No. 23 of #50cases.
All over the world, and throughout history, people have had to hide their sexuality to avoid persecution. Human rights are about allowing people to live in dignity. Being forced to hide who you are is not dignity. This story is about how we protect people escaping persecution because of their sexual orientation.
HJ, an Iranian, and HT, a Cameroonian, are two gay men who asked for protection from the UK against return to their home countries. Both come from countries were being gay is heavily criminalised. HJ could face the death penalty back in Iran, and HT imprisonment back in Cameroon. At first, the Home Office denied them protection, so HJ and HT took their cases to court. Their cases went all the way up to the Supreme Court, the highest UK court, where the judges were asked whether HJ and HT could be allowed to stay in the UK as refugees on the basis of their being gay. The right to refugee protection that HJ and HT asked for comes from the Refugee Convention, a treaty created in 1951. From this convention countries around the world – including the UK – have an obligation to welcome and give protection to anyone who, back in their home country, risk being seriously harmed because they belong to a particular social group.
So the question for the Supreme Court was, does the Refugee Convention apply to HJ and HT? The lower courts had all said no, claiming that both men could have gone back home by hiding their gay identity from the public’s eye. The Supreme Court said yes. The Refugee Convention applied, and so the two men should be given refugee protection by the UK. Why? Because people should be free to live without the fear that they might be seriously harmed because they are gay. Asking them to hide their sexual identity would have been as unacceptable as asking a person to hide their religion or ethnicity.
This case is important as it confirmed that expecting people to hide their identity to avoid persecution just wasn’t right. As one of the judge said (with his tongue firmly in cheek), “male homosexuals are to be free to enjoy themselves going to Kylie concerts, drinking exotically coloured cocktails and talking about boys with their straight female mates”. He could have just said they “are to be free”.