“Today, in France, we still cannot live and love freely just as we are,” said Joël Deumier, president of the association SOS Homophobie. In its annual report published May 10, 2017, the organization stated it received 1,575 testimonies of anti-LGBT acts in 2016, an increase of nearly 20% compared with the previous year. It’s possible that the increase in reported incidents reflects a greater willingness of victims to speak out. Still, SOS Homophobie believes that many victims of anti-LGBT acts do not dare come forward.

Demonstration in support of same-sex marriage in Paris, 16 December 2012.

© 2012 Olivier Hoffschir

In 2016, SOS Homophobie received 26 reports from people who said they had a homophobic, biphobic, or transphobic encounter with justice or law enforcement officials. By this is meant that an officer refused to characterize an assault as homophobic in a complaint or to even file a complaint, or that a law enforcement officer himself discriminated against LGBT people.

While these incidents remain thankfully limited, they are no less unacceptable. France should take measures to determine how widespread these attitudes are among public officials, and to prevent subversion of their duties because of this attitude.

SOS Homophobie’s report also shows a correlation between debates over equal rights and the increase of anti-LGBT acts. The organization recorded a spike in reported incidents in 2013, the year France legalized same-sex marriage. In 2016, France adopted a law waiving the requirement for transgender people to provide proof of medical treatment to amend their legal gender. That same year saw a 76% spike in reported transphobic incidents.

While a majority of the French population is in favor of allowing same-sex couples to get married and adopt children, opponents of LGBT rights are a “vocal minority,” and are especially active on social media, where prosecution for homophobic statements remains difficult to carry out.

Several candidates for the 2017 presidential election expressed their intention to “rewrite the Taubira law” on same-sex marriage and adoption. One candidate even received the support of Sens commun, an organization openly opposed to the rights of LGBT people. When political figures take stands that are hostile to equal rights, they may “rekindle hate.”

It is high time to end discrimination against LGBT people and the French authorities have a key responsibility and role to turn this into reality.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

This week Poland’s parliament has the chance to improve the lives of transgender people by passing a law that simplifies the legal gender recognition procedure.

Recognition before the law in your preferred gender is a vital aspect of ensuring respect for the human rights of transgender people. For example, it allows transgender people to access services on an equal footing with their peers.

Transgender activists march in the 2015 Warsaw Pride holding a banner that reads "YES to Gender Accordance Act.”

© 2015 Trans-Fuzja

Momentum on this matter is building. Earlier this year, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe issued a resolution noting “the emergence of a right to gender identity”, while raising concerns that “transgender people face widespread discrimination in Europe.”

Members of Poland’s parliament will consider the country’s Act on Gender Recognition this Friday. Parliament already passed the draft legislation over the summer, although the president vetoed it last week.

The act proposes some important advances.

First, it defines gender identity as a “settled and intense experience of one’s own gender,” which may or may not correspond with one's sex assigned at birth.

Second, it eliminates the requirement for physical interventions before gender can be legally recognized, and instead makes the process a court procedure.

Third, it spells out the various documents on which applicants are legally entitled to change their gender – including education certificates, work qualifications, and health records – and allows the possibility for young transgender people, once they reach age 16, to change their name.

Access to documents in your preferred gender and name is a key element in ensuring respect for an individual’s right to personal and private life, and also allows transgender people better access to healthcare, education, and employment.

In a recent survey, 78 percent of Polish transgender people said quicker and easier legal gender recognition procedures would allow them to live more comfortably.

There’s no doubt President Andrzej Duda’s recent veto of the act was a setback. But if parliament does vote in majority support of the legislation, Poland will take a huge step forward and transform the lives of many.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Graeme Reid, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program, is an expert on LGBT rights. He has conducted research, taught and published extensively on gender, sexuality, LGBT issues, and HIV/AIDS.

Before joining Human Rights Watch in 2011, Reid was the founding director of the Gay and Lesbian Archives of South Africa, a researcher at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research and a lecturer in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies at Yale University. An anthropologist by training, Reid received an master’s from the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, and a PhD from the University of Amsterdam.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A giant rainbow flag is displayed during Hong Kong's annual pride parade on November 25, 2017.

© 2017 Aaron Tam/AFP/Getty Images

The Hong Kong government has implemented a court order to recognize same-sex spouses of residents in visa proceedings.

The case that led to the order, QT v Director of Immigration, began in 2011. “QT,” a female British expatriate was the legally recognized partner of “SS,” another woman, who moved to Hong Kong for work. The Immigration Department only allowed QT to enter Hong Kong on a tourist visa, saying their same-sex union in the UK was not recognized in Hong Kong.

In July, following several hearings before the courts, the Court of Final Appeal, Hong Kong’s highest court, ordered the government to recognize same-sex spouses for visa purposes, ruling that immigration officials had committed unlawful discrimination by disallowing QT to join her spouse on a dependent visa as can other expatriate couples in Hong Kong.

As of this week, immigration authorities are carrying out the order—the protections cover expatriate dependents who have had their relationships legally recognized abroad.

The outcome is a major boon to a city that promotes itself as a cosmopolitan international business hub. Hong Kong will host the 2022 Gay Games, the first time the international competition will take place in Asia.

The government’s implementation of the court ruling offers a glint of hope, but Hong Kong officials have in recent months also censored LGBT-themed children’s books. The government has yet to introduce legislation against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation despite an independent government-funded body’s recommendations to do so, or to recognize same-sex unions for marriage, taxation, property, inheritance or other legal purposes.

“It hardly needs to be pointed out that unlawful discrimination is fundamentally unacceptable,” the court’s judgment in QT stated. The question for Hong Kong’s authorities is whether they’re listening and prepared to take the next steps toward fundamental rights for all LGBT residents. 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am
Video

US: Doctors Still Do Harmful Surgeries on Intersex Kids

Medical professional associations should enact standards of care for intersex children that rule out medically unnecessary surgery before patients are old enough to consent.

The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), one of the United States’ oldest and largest medical organizations, has issued a policy opposing medically unnecessary surgeries on intersex children.

“Intersex” refers to the up to 1.7 percent of the population born with a range of bodily traits that do not fit conventional expectations of male or female. Their biological sex characteristics, such as chromosomes, gonads, or genitals, may differ from social expectations. These variations are medically benign, however in the 1960s surgeons popularized “normalizing” cosmetic operations. The procedures are not designed to treat a medical problem, as there generally is no medical problem. And no data has ever demonstrated that the operations help children “fit in” or “function in society,” which some surgeons say is the aim of the procedures. The operations do carry high risks of scarring, incontinence, sterilization, and psychological trauma.

“Many intersex children are subjected to genitalia-altering surgeries in infancy and early childhood without their consent or assent,” the AAFP policy reads. “Scientific evidence does not support the notion that variant genitalia confer a greater risk of psychosocial problems.”

Additionally, the policy states: “Genital surgeries should only be recommended for intersex infants and children for the purpose of resolving significant functional impairment or removing imminent and substantial risk of developing a health- or life-threatening condition.” This reflects what intersex patient advocates have been demanding for decades.

Medically unnecessary surgery on intersex children has been condemned by the World Health Organization, three former US surgeons-general, Physicians for Human Rights, the AIS-DSD Support Group for intersex people and their families, Amnesty International, UN experts, Lambda Legal, the ACLU, two pediatrics professional bodies, and intersex-led organizations worldwide.

A recent non-binding California Senate resolution called on medical associations to do exactly what the AAFP has done—create clear policy in support of the human rights and bodily autonomy of intersex youth.

Patient advocates have worked with the medical community for decades to develop standards. But medical professional associations, despite some brave physician voices, have by and large failed to regulate the practice. Other medical groups should catch up with the times and follow The AAFP’s lead, creating policies that respect the rights of all patients to bodily autonomy—even if their bodies are a little different. 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Editor's Note: On September 6, in a unanimous verdict, the Supreme Court decriminalised same-sex relations, through the repeal of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. Chief justice Misra described Section 377 as “irrational, indefensible and manifestly arbitrary.” Sri Lanka’s own Penal Code criminalises same-sex relations, through Section 365 and 365a of the Penal Code, which is based on India’s iteration. Groundviews has noted the continued stigmatisation that members of the LGBTIQ community face through militarisation, surveillance, harassment and violence – including technology-based violence.

While there has been incremental progress, such as the gender recognition certificate allowing transgender persons to change their National Identity Cards and documentation, Sections 365 and 365a remain in effect, and LGBTIQ community members continue to struggle for acceptance. This short op-ed written exclusively for Groundviews from the Advocacy Director of Human Rights Watch highlights the continued rights abuses impacting the community, which the platform has extensively covered over the years. 

The Indian Supreme Court’s landmark ruling sweeping a colonial-era law that criminalised same-sex sexual behavior into the dustbin of Indian history has made worldwide headlines. The credit must go, of course, first and foremost, to the brave petitioners, lawyers, and activists in India who led the fight. The Supreme Court of India has righted a terrible wrong. We hope it will set a precedent for courts in the Commonwealth and beyond that have similar laws facilitating prejudice, discrimination, and abuse against their LGBT communities.

The Indian Supreme Court decision referenced Pant versus Nepal, a 2007 Nepal Supreme Court decision, several times. That case led to a similar outcome in Nepal – an expression of dignity and equality before the law from the highest court to LGBT communities has been a boon for achieving tangible progress.

Not so in Sri Lanka. In 2016, Human Rights Watch released a report on the abuses the LGBT community faces in Sri Lanka, based on extensive interviews with LGBT people as well as with members of medical and other professional groups. Sri Lanka has near identical provisions to India’s in the criminal code, Sections 365 and 365A, which also criminalize same-sex conduct.

LGBT people from several different parts of Sri Lanka reported abuse by the police, with some reporting violence and sexual abuse. Transgender women reported the majority of abuses. Other LGBT people said that they were subject to extortion and bribery to avoid torture or criminal records. Victims of abuse had little or no access to medical care or legal aid. Many were unaware of the few institutions that do provide sanctuary to the LGBT community, most of which are based largely in urban centres.

Sri Lanka should now follow the example set by Nepal and India. The Sri Lankan Parliament should demonstrate broad national support for the rights of all Sri Lankans and promptly repeal the law. However, if the only resolution is through the courts, petitioners willing to challenge the law need to be enabled to confidently come forward and do so safely. For this, Sri Lanka needs to strengthen its victim and witness protection laws. The government should take this critically important step – not just for LGBT people but for all victims of abuse. The government should not stall on its protection for the rights of minority groups and other victims.

The verdict in India was celebrated across the world. Sri Lanka should be next to put an end to bigotry and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. As Sri Lanka debates a new constitution, it is critical to enshrine protection in the constitution for all minority communities. As Menaka Guruswamy, a key lawyer who led the challenge in India, noted, “The beauty of the constitution is that it compels us to unlearn our prejudices.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Video

India: Supreme Court Strikes Down Sodomy Law

India’s landmark Supreme Court decision that criminalizing consensual same-sex conduct is unconstitutional is a major victory for human rights and the LGBT people’s rights to privacy and non-discrimination in the world’s second most populous country.

In a historic ruling, India’s Supreme Court struck down parts of a colonial-era law that criminalised homosexuality. Jayshree Bajoria spoke to Arif Jafar, an LGBT activist who was arrested under section 377 and spent 47 days in prison.

“It was very traumatic,” recalls Arif Jafar, 47, outside the Supreme Court, where Thursday’s landmark ruling was delivered.

A short, bespectacled man, he wears a shiny pink button on his shirt supporting the cause dearest to his heart.

“Being denied drinking water ... being beaten up every day just because of my sexual orientation was a really horrible experience. It took me almost 17 years to even talk about it,” he said.

Jafar is one of a clutch of petitioners who approached the top court, asking them to reconsider a 2013 ruling which upheld the colonial-era law, under which homosexuality was a crime.

The law, a relic of British colonial rule, was rarely enforced. But it had long been used to discriminate against LGBT people and as a means for the police and others to harass, extort and blackmail them, members of the community say.

But for Jafar, who identifies as gay and is an LGBT activist based in Lucknow, the law went far beyond being a mere tool for persecution.

Along with four of his colleagues at the Bharosa Trust, a community-based organisation providing information, counselling, outreach, and peer support for homosexual and transgender people, Jafar was arrested under section 377 on 8 July 2001.

Before they were formally arrested, officers beat the men up in public.

‘A Homosexual Conspiracy’

Police also raided their offices and seized literature on gender, sexuality, and safe sex, and stacks of condoms, as well as a few sex toys used for demonstration purposes. All these were exhibited as evidence of their “perversion.”

“By evening, the [Indian television news channels] were splashing bulletins of a ‘gay sex racket’ and discussing theories of how I had taken funding from Pakistan to make all Indian men homosexual,” Jafar wrote in February 2018 when he finally broke his long silence about his 47 days in jail.

Police told the court that Jafar and his colleagues were part of a conspiracy to promote homosexuality. The men’s repeated pleas for bail were rejected. Jafar alleges that he and his colleagues were singled out for torture and humiliation by some police officers because of their revulsion for homosexuality.

In April 2017, two months after he finally spoke out about his ordeal, Jafar filed his petition before the Supreme Court.

The latest hearings followed a long struggle for the decriminalisation of same-sex relationships in India.

In 2013, the Supreme Court had set aside a 2009 Delhi High Court decision that section 377 would no longer apply to consensual sexual activity among adults. In reversing that decision, the Supreme Court had noted that there was insufficient evidence to prove that sexual minorities were being subjected to discriminatory treatment from the state or society.

“So I wanted to bring out my story of how I and my colleagues were affected by the law and how we are still affected 17 years later,” he said.

The case against Jafar and his colleagues has still not been resolved.

But with Thursday’s ruling, Jafar says he has finally found some solace.

Justice Indu Malhotra, one of the five judges who delivered the unanimous ruling, wrote: “History owes an apology to the members of this community and their families, for the delay in providing redressal for the ignominy and ostracism that they have suffered through the centuries. The members of this community were compelled to live a life full of fear of reprisal and persecution.”

Jafar was emotional as he recited those words to me outside the Supreme Court.

“Those words really mean a lot to us. All this journey of 30 years was worth it. Today’s judgment has made it worth it.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am
Video

India: Supreme Court Strikes Down Sodomy Law

India’s landmark Supreme Court decision that criminalizing consensual same-sex conduct is unconstitutional is a major victory for human rights and the LGBT people’s rights to privacy and non-discrimination in the world’s second most populous country.

As a young reporter back in 1991, when I interviewed a senior government official on India’s response to the HIV crisis, I recall him ranting about men who have sex with men for their “perverted” and “criminal” behavior, blaming it all on Western culture. When I defended my friends, he even warned me to stay away from “those people.”

How times have changed.

Yesterday, India’s Supreme Court ruled unanimously to strike down India’s law criminalizing same-sex relations. Justice Indu Malhotra pointedly stated that “an apology [is owed] to members of the LGBT community… for the ostracization and persecution they faced because of society's ignorance.”

People celebrate the Indian Supreme Court's decision to strike down a law criminalizing same-sex conduct, in Kolkata, India, September 6, 2018.

© 2018 DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP/Getty Images

It is to the credit of numerous activists, lawyers, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people that India has managed to overcome this ignorance in the space of a few decades.

When the Naz Foundation first filed a public interest petition in the Delhi High Court in 2001, saying its work on preventing HIV was impaired by section 377 – the penal code provision that effectively made same-sex conduct a criminal offense subject to punishment from 10 years to life. The Indian government objected, describing homosexuality as “delinquent” and “abhorrent” behavior. Yet by 2009, when the Delhi High Court for the first time decriminalized same-sex relationships between consenting adults, the government took a different view and  did not appeal the verdict.

But in 2013, the Supreme Court overturned the Delhi High Court judgment, which had been appealed by religious groups and others. However, in 2016 it agreed to review the decision and accepted fresh petitions, including from members of the LGBT community, and the final legal battle began. The Indian government did not challenge the petitions, relying, it said, on “the wisdom of the court.”

A five-judge bench of the Supreme Court has wisely ruled that the law violated the right to equality enshrined in the constitution and was being used as a “weapon of discrimination.” There is still a long battle ahead to exorcise that discrimination and prejudice, but now is the time to celebrate India. Standing in front of the court, Arif Jafar, one of the petitioners who spent 47 days in jail in 2001 after being charged under section 377, where he was beaten and humiliated, repeated Justice Malhotra’s words. “Those words really mean a lot to us,” he said. “Today’s ruling has made my 30-year journey worth it.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

India’s landmark Supreme Court decision that criminalizing consensual same-sex conduct is unconstitutional is a major victory for human rights and the LGBT people’s rights to privacy and non-discrimination in the world’s second most populous country, Human Rights Watch said today. 
 
The decision on September 6, 2018 strikes down language in Section 377 of India’s Penal Code, a relic of British colonial rule that punishes “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” with 10 years to life in prison.
 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am
Video

India: Supreme Court Strikes Down Sodomy Law

India’s landmark Supreme Court decision that criminalizing consensual same-sex conduct is unconstitutional is a major victory for human rights and the LGBT people’s rights to privacy and non-discrimination in the world’s second most populous country.

(London)—India’s landmark Supreme Court decision that criminalizing consensual same-sex conduct is unconstitutional is a major victory for human rights and the LGBT people’s rights to privacy and non-discrimination in the world’s second most populous country.

People celebrate the Indian Supreme Court's decision to strike down a law criminalizing same-sex conduct, in Kolkata, India, September 6, 2018.

© 2018 DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP/Getty Images

The decision on September 6, 2018 strikes down language in Section 377 of India’s penal code, a relic of British colonial rule that punishes “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” with 10 years to life in prison.

“The Supreme Court decision means that at long last same-sex relations are no longer a criminal offense in India,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The court has affirmed that no one should be discriminated against for whom they love or what they do in the privacy of their bedroom.”

The judges unanimously ruled that consensual same-sex relationships are no longer a crime, deeming Section 377 “irrational, arbitrary and incomprehensible.”

The court’s ruling affirmed that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in India are entitled to the full protection of both India’s constitution and international human rights law, and that laws that treat people as second-class citizens based on their real or perceived sexual orientation have no place in modern India.

The ruling follows a long struggle for the decriminalization of same-sex conduct in India. In 2001, the Naz Foundation (India) Trust, an organization working on HIV/AIDS and sexual health, filed a case before the Delhi High Court, contending that Section 377 violated both the Indian constitution and international human rights law, and that it impeded the organization’s public health outreach. In 2009 the court issued a ruling in support of the petitioners.

But the Supreme Court overturned that decision in 2013, ruling that amending the law was the responsibility of the legislature.  The reversal had devastating consequences for LGBT Indians who had come out as a result of the 2009 ruling. While it led  to only a few documented arrests, LGBT people in India continued to suffer widespread discrimination, sanctioned by a discriminatory law. They remained vulnerable to violence and extortion, including by the police.  

Activists in India filed new petitions asking the Supreme Court to review its ruling. In 2016, the court, after initially refusing to hear the review petitions, admitted the curative petitions reviving the legal battle for the repeal of the law. The petitions were referred to a five-judge Constitution Bench for detailed hearing. In January 2018, after issuing important rights-affirming rulings on privacy and on transgender equality, the court announced that it would revisit the case. In July, a five-judge bench began hearings that included new petitions filed by LGBT people.

The ruling also has significance internationally, Human Rights Watch said. Section 377 of India’s Penal Code, first implemented in 1860, served as a template for similar laws throughout much of the former British empire. Colonial governors elsewhere in Asia and Africa used the language of Section 377 in dozens of statutes criminalizing so-called “unnatural offenses” – generally understood to mean anal sex, or sodomy – while in the Caribbean, the British used different language, imposing laws against “buggery.”

Over 70 countries, including many in the Commonwealth, still criminalize consensual same-sex relations. Kenya and Botswana, both of which inherited versions of the Indian penal code during the colonial period, currently have cases pending before their courts that would also strike down laws outlawing consensual same-sex conduct.  Other countries in which courts have struck down sodomy laws in recent years include Trinidad and Tobago (2018), and Belize (2015).

The decriminalization of same-sex conduct will not immediately result in full equality for LGBT people in India, Human Rights Watch said. Transgender people in particular, including hijra communities, face discrimination in employment, housing, and health care. A draft law on transgender persons, introduced in 2016, does not go far enough in protecting trans people’s rights to legal recognition according to their gender identity.

“Striking down Section 377 is a momentous step that will resonate around the world in communities that are fighting for equality,” Ganguly said. “But like other countries, India has significant work to do to ensure that the rights of people who have been long marginalized on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity are fully protected.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Activists take part during the World Pride Parade 2017 in Quito, Ecuador on July 1, 2017.

© 2017 Patricio Realpe/Getty Images

When two same-sex couples went to the civil registry in the city of Cuenca, Ecuador to get married last April, they were refused. The registry argued no Ecuadorian laws would permit their marriage. The couples went to court.

An appeals court is set to rule on these cases in the near future. The waiting and the uncertainty may be agonizing, but there is also real hope.  

The registry’s refusal to marry the couples was no surprise. Until now, the government has only allowed same-sex couples to enter into civil unions. These do not grant them all the same rights enjoyed by married couples.

In July, two Cuenca lower courts ruled in favor of the same-sex couples, arguing that the civil registry had violated their rights to equal treatment and nondiscrimination provided for in Ecuador’s Constitution and in the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR), to which Ecuador is a party. Both courts ordered the civil registry to register the marriages and publish the decision. On the same day, the civil registry filed appeals before the Provincial Court of Cuenca.

A 2017 advisory opinion by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, citing the ACHR, said countries should recognize same-sex couples as having the same rights related to family relationships as heterosexual couples, and that governments should ensure these rights in their domestic laws, including the right to marriage.   

The court’s opinion leaves no doubt the ACHR does guarantee the right to marriage to same-sex couples. Ecuador and other state parties need to take the court’s opinion into consideration when developing their own laws and policies.  

Ecuadorean courts appear to be taking notice. In May 2018, Ecuador’s Constitutional Court ruled a girl born in Ecuador with two British mothers should be registered as an Ecuadorian citizen and the registry office should record the names of her two mothers.

As Ecuadorean society continues to engage in a healthy and responsible debate on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights, it is important for authorities to remember that, regardless of their personal positions on these matters, Ecuador is bound to enforce rights provided for in the ACHR. These include the rights of LGBT people to civil marriage equality.  

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Boris Dittrich after addressing the crowd on National Liberation Day in Haarlem, the Netherlands on May 5, 2018.

© 2017 Human Rights Watch

“Here we don’t talk about sex,” was how a diplomat in 2007 responded when I tried to talk about LGBT rights at the United Nations, shortly after I joined Human Rights Watch as advocacy director for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights program. As I prepare to leave the organization, it’s clear there have been remarkable changes during my tenure here. Back then, I had to explain to the diplomat that discussing LGBT rights means talking about equality and non-discrimination, privacy, freedom to think and to speak out, to gather peacefully with other people, to form a family, to name just a few. No special treatment, just the same fundamental rights to which all human beings are entitled.

The Yogyakarta Principles, developed in 2006, proved to be an excellent tool to demonstrate the enormous gap between universally recognized human rights and the everyday realities experienced by LGBT people. Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay took the lead in launching the Yogyakarta Principles at the UN headquarters in New York in November 2007 – three Latin American countries with strong Roman Catholic constituencies, rather than the usual Western suspects.

At that UN launch, Mary Robinson, a former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, referred to article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and made a strong plea to treat LGBT people with dignity and respect. This was the first event organized by a group of LGBT-friendly countries at the United Nations. This informal UN network, co-founded by Human Rights Watch, plays an important role in strategizing at the UN how to improve the rights of LGBT people, counter violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, and dealing with the opposition towards progress. And opposition there was.

In 2008, 57 countries led by Syria signed a petition against the rights of LGBT people by claiming that non-discrimination of LGBT people could lead to paedophilia and adultery. A driving force behind this statement was the Holy See of the Catholic Church, the only religion with speaking rights at UN meetings. Dismayed about how dangerous this hostility is to LGBT people I negotiated with the Holy See to present their vision on sexual orientation and gender identity in a public meeting at the UN. At the next meeting in the UN in New York in 2009, the Holy See showed a different face and delivered a statement opposing violence and “unjust” discrimination against homosexual persons and denounced criminalization of homosexual conduct. It was a watershed moment: Human Rights Watch still refers to this statement in countries where homosexual conduct is criminalized and there is a strong Christian influence ostracizing LGBT people, such as in the eastern Caribbean.

However, even though the Holy See clarified its position, religion is often the source of discrimination. In 2018, we  published  “All We Want is Equality,” a report about how religious exemptions are used to discriminate against LGBT people in the United States. I see the tension between freedom of religion and the rights to equality and non-discrimination in many countries.

Violence and discrimination can start early on: bullying at school because of sexual orientation or gender identity is a nasty and persistent problem. In 2001 Human Rights Watch published “Hatred in the Hallways,”  a report on LGBT youth in US schools subjected to daily abuse by their peers and even by teachers and school administrators. These violations were compounded, we found, by the failure of federal, state, and local governments to enact laws protecting LGBT students from discrimination and violence, effectively allowing school officials to ignore violations of their rights.

Bullying can lead to students dropping out, self-harm or even suicide, so Human Rights Watch has continued to investigate the right to education and bullying. In 2016, “Like Walking Through a Hailstorm” revisited the problem in US schools, finding that in many states and school districts LGBT students and teachers lack protections from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. In others, protections that do exist are inadequate and not enforced. We also reported on school bullying in Japan and the Philippines. Our reporting in Japan prompted a change in government policy and recently Japanese schools introduced uniforms designed to respect gender expression by allowing students to choose their attire.

The persecution can persist: in more than 70 countries same-sex sexual intimacy is a crime. And in many countries where it is not expressly forbidden, there are often laws or policies that make life for LGBT people very difficult. In Russia, for instance, the anti-gay propaganda law is used to impose fines against people who publicly display positive information on homosexuality.

Fortunately, there are positive examples. Mozambique decriminalized homosexual conduct in 2015. The Supreme Court of Belize declared the sodomy law unconstitutional in 2016. And in Trinidad and Tobago the High Court of Justice ruled in 2018 that the laws criminalizing same-sex intimacy are unconstitutional. The Indian Supreme Court could soon strike down a 158-year-old colonial-era law that makes “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” illegal. This would be a huge step forward for a country with more than 1.3 billion people that would, as a matter of law, respect the dignity and the rights of LGBT people.

Some of these gains were supported by strong leadership at the UN from then-UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. He addressed sexual orientation and gender identity prominently in speeches, becoming a staunch supporter of LGBT rights. Even in meetings with homophobic African leaders he talked about the need to decriminalize same-sex sexual activities. Under Ban’s watch the UN Human Rights Council passed two resolutions in favor of LGBT rights and created a new position of independent expert on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Over this past decade I have seen transgender activists become more vocal and influential, especially around getting governments to recognize gender without imposing harmful requirements. At the request of Dutch activists, Human Rights Watch undertook research on the legal situation for trans people in the Netherlands, which is often praised for being at the forefront of LGBT rights. We found that Dutch law forced transgender people to undergo sex-reassignment surgery, hormone treatment and psychiatric evaluation before being allowed to obtain identification documents reflecting their gender identity. In 2011 we presented our report to the  Dutch government, highlighting  a new Argentinean gender recognition law as a great example. Three years later, the new Dutch law doing away with these requirements came into effect.

And intersex activists have pushed a new human rights issue on to the policy agenda: of medically unnecessary surgery performed on intersex children without their consent. Together with InterAct, a US group, we investigated this practice in the US in a 2017 report “I Want to Be Like Nature Made Me.  Such medically unnecessary surgery occurs in many countries. On August 28, California’s legislature passed a resolution that supports the autonomy of intersex people and their right to decide about cosmetic surgical alteration.  

And who could forget the incredible developments towards marriage equality? As a member of the Dutch parliament in the 1990s, my resolutions to legalize same-sex marriage were adopted by the majority in parliament. It took seven years, but in 2001 the Netherlands became the first country in the world where same-sex couples could get married. Seventeen years later, 25 countries have marriage equality and Austria and Taiwan are expected to follow in 2019.

All these positive steps have come through the tenacity and perseverance of many LGBT activists and their allies, often in very difficult circumstances. I am so proud to have worked with them and to have been part of this inspiring movement.

For me, the circle is almost complete: after my political career in the House of Representatives of the Netherlands I joined Human Rights Watch. And now, after more than 11 years as the LGBT advocacy director, I will start campaigning for a seat in the Dutch Senate. I hope to be elected in 2019.

The future is not in front of us, it’s inside of us.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

An indigenous woman holds a placard reading 'My Body My Territory Is to be Respected' as she demonstrates on International Women's Day in Guatemala City on March 8, 2018. 

© 2018 Getty Images

(New York) – Guatemalan legislators should reject an extraordinarily dangerous “Life and Family Protection” bill that would seriously undermine the rights of women and LGBT people in the country, Human Rights Watch said today. The proposed legislation has been approved twice by Congress and needs a third approval, in addition to a final approval of each individual article, before being sent to the president and signed into law.

The bill expands the criminalization of abortion and could subject women who have miscarriages to prosecution – or at least to questioning by law enforcement authorities. It also includes definitions of “family” and “sexual diversity” that are openly discriminatory and run counter to basic rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.

“If Congress passes this bill, it will send the message that women and LGBT people are second-class citizens in Guatemala,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “The proposal lacks basic common sense and humanity and could even turn women and girls who miscarry into criminals.”

Under current law, abortion is legal in Guatemala only when the life of a pregnant woman or girl is in danger. The new proposal defines abortion as the “natural or provoked death” of an embryo or fetus and establishes prison sentences of up to four years for women who have an “abortion by negligence.”

If Congress passes this bill, it will send the message that women and LGBT people are second-class citizens in Guatemala.

José Miguel Vivanco

Executive Director, Americas Division

Studies suggest as many as 30 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage early in gestation, and at least 10 percent of clinically recognized pregnancies end in spontaneous abortion. Pregnancy loss can occur because of fetal chromosomal abnormalities, advanced maternal age, or prior miscarriage, all beyond the control of the pregnant woman or her healthcare provider. Spontaneous abortions occur for many reasons, and studies show that caffeine intake, legal and non-legal drugs, and smoking may contribute to risks of miscarriage.

“This bill could lead to absurd and discriminatory outcomes,” Vivanco said. “A woman recovering from a miscarriage could find herself interrogated by law enforcement about the loss of her pregnancy.”

The bill would also heavily restrict access to legal abortion for pregnant women whose lives are in danger, by requiring additional medical approvals for providers to perform life-saving, or therapeutic, abortions. Requiring additional medical authorization could render therapeutic abortion inaccessible for many women and girls in poor or rural areas with limited access to health services.

The bill criminalizes “the promotion of abortion” in broad terms, stating that anyone who “directly or indirectly” “promotes or facilitates means” for women to have abortions could be sentenced to 10 years in prison. This provision could be invoked to sanction and silence organizations or individuals that provide sexual and reproductive information, counseling, or referrals to help reduce sickness and death from clandestine and unsafe abortion, Human Rights Watch said. 

The bill also contains provisions that discriminate against LGBT people. For example, it “expressly prohibits” same-sex marriage and defines “family” as being limited to a “father, mother, and children.” The bill defines marriage as a union between people who were a man and a woman “by birth,” excluding transgender people. While same-sex marriage is currently not recognized in Guatemala, the bill would entrench and reinforce that unacceptable reality, Human Rights Watch said.

Moreover, the proposal establishes that “freedom of conscience and expression” protect people from being “obliged to accept non-heterosexual conduct or practices as normal.” This seems intended to expressly permit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, in clear violation of Guatemala’s international obligations.

“Freedom of conscience and expression are not a blank check to discriminate against LGBT people,” Vivanco said. “The ‘family protection’ provisions in this bill amount to nothing more than the promotion of homophobia.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

The process of seeking asylum is difficult for anyone, but sexual and gender minorities fleeing persecution in their home countries can be particularly vulnerable, as two recent decisions by Austrian asylum officers show.

Tattoo of a world map showing Europe and Africa, Berlin, Germany. 

© 2018 Boris Dittrich

In August, Austrian authorities rejected the asylum application of a 27-year-old Iraqi on grounds that he was behaving “like a girl” and “faking” his homosexuality. One week earlier, an 18-year-old Afghan asylum seeker was denied refugee status because, according to the adjudicating official: “Neither your walk nor behaviour nor clothing indicate in any way you might be homosexual.” (Austrian authorities subsequently distanced themselves from this decision and disciplined the official.)

“Too gay” or “not gay enough” are subjective and absurd criteria, but individuals seeking asylum based on self-declared sexual orientation sometimes find themselves subject to intrusive and inappropriate investigations.   

While EU member states are entitled to investigate the validity of individual claims, various outlandish methods have been employed. Czech authorities attempted to measure degrees of sexual arousal.   Asylum officers in the United Kingdom, Belgium, the Netherlands, Ireland, and Cyprus have been criticised for asking inappropriate, sexually explicit questions. In the United Kingdom, applicants were pressured to provide sexually explicit photographic and video evidence. Some asylum claims have been rejected on the basis that applicants can “behave discretely” and hence avoid persecution in their countries of origin – yet this is expressly rejected by the UN refugee agency guidance on refugee claims based on sexual orientation or gender identity.  

These UN Refugee Agency guidelines, along with several rulings of the European Union’s Court of Justice (CJEU), provide some parameters that immigration officers in EU countries need to respect. Instead of inappropriate medical tests, psychological assessments, invasive interrogations, or sexually explicit evidence, asylum officers should follow these clear guidelines, be knowledgeable about issues facing sexual and gender minorities, and put aside their preconceived and culturally defined notions of how lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people should behave.  

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Activists hold a National Wear V-neck Day gathering in response to seminars led by the Malaysian government on “spotting gay symptoms,” in Kuala Lumpur, September 30, 2012.

© 2012 Reuters

A Malaysian sharia court today postponed the scheduled caning of two women, charged with engaging in lesbian sex acts, until September 3, 2018 due to “technical issues.” The Terengganu Sharia court had convicted the women to six strokes with a rattan cane within the court premises.

But no “technical” fix makes this punishment acceptable. Caning as punishment for a criminal offense is a form of torture. It’s also as an affront to human dignity. The Sharia court judge who sentenced the two women told them they were being made examples of as a lesson for all society.  

Malaysia’s criminal law broadly polices people’s bodies and desires. The federal penal code criminalizes undefined “gross indecency” and “[c]arnal intercourse against the order of nature,” which is defined as penile-anal or penile-oral sex and can be punished by 20 years in prison and, like many offenses in Malaysia, by caning.

Malaysia’s 13 states and its federal territory also outlaw same-sex sexual relations under state Sharia (syariah, or Islamic law) ordinances, which apply only to Muslims and are enforced by state religious departments.  In Terengganu, liwat (sodomy) and musahaqah (sex between women) can result in up to three years in prison, fines, and up to six strokes with a cane.

The laws are rarely enforced, according to Malaysian activists. By one count, the federal anti-sodomy law had been used  seven times since 1938 – on four occasions against Anwar Ibrahim, who is now the ruling party’s president, but then was an opposition figure. Ibrahim has not spoken out against the scheduled caning.

Criminalizing adult consensual same-sex conduct violates internationally protected rights to privacy and non-discrimination. Caning violates customary international law prohibitions on the use of torture and other ill-treatment.

Malaysia is one of a small number of countries worldwide that has not ratified the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Nongovernmental organizations. Malaysia’s national human rights commission, SUHAKAM, have called on the new government – which has promised rights-related reforms – to ratify the convention and incorporate its provisions into Malaysian law.

The government should act now. It should ratify the Convention against Torture, ban caning, and rescind its anti-homosexuality laws. Also, the Terengganu authorities should reverse the conviction of the two women. No one in Malaysia should be subjected to the inhumane and degrading punishment of caning, or any other punishment, for their consensual sexual behavior.

Author: Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am