“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

Today, hundreds of activist groups throughout the world will gather to mark the 8th annual International Day for Trans Depathologization – a global event to raise awareness about the limitations that abusive and discriminatory medical models place on transgender people’s basic rights.

Participants March during the Tokyo Rainbow Parade. On October 22, hundreds of activist groups throughout the world will gather to mark the 8th annual International Day for Trans Depathologization. Despite progress, governments around the world, including the Japanese government, propagate medical and policy paradigms that deem trans people "mentally ill."

©2015 Reuters/Thomas Peter

Transgender activists are fighting a tide of stigma and discrimination, with roots deeply entwined in a medical system that has historically diagnosed this very desire to change as a mental health condition. It’s currently referred to as “gender dysphoria” in the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual and as “gender identity disorders” in the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases.

Despite progress in countries such as Malta, Norway, Argentina, and Nepal, governments around the world propagate medical and policy paradigms that deem trans people “mentally ill.”

For example, transgender people who want to change the gender on personal documents in Kazakhstan are required to undergo surgical procedures, hormone therapy, and a humiliating “evaluation” interview before a commission of “experts.” Japanese law requires a diagnosis of “gender identity disorder” and then mandates surgical procedures and hormonal interventions, even if the person doesn’t want them.

Healthcare professionals have an important role providing care for transgender people, free from discrimination and to the highest standard possible. But the process for legal recognition of gender identity should be separate from any medical interventions. In 2015, the World Professional Association of Transgender Health called on governments to “eliminate unnecessary barriers and to institute simple and accessible administrative procedures for transgender people to obtain legal recognition of gender.”

The World Health Organization is considering major changes to its revised version of the International Classification of Diseases, due out in 2018, in the hopes of significantly transforming the way physicians around the world code and categorize transgender people’s experiences. The proposed revisions would move transgender-related diagnoses out of the mental disorders chapter and into a new sexual health chapter – an important step. Human rights issues, such as legal recognition, should be separate from any medical interventions. But if someone’s personal transition process requires medical support, those services should be available and accessible.

All governments should commit to the core principle that they will not decide for people who they are.

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

When Sibongile Ndashe, a South African feminist lawyer, got on a plane to travel to Tanzania to convene a meeting of human rights lawyers and activists, she knew she might come under the scrutiny of Tanzanian authorities. But what she did not expect was for Tanzanian police to raid the October 17 workshop at the Peacock Hotel and arrest her and 12 of her colleagues for “promoting homosexuality.”

The 13 were hauled to a police station, where an officer granted them bail without laying formal charges.

A day later, Lazaro Mambosasa, Dar es Salaam head of police, confirmed the arrests to the press, claiming the “criminals” had violated Tanzanian law. While it is true that “carnal knowledge against the order of nature” is criminalized in Tanzania under a colonial-era law, by no measure of the imagination is it a crime to hold a meeting. In fact, the meeting, which had been organized by the Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa (ISLA), a Pan African organization whose mandate is to advance women’s and sexual rights, was not even about homosexuality. Its aim was to explore the possibility of mounting legal challenges to the government’s ban on drop-in centers serving key populations at risk of HIV, as well as the ban on importation of water-based lubricants, an essential HIV prevention tool.

Inexplicably, the bail was revoked on Friday, October 20. Ndashe and her colleagues are now back in custody on unknown charges but potentially facing criminal prosecution.

The arbitrary arrest of the 13 lawyers and activists is a sign of the Tanzanian government’s increasing lack of tolerance for freedom of assembly and freedom of expression. The recent arrests follow a disturbing pattern, in which several dozen people have been arrested since December 2016 for “homosexuality” or “promoting homosexuality”. In most of these cases police have not presented any evidence whatsoever suggesting that those detained have engaged in same-sex conduct.

The truth is that the lawyers and activists are not being held for promoting homosexuality, but for challenging absurd, reactionary policies that could cost many HIV positive people their lives. Tanzanian police should immediately release Sibongile and her colleagues and drop any politically motivated charges.

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

Maxim Lapunov, centre, at a news conference in the office of Novaya Gazeta newspaper, Moscow.

© 2017 Human Rights Watch

Yesterday, I ran a news-conference at which a man described how he was rounded up and tortured during Chechnya’s anti-gay purge in the spring. One of dozens of victims of this large-scale “cleansing” operation against gay people in Chechnya, Maxim Lapunov, 30, is the only one who has dared to file an official complaint with the Russian authorities and then talk to the media, without hiding his face or real name. He is also the only non-Chechen local security officials had targeted because of his homosexuality.

As Lapunov spoke to a roomful of journalists, reliving the horrific experience of beatings and humiliation during his 12-day confinement in a dark, fetid basement, his hands shook and he had to stop several times to regain composure. On 16 March, security officials dragged him into a car in central Grozny, where he had been selling bright, festive balloons, took him to a police compound, pulled out several grisly torture devices, threatened to use them on him and to “tear him apart”.
 
The officials forced Lapunnov to call a gay acquaintance and invite him to a “meeting” — in fact a set-up with security officials waiting. Lapunov slept on the blood-stained floor of a tiny basement cell. He was beaten, and witnessed and heard as security officials beat and tortured other men presumed to be gay with electric shocks. Close to 30 others assumed to be gay were held at the facility during his time there — along with other detainees who weren’t part of the anti-gay round-ups.

Maxim Lapunov telling his story at a news conference in Moscow, October 16, 2017.

© 2017 Human Rights Watch

Lapunov did not expect to survive. His legs, buttocks, ribs and back were all black and blue. When his torturers finally released him, he “could barely crawl”. Six months later, he still wakes up in a cold sweat from the piercing screams of other detainees in his nightmares.

Facing a broad international outcry over the purge, the Kremlin gradually moved from shrugging off the allegations to pledging to conduct an effective investigation and opening a federal-level inquest. However, high-level officials repeatedly flagged that not a single victim had stepped forward. They did not acknowledge the depth and legitimacy of victims’ fears about coming forward but rather used this to justify the investigation’s apparent lack of progress.

Like the rest of the victims, Lapunov had every reason to fear retaliation by Chechen authorities, especially as the security officials who released him warned him to keep silent. But, as a Russian man from Siberia who had gone to Chechnya for work, Lapunov did not have to face what every Chechen man caught in the purge feared: being targeted by his own relatives for “tarnishing family honour” or exposing his entire family to overwhelming stigma because of his homosexuality. It took Lapunov months to reach a decision, but ultimately he felt that no matter the risk of retaliation, he could not live without justice.

In August, with the help of Russian human rights lawyers, Lapunov met with the federal ombudsperson, Tatiana Moskalkova, who in May had stressed her readiness to speak to “anyone who wants protection and official investigation.”On 22 September, Moskalkova forwarded his statement to federal investigative authorities. Lapunov and his lawyers had several meetings with investigators and asked to travel to Chechnya with the investigative team to examine sites and interview alleged suspects and witnesses. Lapunov kept it quiet from the media, giving the investigation ample time to take some meaningful steps. But after almost a month, nothing happened. He requested government protection, but the investigation has made no arrangements to accommodate his request. Lapunov and his lawyers believe that media exposure is their only hope to get the system to budge.

Since Lapunov started his quest for justice, he has received threats from Chechnya. Nevertheless, he perseveres. “We all have rights…,” he said, “If we just let it be [in Chechnya], it’ll start happening across the country… and we’ll never know whose son or daughter will be taken next.”

Lapunov needs justice. The Russian authorities have no excuse not to deliver it to him and to the rest of the victims of Chechnya’s anti-gay purge.

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

A medical report filled out by a doctor in Kampala, Uganda, after conducting a forced anal examination on a man suspected of consensual same-sex conduct.

© 2016 Neela Ghoshal/Human Rights Watch

 

(Nairobi, October 17, 2017) – Doctors, medical professionals, and national medical associations should heed the World Medical Association’s October 2017 resolution to end forced anal examinations on people accused of homosexual conduct, Human Rights Watch said today. The General Assembly of the World Medical Association (WMA), an international organization consisting of national medical associations from 111 countries, condemned the use of forced anal examinations to seek evidence of consensual homosexual conduct.

Forced anal examinations, based on long-discredited 19th century science, often involve doctors or other medical personnel forcibly inserting their fingers, and sometimes other objects, into a person’s anus to attempt to determine whether that person has engaged in anal intercourse. The exams, relied upon as “evidence” in prosecutions for consensual same-sex conduct in some countries, have no scientific basis, violate medical ethics, and constitute cruel, degrading, and inhuman treatment that can rise to the level of torture.

“The jury is no longer out. There is no excuse for governments to continue conducting forced anal exams on people accused of homosexuality,” said Neela Ghoshal, senior researcher on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights at Human Rights Watch. “The World Medical Association has added its voice to an overwhelming consensus that forced anal exams are unethical, unscientific, and unjustifiable on any grounds.”

The World Medical Association resolution calls on doctors to stop conducting the exams. It calls on national medical associations to issue written communications prohibiting their members from participating in them, and to educate doctors and health workers about “the unscientific and futile nature of forced anal exams and the fact that they are a form of torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.” It also calls on the World Health Organization to make an official statement opposing forced anal exams as unscientific and in violation of medical ethics, which would build on an existing reference that condemns the practice.

The resolution, proposed by the South African Medical Association with the support of Human Rights Watch, has been through a year-long review and feedback process, allowing all members to comment in advance of adoption. It passed unanimously, with two abstentions.

At the General Assembly session, the association also adopted a revised “Physician’s Pledge,” which calls on doctors to refrain from discrimination on a number of grounds, including sexual orientation.

Several countries that have not yet eradicated forced anal examinations have made recent progress toward ending them, Human Rights Watch said. Governments in Lebanon and Tunisia have taken steps toward banning forced anal exams. Tunisia recently accepted a recommendation to end the exams during its Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations Human Rights Council, although it remains to be seen whether Tunisia will rigorously enforce the ban. In both cases, national medical associations played a key role in shifting their governments’ positions. The Kenya Medical Association, in September, became the latest medical association to condemn the use of forced anal examinations, although the Attorney General’s Office has attempted to defend their use.

Other countries lag behind. In Egypt, men and transgender women arrested on charges of “debauchery” are systematically referred to the Forensic Medicine Authority, a branch of the Justice Ministry, for forced anal examinations, and the results are regularly used in court to put people behind bars on the grounds of their presumed sexual orientation. Since late September, according to Egyptian human rights activists, at least five Egyptians have been subjected to forced anal exams as part of a vicious crackdown after several young people waved rainbow flags at a concert.

And in Tanzania in late 2016, police resorted to forced anal examinations to seek “proof” of homosexual conduct for the first time, as far as Human Rights Watch has been able to determine, as part of a broader campaign against LGBT people and their allies. Neither the Egyptian Medical Association nor the Medical Association of Tanzania, both members of the WMA, have publicly condemned the exams.

Other countries in which Human Rights Watch has documented the use of forced anal exams between 2010 and 2015 include Cameroon, Turkmenistan, Uganda, and Zambia. Human Rights Watch has received reports of government authorities ordering forced anal exams on people accused of homosexual conduct in Syria and the United Arab Emirates, but has not been able to independently verify these allegations.

“Doctors play a critical role in upholding ethical standards and are often part of the moral compass of society,” Ghoshal said. “In Egypt, in Tanzania, and in all countries in which people are being subjected to forced anal examinations, doctors should take the lead in ending these horrific abuses.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Indonesian police in Jakarta raided a sauna popular with gay men on Friday night, arresting 51 people.  It's the latest in a slew of actions targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in the country.

Sebuah kelompok yang menentang komunitas Lesbian, Gay dan Transjender (LGBT) sedang bersiap untuk menghadapi kelompok pro-LGBT yang melakukan protes tandingan di Monumen Tugu, Yogyakarta, pada 23 Pebruari.

© 2016 Andreas Fitri Atmoko/Antara

Most of those arrested were released Saturday, but police have detained five employees of the sauna – four men and a woman – who face charges of violating the Law on Pornography. That law prohibits such acts as sex parties, the use of pornography, and “deviant sexual acts,” which is defined to include: sex with corpses, sex with animals, oral sex, anal sex, lesbian sex, and male homosexual sex.

This is at least the fifth raid targeting LGBT people in private spaces in 2017. On March 28, unidentified vigilantes forcibly entered an apartment in Aceh province and took two men in their twenties to the police for allegedly having same-sex relations. Two months later, authorities publicly flogged the two young men. On April 30, police raided a private gathering of gay and bisexual men in Surabaya, arrested and detained 14 of them, and subjected them to HIV tests without consent. On May 21, police raided the Atlantis Spa in Jakarta, arrested 141 people, and charged 10 for holding an alleged sex party. On June 8, police in Medan apprehended five “suspected lesbians” and ordered their parents to supervise them – and shared a video of the raid and the names of the five women with reporters. And on September 2, police in West Java province entered the private home of 12 women they suspected to be lesbians, and forcibly evicted them from the village.

Anti-LGBT incidents across Indonesia have significantly increased since a January 2016 spike in noxious rhetoric from public officials and politicians. In October 2016, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo broke his long silence on escalating anti-LGBT rhetoric and violence by defending the rights of the country’s LGBT community. He declared that “the police must act” against actions by bigoted groups or individuals to harm LGBT people or deny them their rights, and that “there should be no discrimination against anyone.” In September, Indonesia announced at the United Nations Human Rights Council that the government would “take further steps to ensure a safe and enabling environment for all human rights defenders,” including LGBT activists, and implement freedom of expression, association, and assembly rights – including for LGBT people.

But despite such promises from Indonesia’s leaders, they have taken no action. And it appears in such an environment of impunity for anti-LGBT abuses, the police have realized the vague and discriminatory pornography law can be used to target this already vulnerable minority. 

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

Supporters of contraception rally before Zubik v. Burwell, an appeal brought by Christian groups demanding full exemption from the requirement to provide insurance covering contraception under the Affordable Care Act, is heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington March 23, 2016. 

© 2017 Reuters

US employers can now exclude some or all contraceptive methods from their employee’s healthcare coverage, based on their “religious beliefs and moral convictions,” because of two interim rules issued by the US Department of Health and Human Services today.

The two rules put many women’s access to contraception in jeopardy, undoing protections for women’s reproductive healthcare in the wake of another failed Congressional attempt to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

Under the Affordable Care Act, health insurers and employers who provide coverage are required to include certain preventative services, including contraception, in their plans. Religious employers were exempted from the contraception requirement, and religious nonprofit organizations and certain closely held corporations could request an accommodation whereby insurers would provide coverage to their employees directly. 

Today’s rules gut this provision, allowing nearly any employer to exclude coverage.

The rules go into effect immediately, allowing employers who choose to avail themselves of this new discretion to deprive their employees of coverage for family planning services and reproductive care. Currently, an estimated 62.4 million adult women are eligible for coverage for preventative services under health insurance provided by their employers. Many could lose access to affordable contraception, potentially forcing those who cannot afford to pay out-of-pocket costs to forego birth control altogether.

The rules are the latest example of the Trump Administration going out of its way to roll back existing legal interpretations and regulatory positions that have helped protect the rights of millions from discrimination and other interference. The Department of Justice recently filed an amicus brief before the Supreme Court arguing that the protection of freedom of expression exempts some businesses from the requirements of state non-discrimination laws that protect LGBT people in the public sphere.

The department today issued new guidance asserting the rights of religious objectors to operate according to their beliefs. Across the US, lawmakers are considering or adopting similar laws that shield service providers from facing consequences if their religious beliefs compel them to discriminate against women, LGBT people, and those of other faiths.

In Alabama, Michigan, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, and Virginia, for example, the state is generally barred from taking action against state-funded adoption and foster care agencies that discriminate based on religious beliefs. In Tennessee, counselors and therapists can turn away LGBT people on religious grounds. And in Mississippi, a broad law will take effect next week that protects those who discriminate based on their beliefs that marriage is between one man and one woman, that sexual activity outside of such a marriage is wrong, or that a person’s sex is immutable and defined at birth.

As important as it is to protect the freedom of religion, it should not be used to roll back protections that allow women, LGBT people, and others to access goods and services or exercise their rights.

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

Young people wave a rainbow flag at a Cairo concert featuring the Lebanese band Mashrou’ Leila. Activist Ahmed Alaa confirmed that he raised a rainbow flag at the concert in a Buzzfeed video including this image prior to his arrest. 

© 2017 Private
(Nairobi, October 6, 2017) – The Egyptian government has intensified its campaign against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and their supporters, arresting dozens of people in less than two weeks, Human Rights Watch said today. A media regulatory body has also banned all “positive” reporting on homosexuality.

Since September 22, 2017, when several young people waved rainbow flags at a Cairo concert featuring the Lebanese band Mashrou’ Leila, security forces have been relentless in their bid to track down people suspected of being gay or supporting LGBT rights – most of whom had no involvement with the rainbow flag display. According to one Cairo-based LGBT rights organization, there have been at least 43 arrests under Egypt’s abusive laws that outlaw “debauchery” and “incitement to debauchery.” Another group monitoring the arrests, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), put the figure as high as 54.

“Egypt should immediately halt this vicious crackdown on a vulnerable group simply for waving a flag,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa Director at Human Rights Watch. “Repression will not turn gay people straight – it will only perpetuate fear and abuse.”

As of October 4, courts had sentenced at least six people to between one and six years in prison for “debauchery” and “incitement to debauchery.” Others are scheduled to stand trial on October 12 and October 29. An appeal is scheduled for October 11 in the case of the first man arrested, who was sentenced to six years in prison on September 26.

On October 1, Egypt’s Supreme State Security Prosecution ordered two activists, Sarah Hegazy and Ahmed Alaa, to be detained for 15 days pending investigation for allegedly joining a banned group aimed at interfering with the constitution. Hegazy told her lawyers that police officers at al-Sayeda Zeinab Police Station in Cairo allowed fellow detainees to beat and sexually harass her after informing them of the reason for her arrest.

Alaa, who confirmed raising the rainbow flag in support of Mashrou’ Leila’s openly gay lead singer, said in a BuzzFeed video before his arrest that he had received death threats. Egypt is a member of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, which calls on all member states to protect people from violence on the grounds of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

Rights groups in Egypt said that security forces have subjected at least six of the people detained to forced anal examinations, which often involve a doctor inserting a finger or object into the anus of the accused person and drawing conclusions about their alleged sexual behavior. These exams have no scientific basis and have been denounced by African and international human rights bodies as cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, which can constitute a form of torture. Lebanon and Tunisia have both banned anal exams, following pressure from human rights groups and medical associations, but Egypt still publicly defends them.

In the midst of this latest crackdown, the Supreme Council for Media Regulation – a government body established in 2017 whose head is appointed by the president – issued an order that prohibits the “promotion or dissemination of homosexual slogans.” It adds that “it is forbidden for homosexuals to appear in any media outlet whether written, audio or visual, except when they acknowledge their wrong conduct and repent for it.”

The council, which has the power to fine or suspend media outlets, refers to homosexuality as “a pure, great and eternal evil that must be rooted out.” It calls on the media to “shed light on these dangers, and discuss them in an objective, scientific framework that aims to convey the danger of the problem, not celebrate it.”

“There’s no possible objective or scientific reason to throw people in prison simply because of their sexuality,” said Whitson. “Given the mass arrests and climate of fear, truly objective reporting on this issue and giving LGBT people a voice is more important than ever.” 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

People protest U.S. President Donald Trump's announcement that he plans to reinstate a ban on transgender individuals from serving in any capacity in the U.S. military, in Times Square, in New York City, New York, U.S., July 26, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a directive this week stating that Title VII in the 1964 Civil Rights Act does not prohibit discrimination in the workplace on the basis of gender identity.

The memorandum reverses the position that the Justice Department took in 2014, when then-Attorney General Eric Holder determined that discrimination on the basis of gender identity is a form of sex discrimination. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission had reached the same conclusion in a landmark ruling in 2012, and multiple federal courts have found that Title VII covers transgender peopleas well.

Sessions’ memorandum is the latest instance where the Justice Department has adopted positions that weaken non-discrimination protections for LGBT people. In February, the department withdrew guidance clarifying that the sex discrimination provisions of Title IX protect transgender students in schools. In July, it filed a brief arguing that Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination does not include discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. And in September, it told the Supreme Court that a baker who declined to create a cake for a same-sex wedding should not have to comply with state non-discrimination laws protecting LGBT people.

These actions give the distinct impression that the Justice Department is uninterested in fighting discrimination against LGBT people. But transgender people in particular face rampant discrimination in the United States, and action to combat workplace discrimination is urgently needed. The National Center for Transgender Equality’s 2015 survey of almost 28,000 transgender people in all fifty states found that the unemployment rate for transgender people was three times higher than the general public. And of those who were employed, 30 percent said they had experienced discrimination or harassment in the workplace in the previous year because of their gender identity.

Title VII has been a lifeline for transgender people fighting back against workplace bias, and the Justice Department has offered no alternatives to combat discrimination and protect LGBT people’s rights. If the Justice Department truly believes that discrimination is wrong and should be confronted, it is running out of time and credibility to prove it.

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

Campaigners protest for LGBT rights in Chechnya outside the Russian embassy in London, Britain, June 2, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

I recently met two Chechen gay men living as refugees in Western Europe in a bustling café. Both were in their early twenties, both looked around nervously. After we shared some pleasantries, "Bula" and "Zelim" (not their real names) cut to the chase.

“We were abducted, tortured in Grozny. The police extorted us for money because we are gay. They threatened to disclose our sexual orientation to our families. We paid them a lot to avoid that,” Bula and Zelim said. They had fled Grozny before this year’s purge against gay men. Bula, handed me his cell phone, showing me a picture of himself with a broken nose and a black eye.  “This happened in Moscow where I was hiding after I fled from Grozny. I was attacked by two Chechens who came to look for me. After that I escaped to Western Europe in 2016.”

Even then, the threats continued.  “A few days ago,” Bula said, “the police came to my parent’s house in Chechnya. They demanded that I come back. If not, they said they would return to take revenge and arrest my father. Arrest means torture or worse.”

I tried to grasp at something positive. “This is really terrible for your mother, but fortunately you are safe here.”

That proved naïve.

“We received text messages from people we met only once or twice in Grozny. They say they want to meet with us here in this country or elsewhere in Western Europe. But we suspect they want to trick us and abduct us to Chechnya.” Bula wiped the sweat from his palms with a napkin.

They had fled far from home. But it seemed Chechen authorities knew where to find them.

Bula’s eyes filled with tears. “We violated the honour and reputation of our country by asking for asylum based on our sexual orientation and now they want to punish us. If not the government, then our families are expected to kill us. This happened to some of our friends.”

We were quiet for some time, letting these words sink in. Then Zelim said: “I miss my mother.”

Canada, France, Germany, and the Netherlands all accepted gay refugees from Chechnya after pressure from human rights organizations. It’s a small success, but safety is relative. Although Bula and Zelim have escaped immediate danger, their problems are far from over.

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

Participants hold a banner as they march during the Tokyo Rainbow Pride parade in Tokyo April 26, 2015.

© 2015 Reuters

The 30-year anniversary revival broadcast of a popular Japanese television show “Tunnels” sparked public outrage when an episode that aired in late September featured “Homoo Homooda,” a character crafted around offensive stereotypes of gay men, and a cabal of other characters who joined in the chorus of anti-gay remarks during the program.

It was a harsh reminder of times past – albeit not ancient history. It was just seven years ago when Tokyo’s governor publicly called gay people “deficient,” and two years ago when another politician tweeted that gays were “abnormal.” But while “Homoo Homooda” seemed to still live in his 1980s world, Japanese society has moved on.

The broadcast sparked a public outcry; 104 groups and individuals – including prominent business executives and opinion leaders – submitted a letter of complaint to Fuji TV and the program’s sponsors the following day. Many activists also shared their personal childhood experiences on social media, recalling how they felt uncomfortable and scared of being bullied by classmates who imitated “Homoo Homooda” at school.

During a regular media briefing on September 29, the president of Fuji TV, Masaki Miyauchi, apologized for any part of the program that created discomfort, but did not say whether the company was planning to take any steps in response to the criticism.

Japan has no legislation protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people from discrimination and does not grant legal recognition to same-sex couples. It also treats transgender people requesting legal recognition as having “Gender Identity Disorder” and coerces them into undergoing unnecessary and invasive medical procedures.

However, the country has experienced dramatic changes in public attitudes toward the issue over the past few years. Some municipalities now recognize same-sex partnerships, and the national government has taken some steps toward bringing its policies in line with its international human rights obligations, including its revision in March of the Basic Policy for the Prevention of Bullying to include LGBT students.

Whether the government’s progress recognizing that LGBT people have the same right to dignity as everyone else in Japan will be reflected in an evolving Japanese media is an open question.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am
© 2014 LEGABIBO

In a legal first for Botswana, the country’s High Court has ruled that a transgender man should be allowed to hold official documents that reflect his gender identity. The judgment is a huge victory for transgender people in Botswana, who face considerable challenges when their gender identity is not reflected in official papers.

The applicant who brought the case was assigned female at birth, but self-identifies as a man. The court found that by refusing to change the man’s gender on his identity document, Botswana’s Registrar of National Registration had violated several of his basic human rights.

For the plaintiff, this marks a personal milestone. As he told me: “I am overjoyed and humbled at the same time, to have finally found the legal relief I have sought for the past seven years of my life.”

But the case also has broader resonance, which is why the Southern African Litigation Centre (SALC) supported it. SALC lawyer, Tashwill Esterhuizen, described the judgment as a “monumental victory” for the rights of transgender people in the region.

This is not the first time the country’s vulnerable lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community have had their fundamental rights upheld by the courts. In another progressive judgment last year, the Botswana Court of Appeal upheld the right of LEGABIBO, a lesbian, gay, and bisexual advocacy group, to officially register as a nonprofit organization after it was initially refused by the Registrar’s director and the country’s labour and home affairs minister, who tried to argue that the group was operating for an “unlawful purpose”.

Although some consensual same-sex acts are criminalized in Botswana, where “carnal knowledge against the order of nature” can land you up to seven years in prison, the judgment in the LEGABIBO case said that laws prohibiting some sexual acts do not criminalize homosexuality per se, and that sexual minorities have the same rights as anyone else. Botswana also has a progressive labor law that protects employees from discrimination due to sexual orientation.

This recent High Court judgment affirms trans people’s right to have the gender they identify with legally recognized. It also shows the value of independent courts in Botswana acting to uphold the rights of minority groups.  

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

Isa Shahmarly, former chair of the Free (Azad) LGBT group, whose experience as a gay man in Azerbaijan, drove him to suicide. In September 2017, police in Azerbaijan started a violent campaign, arresting and torturing men presumed to be gay or bisexual, as well as transgender women. 

© Azadliq Radiosu (RFE/RL)
(Berlin) – Police in Azerbaijan have conducted a violent campaign, arresting and torturing men presumed to be gay or bisexual, as well as transgender women, Human Rights Watch said today.
 
Human Rights Watch interviews with released detainees and lawyers confirmed that since mid-September, police in Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital, have detained dozens of people on dubious charges, beating and using electric shocks on some of them to coerce bribes and information about other gay men. Government officials have not denied the crackdown, and have instead attempted to justify it on spurious morality and public health grounds.

On October 3, 2017, a lawyer representing some of the detainees told Human Rights Watch that on the evening of October 2, police began to release the detainees, and that by October 3, many had been released.

“The round-ups in Azerbaijan fit a familiar horrifying narrative that exploits so-called traditional values to justify violence against sexual and gender minorities,” said Graeme Reid, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights director at Human Rights Watch. “Authorities are targeting gay and bisexual men and transgender women using tactics that indicate an intent to continue, and widen, the crackdown.”

A thorough independent investigation is warranted, and those responsible for arbitrary arrests and, in particular, for torture and other ill-treatment should be held accountable, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch interviewed five gay men, three of whom had been detained during the September 2017 round-ups, as well as human rights activists and lawyers representing dozens of detainees in various courts in Baku.

An October 2 joint statement by the Interior Ministry and the Prosecutor General’s Office confirmed that police detained 83 people in the round-ups. Lawyers Human Rights Watch spoke with confirmed the names of 45 gay and bisexual men, and transgender women, who were detained and sent by courts to up to 30 days’ administrative detention in September, along with at least 10 others who were fined and released immediately. The lawyers said that the overwhelming volume of arrests means there are many cases they are unable to address or document. The media have reported unconfirmed accounts of up to 100 arrests.

Two of the men Human Rights Watch interviewed were detained in the Organized Crime Unit, known as Bandotdel, and reported that they were tortured. According to lawyers, during court hearings at least 34 other detainees described severe ill-treatment, including beatings, and said that police forced them to sign false statements. The lawyers said that police had shaved the heads of transgender women detainees. 

The Azerbaijan government decriminalized same-sex conduct in 2000, but there are no officially registered or operational LGBT groups. The government also has a long record of using bogus charges to jail or fine government critics, whom police in some cases physically abuse in custody, Human Rights Watch said.

Lawyers representing people rounded up told Human Rights Watch that there were numerous procedural violations in their cases. Police pressured detainees to sign statements refusing the services of a lawyer, telling them that hiring a lawyer would only make their situation worse. The detainees were not allowed access to lawyers before and during their hearings, and were able to access lawyers only after they decided to appeal their administrative detention sentences.

Lawyers said that their clients were all charged with “disobeying police orders,” an administrative offense that may result in a custodial sentence for up to 30 days. The October 2 joint statement by the Interior Ministry and Prosecutor General’s Office said that some were arrested on charges of “petty hooliganism” for allegedly initiating arguments with people who declined solicitations for sex. It also said that 56 detainees were issued administrative detention sentences, while 18 others were fined and nine were issued warnings.

Administrative trials in Azerbaijan are perfunctory, rarely lasting longer than 15 minutes, and judges’ decisions of guilt rely almost exclusively on police testimony. Although administrative offenses can and often do result in jail time, defendants in administrative trials are not guaranteed a lawyer of their choosing and they cannot mount an effective defense, Human Rights Watch said.

In addition, one of the lawyers said that while the official charge is listed as disobeying police orders, “In some written official materials at the police stations, I saw that police had written that these individuals were gay or transgender, and that they were arrested on sidewalks as they were shouting or arranging sex work.” Sex work is illegal in Azerbaijan, but Human Rights Watch is not aware of any the detainees having been charged with this offense.

Lawyers said that the majority of the 45 detainees they have tracked were sentenced to between five and 20 days detention, but that some were sentenced to 30 days, and most have been fined the maximum amount under the disobedience charges, 200 ANZ (US$117).

The October 2 joint statement said the roundups aimed to “identify individuals who offer paid intimate services to local citizens and foreign tourists in evenings in the central parts of the city... violate public order by insulting those who refuse these services and causing a dispute, as well as to check whether they are carriers of skin and venereal diseases.”

On September 27, Ehsan Zahidov, spokesman for the Internal Affairs Ministry, said that police were responding to complaints from Baku residents that gay men were visible on the streets. Zahidov also sought to justify the Baku round-ups on public health grounds, claiming that the arrests were meant to “prevent dangerous contagious diseases from spreading.” He claimed that gay men arrested were tested for sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV and syphilis.

The director of the AIDS Center of Azerbaijan, Natig Zulfugarov, said no tests were conducted there and that it would be against the law for the police to have such tests conducted without a court order. According to detainees’ lawyers, police had not obtained such orders. Some of the detainees confirmed to their lawyers that they were taken to the Skin Diseases Dispensary, a small clinic in central Baku that is known for carrying out sexually transmitted infection tests, but not HIV tests.

A member of the Council of Europe, Azerbaijan is obligated to abide by the European Convention on Human Rights ban on discrimination – including discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity – torture, and arbitrary detention. Azerbaijan is also a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which include similar obligations.

In addition, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has deemed that deprivation of liberty is arbitrary when it takes place “for reasons of discrimination based on…sexual orientation; or disability or other status, and which aims towards or can result in ignoring the equality of human rights.” The Working Group has noted that police often round up LGBT people on the basis of their appearance alone, and urged governments to pay specific attention to avoid arbitrary arrests and detention of people based on their sexual orientation under laws that vaguely prohibit public indecency.

While the protection of public health is a legitimate interest of the state, it cannot justify the arbitrary detention of dozens of gay men and transgender women. Forcibly testing people for medical conditions violates international human rights standards.

“Official justifications for this anti-gay crackdown are as bogus and dangerous as the charges police have used to arrest people,” Reid said. “The government’s human rights and public health obligations mean they should focus on protecting and empowering this marginalized minority, not humiliating and isolating them.”

 

Vicious Crackdown

In recent years, the government of Azerbaijan has waged an increasingly vicious crackdown on critics and dissenting voices. The space for independent activism, critical journalism, and opposition political activity has been virtually extinguished by the arrests and convictions of many activists, human rights defenders, and journalists, as well as by laws and regulations restricting the activities of independent groups and their ability to secure funding. Independent organizations and activists in Azerbaijan are struggling to survive.

In its 2016 review of Azerbaijan, the UN Human Rights Committee expressed concern about “discrimination and violence against persons on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity, including within the family and by police and prison officials…and extortion of money from lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons in some police stations in return for not disclosing their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

There are no officially registered or operational LGBT groups, and the behavior of authorities in September 2017, both in targeting and justifying a crackdown on sexual minorities in the country, has decimated their hopes for basic security and survival.

Harassment and Arrests

One of the five gay men interviewed, “Ramin,” who, like others interviewed, is identified by a pseudonym for their protection, told Human Rights Watch: “On September 19, my friend received a Whatsapp message that a gay guy, whom he did not know before, wanted to meet him to have sex. When he went to the agreed-upon place in the city center, he was taken away by police immediately.”

“Vusal,” a 27-year-old gay man, said: “On September 18, two people in plain clothes knocked on my door in the afternoon. It was the house where several of us gay guys lived together. The officers [pretended] they were repairmen who were to fix something. It was daytime, so I opened the door. They stormed in together with several other men and took me to the police station.”

“Elgiz,” a 21-year-old gay man in Baku told Human Rights Watch he was at his male partner’s apartment alone on September 20 when the landlord knocked on the door. He could see from the window that a dozen men were standing in the yard below, so he decided not to answer the door. “Then suddenly I saw my partner knocking at the door,” he said.

“He was handcuffed, and several men were holding him. I had no way out, so I opened the door.” Ten plain-clothes officers entered the apartment and pushed Elgiz to the ground, punching and slapping him on the face, stomach, and back. “Both my partner and I were dragged away to police cars. They briefly searched the house and confiscated my computer, and took us to the Organized Crime Unit.”

And “Taleh,” a 26-year-old gay man said that on September 18, six plain-clothes officials demanded to see his and his friends’ identification documents when they were sitting in central Baku’s Fountain Square. “We had heard that there were some raids on gays, and I had ID with me, so I showed it,” he said. “[An officer] looked very closely at my face and told me that I am gay.” He was not arrested, but the officers took his three friends to a police station because they did not have their identity documents with them. He said that two were still being held as of September 29, while one was released after paying a fine for the disobedience charge.

Later that night, on his way home, Taleh encountered a group of police officers near his house. “They warned me that if I go to the city center or show up in public places, I will be immediately arrested,” he said. “I asked the reasons. They said there was an order from the Interior Ministry, and they have to abide by this order.”

Authorities appear to have gathered significant amounts of intelligence regarding presumed gay and bisexual men, their sexual partners, and possible sex work clients – both through past raids and surveillance, and the intensified campaign, carried out in September 2017. Detainees Human Rights Watch interviewed and others interviewed by the media reported that their interrogators took particular interest in gathering intelligence about wealthy sex work clients.

Elgiz said he was held from September 20 to 24 by the Organized Crime Unit: “Police identified one of my random partners through my phone that they confiscated. The police had read our communications in Whatsapp, and had seen photos of him. My gay partner was from a well-off family and rather rich. He was gay but hiding his sexual orientation from his family. I was shocked when police suddenly interrogated me about him. When I refused to acknowledge my relationship with him, police beat me on my face and I fell down. Police showed me my phone chats with him. I had no way to not admit that I know him. I later heard that he had paid police bribes so they would not tell his family about his sexual orientation.”

“Sardar,” whom authorities detained at the Organized Crime Unit for nine days starting on September 18, 2017, told Human Rights Watch: “[The officers] opened my phone and started to respond to my family’s questions in Whatsapp about my whereabouts. My family did not know that it was the policemen writing back to them. Under the guise of my name, policemen were using foul language in their written chats with my family and others who were looking for me. From my phone, they reached some of my partners and some very respected [wealthy] gay persons, and they began to blackmail them [on the premise that] they had an affair with me.”

Detention

Lawyers told Human Rights Watch that detainees were held at various police stations throughout Baku and at the Interior Ministry’s Organized Crime Unit, and those whom courts had sentenced to detention were jailed at the Interior Ministry’s Administrative Detention Center.

When Elgiz and his partner were taken to the Organized Crime Unit, he said, he recognized eight other gay men who were also held there. The men told him they had been detained on September 15 and 16, and held at a police station before they were transferred to the Organized Crime Unit.

Ramin, the 21-year-old man who does sex work, told Human Rights Watch that he escaped plain-clothes officers’ attempt to arrest him and a friend while they were dressed as women soliciting sex work clients in Baku, on the evening of September 17. The next day, he went to a nearby police station in search of his friend, whom police had apprehended. He said: “Together with my friend there were 20-30 transgender and gay people at the station. One non-homosexual also had been brought to the station. Police pressed him to confess being a gay.”

Torture and Extortion

Authorities held Elgiz and his partner at the Organized Crime Unit for four days, during which he was repeatedly interrogated, including with torture. “I was insistently asked if I am a sex worker…I denied it, as I never do such work,” Elgiz said. “Other questions included if I have a boss who arranges sex business and if I know who collects money from this business. They asked if I pay bribes to any local police officers in the city.”

Elgiz said the officers were not satisfied with his replies, so they tortured him: “I did not know anything to respond to such questions. Three policemen forced me to take my clothes off and took me to another room, where I was forced to sit and get shocked by electricity. There were some 10 policemen in that room. During a period of seven or eight minutes, they gave me electric shocks several times.”

Police held Elgiz incommunicado for four days, never charged him, or allowed him to retain a lawyer. Before releasing him, Organized Crime Unit officers ordered Elgiz to work as an informant: “I was ordered to cooperate with police as an informer and regularly update police on gays, their gathering areas, and identify rich gays.”

Sardar said that while he was detained, from September 18 to 27, officers beat him and used electric shock on him: “I was repeatedly beaten with truncheons on my legs, knees, and hands. I was electrocuted several times and each time they were insulting with bad words. My legs were almost burned after electroshocks. They not only electrocuted my head, but also hit me on my head with truncheons. It was very painful and there were many swollen and burn parts on my head. Still these spots from torture remain on my body.”

“After the electroshock, I did not remember which names of other gay men I shared with them,” he said. “I had no other way but to obey what police were ordering me to do. The pains were awful. I could also hear screams of other gay guys that were in that department. They were also tortured.”

Ramin, described the men, including his friend, whom he saw detained in the police station: “When I arrived there, it was around 11 a.m., and none were given even water. They were so brutally beaten, their faces and bodies were bruised violet. My friend was beaten by baton, his phone in the pocket was broken in pieces.”

Government Response

Azerbaijani authorities have not denied that gay men and transgender women in Baku have been rounded up in official raids beginning in mid-September. However, they have offered differing and conflicting reasons for the crackdown.

On September 27, Zahidov, the Internal Affairs Ministry spokesman, said in an interview with EurasiaNet that police were responding to complaints from residents in Baku that gay men were visible on the streets: “People complain that such people walk among us, walk in our streets, and sit in our cafés. These are people who do not fit our nation, our state, our mentality, please take action against them.”

He was also quoted by the local APA news agency as saying that: “These raids are not against all sexual minorities. The arrested are people who demonstratively show a lack of respect for those around them, annoy citizens with their behavior, and also those whom police or health authorities believe to be carriers of infectious diseases.”

Zahidov also employed a public health scare tactic, claiming that six of the detainees had tested positive for HIV, and of those, five also had syphilis. He maintained that, “[t]his once again proves that both our citizens’ concerns and the actions we take about it are justified. It is important for the health of our people. Those who have diseases are being isolated from society.”

The AIDS Center at the Azerbaijan Ministry of Health told reporters that they had not conducted HIV tests on any of the detainees, and the two former detainees Human Rights Watch interviewed said they were not subjected to any health tests. The AIDS Center director, Natig Zulfugarov, said that authorities needed a court order to conduct HIV tests. According to detainees’ lawyers, however, the authorities had not obtained any for these cases so far.

The October 2 joint statement by the Interior Ministry and prosecutor’s office repeated the claim that the round-ups were conducted for public order public health reasons, saying they aimed to “to bring to justice those have violated public order and to prevent dangerous contagious diseases from spreading.” The statement also said that at the request of their lawyers, 32 detainees were “transferred to skin-venereal [testing centers]” and that “32 people who were not diagnosed with any venereal disease have been exempted from arrest.” The lawyers Human Rights Watch spoke to said that their clients were sent to such dispensaries before they had access to their clients.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am