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

Many schools across the United States remain hostile environments for LGBT students despite significant progress on LGBT rights in recent years. 

On Monday, Utah repealed a law that restricts the “advocacy of homosexuality” in schools, recognizing that young people should have equal access to information and resources regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Unfortunately, YouTube doesn’t seem to have entirely bought into that view.

Screenshot depicting Human Rights Watch's YouTube page with restricted view off (L) and again with it on. 

© 2017 Human Rights Watch

Last week, LGBT vloggers and artists drew attention to the fact that YouTube’s restricted mode – a feature that parents and schools can activate “to help screen out potentially mature content” – blocks access to a broad range of LGBT content, including age-appropriate resources aimed at LGBT youth.

As pressure from users mounted, YouTube clarified this weekend that while some LGBT videos are available on restricted mode, “videos that discuss more sensitive issues may not be.” In an emailed statement, they elaborated that these sensitive issues include “subjects like health, politics and sexuality.”

One of the videos YouTube has blocked in restricted mode is Human Rights Watch’s video on the impact of Utah’s discriminatory law – ironically, censoring a video about anti-LGBT censorship. As the video describes, barring students from accessing age-appropriate information not only deprives them of important information, but sends a stigmatizing message that their identities are wrong or inappropriate. For LGBT youth who lack resources at home or school, sites like YouTube are crucially important as sources of advice, information, and role models.

Human Rights Watch reached out to Youtube to ask why our video was classified as restricted content. A spokesperson declined to comment on any specific videos, but forwarded a link to a recent blog post recognizing that YouTube’s restricted mode “isn’t working the way it should.” The post explains that YouTube has manually reclassified some of the blocked videos, and urges patience as the company reevaluates its filtering technology.

That’s a step in the right direction. LGBT youth should be able to access age-appropriate information about their health, politics, and sexuality without feeling their identity is inappropriate. As gatekeepers for this information, it is up to providers like YouTube to ensure the basis for restricting information is clear and transparent, and that their filters don’t function in a discriminatory manner. Content creators should have a way to appeal if they believe their videos have been misidentified under the site’s restricted mode.

YouTube should ensure that its services respect the rights of all children to access information that advances their health and well-being.

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

In a major victory for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students, Utah has repealed its “no promo homo” law restricting discussions of homosexuality in schools.

On Monday, Governor Gary Herbert signed SB 196, revising a state law provision that prohibited the “advocacy of homosexuality” in schools. The provision did not specify what “advocacy of homosexuality” entailed, and it was broadly applied in many schools to silence virtually any discussion of LGBT topics.

Many schools across the United States remain hostile environments for LGBT students despite significant progress on LGBT rights in recent years. 

In 2015, I traveled across Utah to interview students, parents, teachers, and administrators about the effects of the no promo homo law, as it was known. They described how the law discouraged school personnel from intervening to stop bullying and harassment, deterred teachers from providing basic information, and limited students’ ability to form and organize LGBT groups. Their stories, which are recounted in Human Rights Watch’s recent video about no promo homo laws and report on LGBT issues in US schools, powerfully underscore why repealing these restrictions and providing accurate information about LGBT issues is vital.

 
The legislative action was in response to a lawsuit brought last fall by the organization Equality Utah and three students against the state board of education and individual school districts, alleging the law was discriminatory and restricted free speech. In February, lawmakers introduced a bill to repeal the no promo homo provision, contending that legislators should address these problems rather than waiting for the courts to resolve them.
 

Support for the measure was broad: Utah’s House voted 68-1 and the Senate voted 27-1 in favor of repeal, and the governor signed it. Prominent conservative figures also supported the repeal, noting that the revised law continues to promote abstinence outside of marriage in sex education classes.

Utah has recognized that no promo homo laws are discriminatory and harmful, and demonstrated that their repeal is possible. For the sake of their LGBT youth, lawmakers in states with similar restrictions – Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas – should now follow suit. 

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

In recent years, the United States has played a significant role protecting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, both domestically and internationally, consistent with the universality of human rights as inclusive and indivisible.

And yet, the US has included the Center for Family and Human Rights (C-Fam), a group that supports the criminalization of homosexuality, in the US delegation to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). Strange bedfellows? Apparently not.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks in the U.N. Security Council at U.N. headquarters in New York City, U.S., February 28, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

What does C-Fam stand for? Remember the outrage in the US over Russia’s “gay propaganda law” that gave permission to discriminate against LGBT people and led to a surge in violence with impunity? C-Fam is an ardent supporter of Russia’s propaganda law.

C-Fam’s director and most visible spokesperson, Austin Ruse, has called “‘the homosexual lifestyle’ harmful to public health and morals.” C-Fam regularly publishes articles attacking the fundamental human rights of LGBT people and is vehemently opposed to women’s rights, including reproductive rights. C-Fam does not accept the need for gender equality and actually aims to undermine international agreements to end discrimination, in particular the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which the US has signed but not ratified.

Under the guise of supporting families, C-Fam promotes an agenda of intolerance. Last year, ahead of a high-level meeting at the UN on the family co-sponsored by C-Fam, Ruse denounced marriage equality, saying that “the family is under extreme pressure at the UN from those who want to redefine the family and to accept the notion that two people of the same sex can create a family and adopt children.”  Lisa Correnti, C-Fam’s executive vice president and chosen US delegate, has repeated attacked the LGBT community and policies that support the human rights of LGBT people.

It is an unusual move for the US to include a group opposed to fundamental human rights in its CSW delegation. What message is the US sending around the globe? Surely this is not what UN Ambassador Nikki Haley had in mind when she pledged to “unabashedly promote American values.”

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

Michel Togué, a lawyer in the African country of Cameroon, has received death threats for defending lesbians and gays.

This one, like the others, came anonymously  “We know that your wife is now shopping in the mall. We know your children are now standing in front of their school. They will die if you don’t stop.”

After the death threats began, he requested help from the Lawyer’s Association in his country, but their president said: “Stop defending the LGBT community and you won’t have problems anymore.”

Togué filed a complaint with the police, but they laughed him away, saying, “Don’t defend those faggots.” He did not receive any protection.

On March 13 Togué, together with his colleague Alice Nkom, received the prestigious Dutch Geuzenpenning Award 2017 in Vlaardingen, the Netherlands for their courageous work. We know just how courageous they have been and how well-deserved this award is because Human Rights Watch has collaborated with these lawyers for years and documented how dangerous it is to be gay or lesbian in Cameroon.

Between 2010 and 2013 we documented 28 arrests for consensual same-sex conduct in Cameroon, and in 2013 an activist, Eric Lembembe, was brutally murdered.

In 2010, we published a report on the situation of lesbians and gays in Cameroon. In Yaoundé, Cameroon’s capital, I had meetings with the prime minister, with the justice minister, members of parliament and with representatives of the United Nations. During all my meetings I was accompanied by the leaders of two Cameroonian human rights organizations, Alternatives Cameroon and ADEPHO, and the Dutch ambassador.

Our message was the same in all our meetings: Repeal the law that criminalizes homosexual conduct with a maximum prison sentence of five years, and stop arresting lesbians and gays in the meantime.

After all the meetings, we went to an outdoor café close to the Parliament building. We wanted to report back to the members of the two Cameroonian human rights organizations. About 20 young people listened intently to our account of the meetings and were impressed that we had had a conversation about homosexuality with the prime minister and the justice minister. That had never happened before.

I invited Michel Togue to come to the Netherlands to lecture about the plight of LGBT people in Cameroon. He also spoke about the threats against him. The president of the Amsterdam Bar sent a letter of protest to his Cameroonian colleague, but to no avail. Nobody wanted to defend or protect Togue in his own country.

A year after Eric Lembembe was killed, several Cameroonian organizations sharply criticized the dysfunctional police investigation and expressed their fear that there was no political will to shed light on the circumstances of Lembembe’s killing. No one has been arrested and convicted for this murder.

As the death threats against Togue and his family escalated, he was left no other choice but to seek asylum for his wife and kids. The US government during the Obama administration granted them refugee status. His family now lives in the US. So not only gays and lesbians are victims of homophobia.

But in the threatening climate in Cameroon, Togue choose to stay. He knew that the people he represented need lawyers more than ever.

He decided not to close his law office in Cameroon, and he stayed in his country. He always says: “I cannot abandon the lesbian and gay community. They are entitled to be represented in court because human rights are universal and apply to everyone.

Michel Togué and Alice Nkom are the only two lawyers in Cameroon who have been representing the LGBT community for many years. In such a hostile environment this calls for tremendous courage. In spite of death threats, in spite of bureaucratic obstruction, they keep on doing their work.

They are often the last resort for lesbians and gays in peril. Often their clients are very poor and Togué and Nkom provide them with pro bono legal assistance.

Their perseverance has had impact. The last few years the number of arrests of lesbians and gays in Cameroon has dropped significantly. Both lawyers are very dedicated to their work at great personal expense. That’s why they deserve the Dutch Geuzenpenning Award 2017.

“Is there really hope for us?” one of the young activists asked back in 2010 after hearing about our meetings with Cameroonian officials. In part because of the courage of Togue and Nkom, the answer is “yes.”

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

Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany, December 12, 2016 

©2016 Boris Dittrich for Human Rights Watch

“Everyone is talking about preserving our values these days….Among those values is not only the protection of marriage and family, but also equal rights for different kind of relationships,” Thomas Oppermann, the head of the Socialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD) in German Parliament said in an interview in Der Spiegel on March 5.

He added that he planned to put marriage equality on the agenda for the next meeting with his partners in the governing coalition- Angela Merkel’s party Christlich Demokratische Union CDU)/Christlich-Soziale Union in Bayern (CSU).

This new move by the SPD needs to be seen in the light of the upcoming September general elections.

Am I hopeful that marriage equality will be a done deal? No. I recall my meeting a week before the 2013 elections with Johannes Kahrs, an SPD parliament member and spokesperson for the rights of LGBT people. I wanted to hear from him if the SPD took marriage equality seriously – as promised in the party program.

Kahrs looked me in the eye. “There won’t be a coalition contract without same sex marriage. Period.”

I left the meeting in high spirits. But alas, after the elections SPD and CDU/CSU presented their coalition agreement, which did not include marriage equality. Furthermore, their coalition government did not allow any support of initiatives by other political parties to introduce marriage equality legislation.

What is the political situation now? All political parties represented in the German parliament are in favor of marriage equality, except for the CDU/CSU. But a group of at least 13 CDU members have publicly spoken out for marriage equality. One of them is Jens Spahn, who is also a member of the party’s executive committee. On March 5 he tweeted “We should have marriage equality. Because it is about values.”

Approval of same sex marriage will enable gays and lesbians in Germany to marry the person they love and will strengthen the fundamental rights of everyone in Germany to equality and non-discrimination.

From a human rights perspective, broadening the scope of civil marriage to couples of the same sex is the right thing to do. The fundamental rights of equality and non-discrimination should be enshrined in Germany’s civil marriage law.

Germany should join the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, United Kingdom (minus Northern Ireland), France, Luxembourg, Ireland and Finland. All these western European countries have marriage equality.

The elections are half a year away.

Instead of making empty promises to the electorate and breaking them after the elections, the governing coalition parties should agree to change their position on same-sex marriage now.

It is time to deliver marriage equality to Germany. High time.

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

Around the world, staying closeted – invisible and silent – is the only form of protection for many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people. Paradoxically, staying quiet and invisible also makes LGBTI people vulnerable.

Participants dance with hula hoops during the 2014 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade, Australia, March 1, 2014.

© 2014 Reuters

Mardi Gras is the opposite – a highly visible and vocal public event. It is a day when LGBTI people, their families, and supporters show up and take over the streets. It is a day when a minority briefly becomes the majority. It is a day of celebration, and a day of commemoration. A marker of where we have come from, and where we are going. Mardi Gras might be old hat to some participants, but for the isolated, bullied kid, it is a beacon of hope. Pride marches originate in a refusal to live in the shadows. A common story whereby isolated individuals find each other, form community, and stand up for change.

For LGBTI people across the globe, the biggest obstacle to change is invisibility. It is a truism that visibility leads to social acceptance, precisely because LGBTI people are all around us as friends, family members, colleagues. “Silence = Death” was the ominous, prescient slogan of the direct-action group Act Up to counter the silence around homosexuality and the stigma of AIDS. And the greatest rallying cry of the LGBTI movement has been to “come out.” This is why Pride is so central to the international LGBTI movement.

Australians can take Mardi Gras for granted. Australia is no longer one of 73 countries that forbid same-sex intimacy. Neither does Australia have laws – as other countries do – that curtail the right to free expression, or inhibit freedom of association for LGBTI people. But Australia does not allow same-sex marriage, lagging behind the 22 other countries that do. This year, Human Rights Watch marches in Mardi Gras with a simple message: Australia should embrace marriage equality. 

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

Ukraine has taken another significant step toward the protection and inclusion of the country’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. In early February, the Ministry of Health released for public discussion a draft medical form for patients choosing a family doctor, as part of broader healthcare reform. In the proposed form, a Ukrainian can choose to indicate which gender they are – female or male – or choose not to indicate their gender, option N.

Ukraine’s Ministry of Health draft declaration open for public discussion. Section 4 asks people for gender and offers three options – male, female or N (Н), which means they can choose not to indicate their gender.   

If the form is adopted, for the first time in Ukraine, people who do not identify as male or female will be able to fill out an official document that acknowledges their gender identity. The transgender community is diverse, and precisely how their gender identity differs from their sex assigned at birth differs from person to person. This community includes gender variant people, whose gender identity may be somewhere on the spectrum between male and female, as well as people who may not define in terms of either male or female.

Principle 3 of the Yogyakarta Principles on the application of international human rights law to sexual orientation and gender identity affirms that people’s self-identified gender identity “is integral to their personality and is one of the most basic aspects of self-determination, dignity and freedom.”

The inclusive medical form proposed in Ukraine is a step towards ensuring people’s gender identity is respected in the process of accessing health care. Gender identity and its recognition are an essential part of any person’s wellbeing and a basic human right. Ukraine’s Ministry of Health is showing leadership in promoting respect for all Ukrainians by developing procedures and documents that recognize their diversity and fundamental right to self-expression and identity. One hopes that after the public discussion ends in March, the ministry will adopt the simple change to the form that will nonetheless have far-reaching effects. 

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

To be openly gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender in Afghanistan is to risk abuse, even death.

Despite this, lawyers working with Afghan refugees in the United Kingdom have told Human Rights Watch that they find themselves pushing back against British immigration officials unwilling to accept even these refugees, among the most vulnerable of asylum seekers.

Protesters hold up placards during a demonstration to express solidarity with migrants and to demand the government welcome refugees into Britain, in London, September 12, 2015.

© 2015 Reuters

Bizarrely, the UK immigration office states in its January 2017 guidelines on asylum claims based on sexual orientation that a gay man who “on return to Kabul, would not attract or seek to cause public outrage, would not face a real risk of persecution,” and that “it may be a safe and viable option for a gay man to relocate to Kabul.” In an annex to the official guidance, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office notes that “the only option for a homosexual individual … would be to conceal their sexual orientation to avoid punishment.”

In Afghanistan, same-sex relations are punishable by 5 to 15 years in prison under a law that bans all sex between individuals not married to each other. Afghan law specifies that marriage is between a man and a woman. Under Sharia, or Islamic law, the punishment for sex outside marriage could be a death sentence. Because the evidentiary requirements of this law are difficult to meet, this punishment hasn’t been applied by Afghan courts since 2001.

Afghan law provides no protection against discrimination or harassment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Groups working to protect LGBT people operate underground to avoid being shut down or attacked.

The latest US State Department human rights report refers to “harassment, violence, and detentions by police of gay men.” Gay men have described being beaten and threatened with death. Some have been killed by their own relatives. Lesbian and transgender Afghans also describe living in fear.

United Nations guidelines specify that LGBT people “cannot be denied refugee status based on a requirement that they change or conceal their identity, opinions or characteristics in order to avoid persecution.”

Members of the LGBT community in Afghanistan can only hope to escape abuse if they deny and suppress their sexual identities, marry as arranged by their families, have sex only with spouses, have children, and never have a sexual relationship outside that norm. But if they do, they risk arrest, prosecution, and violence from their families, the larger community and the government.

Surely this does not count as living “safely.”

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

At about 3:30 a.m. on Thursday, a 27-year-old transgender woman, Sameera Krishnan, was brutally murdered in Kuantan city, Malaysia.

Krishnan who worked in a florist shop, was attacked with a knife and received slash wounds to her hands, arm, head, and legs, and was shot up to three times. Reportedly her attackers were three masked men who had arrived in two cars.

Photo of Sameera Krishnan.

© Private

Krishnan’s funeral was held on Friday, February 24, which happened to be her birthday.

The police chief of Kuantan, on peninsular Malaysia’s east coast, stated that the authorities have started an investigation into the killing.

Transgender people in Malaysia live in a hostile environment. Malaysia is one of very few countries in the world that prosecutes individuals whose gender identity differs from the sex assigned to them at birth, simply for being who they are.

Historically, transgender people had a high degree of acceptance in Malaysia. But this began to change with a series of state legislative initiatives, beginning in the 1980s, that criminalized transgender people and forced them underground. Under these discriminatory laws, transgender people can be arrested simply for wearing clothing deemed not to pertain to their assigned sex.

In a 2014 report, “I’m Scared to be a Women: Human Rights Abuses Against Transgender People in Malaysia,” Human Rights Watch documented rights violations by state religious officials and police, including arbitrary arrests, detention, sexual assault, and torture, as well as extortion of money and sex. Human Rights Watch also identified instances of violence by private citizens, employment discrimination, and stigmatizing treatment by health workers.

Official crackdowns on transgender people came with a cost. Today, violence, aggression, and discrimination against transgender people in Malaysia are underreported because transgender people – quite understandably – do not trust the police.

The police should work to earn back some of the transgender community’s trust by conducting a thorough and professional investigation into the killing of Sameera Krishnan, and ensuring that the perpetrators are brought to justice.

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

Human Rights Watch thanks the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT) for the opportunity to give comment on revisions to the Basic Policy for the Prevention of Bullying.

Human Rights Watch is an independent nongovernmental organization that monitors and reports on human rights in more than 90 countries around the world. Our first report concerning human rights in Japan was published in 1995 and since 2009 we have had an office in Tokyo. In 2015, we undertook a six-month research project on bullying and exclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students in Japan’s schools.

We published our findings in a 2016 report “The Nail That Sticks Out Gets Hammered Down,” found at https://www.hrw.org/report/2016/05/06/nail-sticks-out-gets-hammered-down/lgbt-bullying-and-exclusion-japanese-schools.

Our research found that LGBT students in Japanese schools face physical and verbal abuse, harassment, frequent insults from both peers and staff. Hateful anti-LGBT rhetoric is nearly ubiquitous in Japanese schools, driving LGBT students into silence, self-loathing, and in some cases, self-harm. This means that LGBT children in Japan experience shame and stigma.

We also found that teachers are ill-equipped to respond to LGBT-specific bullying.  Even when individual teachers or schools attempt to support students who request protection from sexual orientation or gender identity-based harassment, their response can be inadequate. This is because teachers are often ill informed about LGBT issues and ignorant of the specific vulnerabilities faced by LGBT children. Anti-bullying policies that enumerate the needs and vulnerabilities of LGBT students will change that by allowing teachers and school officials access to appropriate training, resources, and information.

We recommended that the Ministry specify categories of vulnerable students, including LGBT students, as part of the 2016 review process stipulated in the Bullying Prevention Act. We commend the Ministry for specifying “in order to prevent bullying toward students based on their gender identity disorder or sexual orientation/gender identity, schools shouldpromote proper understanding of teachers on gender identity disorder and sexual orientation/gender identity as well as make sure to inform on the school's necessary measures regarding this matter” in the draft policy.  We recommend that this should be retained.

MEXT has been at the forefront of progress in the area of education-related rights for sexual and gender minority students. The 2015 MEXT directive sent to all school boards titled, “Regarding the Careful Response to Students with Gender Identity Disorder,” describes several accommodations schools should make regarding transgender students and also mentions “sexual orientation.”   The 2016 MEXT “Guidebook for Teachers Regarding Careful Response to Students related to Gender Identity Disorder as well as Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity” signaled an evolving view on LGBT rights and recommended several protective measures for LGBT students.

By amending the Basic Policy for the Prevention of Bullying to include “sexual orientation and gender identity,” Japan’s government is taking an opportunity to bring its policies in line with its international human rights obligations. Japan supported two recent United Nations Human Rights Council resolutions on ending sexual orientation and gender identity-based violence and discrimination, and also co-chaired the 2016 UNESCO International Ministerial Meeting: Education Sector Responses to Violence based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity/Expression. We encourage the Ministry to continue its commitment to making education accessible for all Japanese children by enumerating “sexual orientation and gender identity” in the revised policy. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Last year, we interviewed lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth from across Japan and what we heard was harrowing: harassment and violence were common, prompting some bullied kids to drop out of school. Our report shed light on the plight of this often-silenced minority, and how even well-intentioned teachers were ill-equipped to respond to cases of LGBT bullying.

That may be about to change.

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT) has added LGBT-specific protections to its revised draft on the national bullying prevention policy, scheduled to be finalized in March.

“In order to prevent bullying toward students based on their gender identity…or sexual orientation/gender identity, schools should promote proper understanding of teachers on…sexual orientation/gender identity as well as make sure to inform on the school’s necessary measures regarding this matter,” the current draft reads.

MEXT has been at the forefront of progress in the area of education-related rights for sexual and gender minority students. The 2015 MEXT directive sent to all school boards titled, “Regarding the Careful Response to Students with Gender Identity Disorder,” describes several accommodations schools should make regarding transgender students and also mentions “sexual orientation.” The 2016 MEXT “Guidebook for Teachers Regarding Careful Response to Students related to Gender Identity Disorder as well as Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity” signaled an evolving view on LGBT rights and recommended several protective measures for LGBT students.

By amending the Basic Policy for the Prevention of Bullying to include “sexual orientation and gender identity,” the government is bringing its policies in line with its international human rights obligations and reputation as a regional and international leader. Human Rights Watch’s public submission lauds this development.

Japan supported two recent United Nations Human Rights Council resolutions on ending sexual orientation and gender identity-based violence and discrimination, and also co-chaired the 2016 UNESCO International Ministerial Meeting: Education Sector Responses to Violence based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity/Expression.

Hateful anti-LGBT rhetoric is nearly ubiquitous in Japanese schools, driving students into silence, self-loathing, and self-harm. An anti-bullying policy that addresses the needs and vulnerabilities of LGBT students will change their lives by allowing teachers and school officials access to appropriate training, resources, and information.

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

Jamaica’s Sexual Offences Act (2009) is past due for review and, earlier this month, Justice Minister Delroy Chuck signaled that the crime of rape needs to be redefined in the law. He asked legal experts to come up with a “perfect definition.” The law currently defines rape as nonconsensual penetration of a vagina by a penis – a narrow definition that fails to protect male victims of rape and female victims of non-vaginal rape or vaginal penetration with an object or body part other than a penis. 

A homeless youth from the LGBT community sits in the sewer where he lives in Kingston, Jamaica. (C) 2014 Human Rights Watch

© 2014 Human Rights Watch

The law perpetuates an anomaly of Jamaica’s “buggery” laws, first promulgated by British colonial authorities in 1864. Jamaica’s Offences Against the Person Act, Section 76, includes “the abominable crime of buggery,” punishable by imprisonment for up to 10 years, with hard labor. The law draws no distinction between consensual and nonconsensual intercourse – anal sex was regarded as intrinsically nonconsensual.

In this respect, Jamaica’s laws are not unique. Vaguely defined sodomy laws are ubiquitous remnants of British colonial rule. Colonial lawmakers drew no distinction when it came to sex “against the order of nature” with any “man, woman or animal” or between consent and force. When Jamaica’s Sexual Offences Act was last revised in 2009, this narrow definition of rape remained.

Human Rights Watch reports show that the “buggery laws” contribute to a hostile climate in which discrimination and violence are rife. The distorted origins of the law, which conflated consensual and forced anal sex, means that men and women are unfairly treated for consensual sex and inadequately protected against sexual violence. 

The Justice Ministry should amend the Sexual Offences Act to remove gender specific definitions of sexual intercourse and rape, and to include oral rape and other forms of penetration. Punishment should not be determined by the sex, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity of the rapist or victim. 

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

Indonesia’s President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has an unlikely scapegoat for the country’s rise in religious intolerance and sectarianism: democracy.

Jokowi declared on Wednesday that democracy in Indonesia “has gone too far.” He blamed growing Islamic fundamentalism and sectarianism on “political freedom [that has] has paved the way for extreme political practices.”

Members of the hardline group Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) protest outside the National Police headquarters in Jakarta, Indonesia, January 16, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

Indonesia unquestionably has a problem with worsening religious intolerance and growing political clout of militant Islamists. Since President Suharto was forced to step down in 1998, viewpoints long repressed – including a strong thread of religious militancy – have emerged. Its fueled by often violent militant Islamist groups who label non-Muslim religions, excluding Christians and Jews, as “infidels,” and declare Muslims who do not adhere to their definition of Sunni orthodoxy as “blasphemers.”

Those same militants have extended that intolerance to harass and intimidate Indonesia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender population.

Jokowi’s scapegoating of democracy for these ills is disingenuous. It’s also a failure to recognize how government policies have empowered militant groups. The escalation in religious intolerance and related violence can be traced back to 2005, when then-President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono effectively legitimized religious intolerance by vowing strict measures against “deviant beliefs.” During his decade in office, Yudhoyono turned a blind eye to worsening acts of discrimination, harassment, and violence by militant Islamists against religious minorities. The complicity of police and government officials in this intolerance has continued unchecked under Jokowi.

Indonesia’s legal system perpetuates discrimination against religious minorities. Laws include the house of worship regulation, which requires minorities to get official approval to construct or renovate houses of worship, and the blasphemy law, which punishes deviations from the six officially protected religions with up to five years in prison. The blasphemy law has been used to prosecute and imprison members of religious minorities and of traditional religions. The most recent high-profile targets of the blasphemy law include Jakarta Governor Basuki Purnama, militant Islamist leader Rizieq Shihab, and three former leaders of the Gafatar religious group now on trial in Jakarta.

Jokowi needs to stop blaming democracy for rising religious intolerance. Instead, he should use the power of his presidency to eliminate these discriminatory regulations and make clear that militant Islamists as well as police and government officials will face consequences for complicity in discrimination and violence on religious grounds. Until he does, religious freedom in Indonesia will remain in peril. 

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