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Hunger strike ends after 20 days: Activists demanded decriminalization of homosexuality

PARIS -- Three gay activists on Saturday called off their hunger strike after 20 days, when doctors warned them that they were risking permanent damage to their health.

Based in France, they had been refusing food since June 25, to draw attention to the criminalization of homosexuality in more than 70 countries and to pressure the French government to honor its pledge to bring a resolution for the universal decriminalization of same-sex behaviour to the United Nations General Assembly.

The three hunger-strikers were Louis-Georges Tin, the founder of the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO); Alexandre Marcel, vice president of IDAHO-France; and Usaam Mukwaya, a gay Ugandan refugee who had been arrested and tortured in his home country because of his sexuality.

On Friday, Tin was rushed to hospital after he briefly lost consciousness and found that he could no longer walk.

“We started our hunger strike on June 25, and were getting weaker and weaker every day. The worst was not the feeling of being starving, tired or in pain; it was the total indifference of the French government,” Tin said.

“When I was taken to hospital, doctors warned that there was a serious risk to my health, especially to my kidneys. All three of us were in danger, so we decided it was best to stop.

“Unfortunately, we did not persuade the French government. This is a defeat for all the people imprisoned for homosexuality and who are expected to wait (for decriminalization), in countries like Cameroon, Uganda, Senegal and Iran.

“Politicians in Paris, London and New York don’t seem to have a sense of urgency. We’ll have to find another way to convince them that for many LGBT people decriminaliation is an emergency,” Tin said.

The hunger-strikers were praised by LGBT human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, director of the human rights lobby, the Peter Tatchell Foundation.

“It takes great strength and courage to refuse food for 20 days. This was an iconic protest to draw attention to the criminalization of millions of LGBT people worldwide. Although these three brave activists did not succeed in pressuring the French government to act, they have helped raised awareness of the global persecution of LGBT people," Tatchell said.

“Getting a UN General Assembly resolution passed would have no force in law and is unlikely to result in homophobic governments repealing their anti-gay laws. However, it would have great symbolic value; boosting the morale of LGBT activists and human rights defenders worldwide and setting an international bench-mark that the criminalisation of consenting adult sexual relations is unacceptable,” he said.

Tin said he does not regret the hunger strike ordeal.

“In more than 70 countries, LGBT people may be arrested and sent to jail just for what they are. According to us, love is no crime," he said.

“Especially on this issue, a UN resolution takes at least six months to prepare.

“Francois Hollande, our new president, who I personally met on 10 May, said he would bring a resolution on the universal decriminalization of homosexuality to the United Nations General Assembly before the November presidential elections in the United States," Tin said.

“According to what President Hollande promised us, we want France to prepare a text now, launch it with other southern and northern countries and bring it to the General Assembly before November.

“The support of the US, and Hillary Clinton in particular, is crucial. There is no way we could win without the United States, which remains the strongest diplomacy in the world, whether you like it or not. If the Republicans win in November, we will have no support from the U.S. Even if Obama wins, Hillary Clinton has already announced that she will stand down. I don't think we will get anyone who is as committed as she is (to global LGBT human rights)," Tin said.

“If Mitt Romney becomes president, U.S. diplomacy on LGBT rights will be much weaker or non-existent. The UN resolution has to be prepared now, and brought to the UN before November.

“Unfortunately, the French minister of foreign affairs is not respecting the pledge of the president. There is no action. The issue is drifting. The foreign minister says no, it is too early, too difficult, we'll see later, we have so many priorities. What a shame. Life and liberty are not a priority for the government of France,” Tin concluded.