom of association and expression as straight people”.
Their judgment followed the appeal of two gay asylum-seekers, one from Cameroon and one from Iran, who said that they would be persecuted if they returned home. They are now expected to be allowed to remain in the UK.
The Supreme Court will now issue guidelines to lower courts based on its judgment. Campaigners hope that this will mean that people fleeing homophobic persecution will in future be more likely to be granted asylum.
"Today's judgment is to be applauded," said Kate Allen, Director of the UK wing of Amnesty International, “No person should be obliged to live in constant terror of persecution, nor should they be told that they are required to conceal their own sexual identity as a reasonable means of self-protection. This move is long overdue."
The judgment was welcomed by Theresa May, the Home Secretary. The government recently agreed to act on the rights of gay, lesbian and bisexual asylum-seekers as part of the coalition agreement between the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats.
Allen said, “Amnesty International hopes that this judgement will help decision-makers to get the assessment of an asylum application right first time".
Ben Summerskill, Chief Executive of the charity Stonewall, which campaigns for the rights of gay, lesbian and bisexual people, said that he is looking forward to working with ministers and the UK Border Agency (UKBA) to develop new practices. A recent report by Stonewall, entitled No Going Back accused the UKBA of institutional homophobia and said that its staff urgently needed better guidance and advice on issues relating to sexuality.