“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 is an expert on LGBT rights. He has conducted research, taught and published extensively on gender, sexuality, LGBT issues, and HIV/AIDS. He is author of How to be a Real Gay: Gay Identities in Small-Town South Africa (University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2013). 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, where he continues to teach as a visiting lecturer. An anthropologist by training, Reid received a master’s from the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, and a PhD from the University of Amsterdam.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am


Human Rights Watch is an independent non-governmental organization dedicated to protecting and defending human rights around the world, including those related to women’s rights, the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people and other marginalized groups such as children, prisoners, displaced persons, ethnic and racial minorities, persons living with disabilities, and migrant and domestic workers. Our work on women’s rights has focused on reproductive rights, obstetric fistula and maternal health care, labour rights, the impact of conflict and crisis on women and girls, girls’ education, and violence against women and girls, among other issues.[1]

Human Rights Watch has conducted extensive research and documented incidents of rape and other forms of sexual violence in several countries such as Burma[2], Kenya[3], Lebanon[4], Central African Republic[5], South Africa[6], Somalia[7] and South Sudan.[8]  

Human Rights Watch welcomes the opportunity to make a submission to the report of the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women (SRVAW) noting that the report will address states’ responsibility to criminalize and prosecute rape as a grave and systematic human rights violation. This submission will focus on states obligations to legislate, prevent, investigate, and prosecute sexual and other violence against lesbians and transgender people.

This submission includes two case studies, namely South Africa and Lebanon, to indicate the particular vulnerabilities of women based on sexual orientation and gender identity based on our in-depth research on violence against lesbians and transgender people in these two countries. It also draws on HRW’s extensive research and advocacy on women’s rights to live lives free from violence and discrimination, the rights of LGBTI people, and on international human rights law.

This submission focuses on the legislative framework governing sexual offences as well as barriers to accessing justice in the Republic of South Africa and Lebanon, in light of States’ obligations to adhere to the due diligence standard: to prevent, investigate and prosecute sexual violence perpetrated against lesbians and transgender people. The focus on lesbians and transgender people is premised on several general recommendations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW Committee), including general recommendation no. 28 on core obligations of states parties[9], no. 33 on women’s access to justice[10], no. 35 on gender-based violence against women[11] and no. 36 on the right of girls and women to education.[12] These recommendations affirm that discrimination against women is inextricably linked to other factors, including being lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex.

Violence against Lesbians and Transgender Persons in South Africa

In April 2009, the body of Eudy Simelane, a young woman who lived openly as a lesbian and former star of South Africa's national female football team was found in a park in Kwa Thema, a township on the outskirts of Johannesburg. She had been gang-raped and brutally beaten before being stabbed 25 times. Following a trial, two of Simelane’s four attackers were convicted of murder, rape and robbery. Thato Mphithi and Themba Mvubu were the first men in South Africa to be convicted of ‘corrective’ rape despite there being over 30 reported cases in the decade before Simelane’s murder. Upon leaving the court, Mvubu—who was sentenced to life imprisonment—stated that he “was not sorry” for his crimes.[13]

Eudy’s case was not the first nor the last reported case of “corrective rape” of black lesbians in South Africa, but as a well-known figure her brutal rape and murder generated considerable attention to an enduring problem.[14] In another case, more than ten years later, on March 5, 2020 in Lotus River, a suburb of Cape Town, a 25-year old lesbian was brutally gang-raped by three young men to supposedly “correct her of her sexual orientation”.[15] According to media reports two of the suspects, aged 14 and 17 were arrested, while the third is still on the run.[16] South Africa’s Constitution as well as legislative and policy frameworks seek to ensure the protection of all people from violence perpetrated by state and non-state actors, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Yet, in a context where gender-based violence is high, black lesbians and transgender men and women are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.[17] As noted in the 2016 report of the UNSRVAW following her official visit to South Africa, “despite an explicit prohibition of discrimination based on sexual orientation in the Constitution, lesbian women and other sexual minorities are very vulnerable to extreme forms of violence purportedly aimed at “correcting” their bodies, including the so-called “corrective rape” often accompanied by a particularly heinous murder.”[18] 

The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act 32, 2007[19]  (Sexual Offences Act) contains a gender-neutral definition of rape and compelled rape with the following provisions:

Rape: Any person ('A') who unlawfully and intentionally commits an act of sexual penetration with a complainant ('B'), without the consent of B, is guilty of the offence of rape. Compelled rape: Any person ('A') who unlawfully and intentionally compels a third person ('C'), without the consent of C, to commit an act of sexual penetration with a complainant ('B'), without the consent of B, is guilty of the offence of compelled rape.[20]

In addition to criminalization of rape and compelled rape, the Sexual Offences Act criminalizes all non-consensual sexual activity, including sexual assault, compelled sexual assault and marital rape. It also expands the definition of rape to include all forms of non-consensual sexual penetration. It provides for various services to be made available to victims of sexual offences, including free post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV and establishes a National Register for Sex Offenders containing particulars of persons convicted of any sexual offence against a child or a person with a mental disability.

In December 2011, Human Rights Watch published a report documenting sexual violence and discrimination against black lesbians and transgender men and women in South Africa.[21] Key recommendations in the report included calls to the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (DoJ&CD) to work with the National Prosecution Authority (NPA) to address barriers to prosecuting cases of sexual and physical violence, including on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity and for the South African Police Service (SAPS) to collect data on physical and sexual violence and disaggregate the data by motive to track incidents of homophobic and transphobic violence.[22]

In March 2011, the DoJ&CD established a National Task Team (NTT) on Gender and Sexual Orientation Based Violence perpetrated against LGBTI persons comprised of Chapter 9 institutions (South African Human Rights Commission and the Commission on Gender Equality) and civil society organisations tasked with developing a National Intervention Strategy (2014–2017) to address the issue of “corrective rape” and other forms of violence against LGBTI persons.[23] In 2013, the Working Group of the NTT established the Rapid Response Team (RRT) comprising the DoJ&CD, NPA, SAPS, and other representatives from civil society organisations to urgently deal with pending and reported cases on hate crimes perpetrated against LGBTI persons. On June 18, 2015, the RTT published the following update regarding cases that resulted in successful convictions:[24]

  • Zukiswa Gaca, an 18-year old female from the Western Cape was raped. The perpetrator was sentenced to ten years in prison with a suspended four-year sentence.
  • LC Molefe from Ermelo in Mpumalanga was raped. The perpetrators were sentenced to six years in prison.
  • Ntabiseng Welemina Mofokeng from Balfour in Mpumalanga was raped by her neighbor. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
  • Disebo Gift Makau from Tshing in Ventersdorp was murdered and raped. The perpetrator was sentenced into two life sentences and 15 years in prison.
  • Thembelihle Sokhela from Sgodi in Daveyton was raped and murdered. The perpetrator was sentenced 22 years in prison.

In a February 2020 report, Iranti, a Johannesburg-based media-advocacy organisation which advocates for the rights of LGBTI+ persons, cited unpublished data from the NTT that lists 14 rape cases reported across six provinces.[25] Due to Covid-19 lockdown measures in South Africa, Human Rights Watch was not able to obtain the latest quantitative data from the NTT of rape cases currently under investigation and those that have been successfully prosecuted.

Barriers to access to justice

Notwithstanding the tremendous efforts of the DoJ&CD and all the members of the NTT, including civil society organisations, Human Rights Watch remains deeply concerned about high levels of violence against women including the persistence of sexual violence perpetrated against lesbians and transgender people and limitations in the criminal justice system to respond appropriately, swiftly and effectively.

A 2013 report by the Ministerial Advisory Task Team on the Adjudication of Sexual Offences Matters (MATTSO), states that LGBTI people face considerable barriers in reporting sexual violence, including discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in the South African criminal justice system, and stigma in communities.[26] Low conviction rates generally, shame and stigma attached to sexual violence, fear of secondary victimization by state authorities, and lack of faith in the criminal justice system are some of the challenges young black lesbians and transgender individuals face. The 2011 Human Rights Watch report extensively documents the negative experiences with police, that in turn creates an overwhelming lack of trust in law enforcement and the criminal justice system.[27] The MATTSO  report emphasizes that “limited policing and barriers to accessing the legal system exacerbate vulnerability and notes the challenge in assessing the magnitude of the problem because statistical information related to LGBTI victims of sexual offences are not captured by information management systems.”[28] The MATTSO report further notes that poor, young black lesbians living in townships in South Africa are specifically targeted for “corrective rape” perpetrated by heterosexual men.

In this regard we draw the attention of the UNSRVAW to a 2018 report published by the Gender Health and Justice Research Unit, University of Cape Town titled Access to Justice for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Survivors of Sexual Offences in South Africa.[29] The report outlines several obstacles to successful investigation and prosecution of sexual violence cases. These include non-reporting due to fear and safety concerns as well as a lack of faith in the criminal justice system. In addition, the report noted lack of knowledge within the criminal justice system on how to establish, investigate and prosecute hate-motivated rape cases based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Human Rights Watch urges the South African Department of Justice and Constitutional Development to continue to support the efforts of the NTT and RRT and ensure that disaggregated data is publicly available. The National Task Team, in collaboration with non-government organizations should also continue to implement national training programs for all role-players in the criminal justice system, including police, legal professionals, members of the judiciary and public service providers in order to educate them on the rights and needs of all survivors of sexual violence, including lesbians and transgender people. The South African government is urged to enact legislation that recognizes that acts of sexual violence, including rape may be motivated in whole or in part by prejudice or hatred regarding an aspect of the victim’s identity, such as their real or perceived sexual orientation, and when that is the case that it is an aggravating factor.[30]

Legal Framework in Lebanon

The Lebanese Penal Code does not explicitly define sexual violence, meaning it has not adopted the definition of sexual violence provided in the Rome Statute,[31] and does not otherwise explicitly define sexual violence. But rape outside of marriage is a criminal offence with a minimum punishment of imprisonment of five years.[32]

Article 503 of the Lebanese Penal Code defines the crime of rape as “forced sexual intercourse [against someone] who is not his wife by violence or threat.”[33] Article 506 stipulates that anyone who abuses his authority or official position to force sexual intercourse with a minor aged between 15 and 18 years old shall be punished by up to 15 years of imprisonment.[34]

The definition of rape is narrow and limited: it is gender specific, covering women only, and explicitly excludes marital rape. The 2014 law on domestic violence which established important protection measures and related policing and court reforms, defines domestic violence narrowly and fails to specifically criminalize marital rape.[35] Legislators instead introduced a crime of threats or violence by a spouse to claim a “marital right to intercourse”, but it did not criminalize the non-consensual violation of physical integrity itself. The penalties for this are covered under articles 554-559 of the penal code, which provide for as little as a fine of 10,000-50,000 Lebanese pound (US$6.66-$33) or a maximum of six months in prison if the victim required 10 days maximum of rest to recover, compared with at least five years for rape under article 503.[36] It also introduced in law the  notion of a “marital right to intercourse” which could lead to sexual abuse in marriage with impunity. 

The penal code, under articles 507-510 and beyond, refers to violent acts of “indecency.”[37] For instance, article 507 imposes a penalty of imprisonment for a period not less than four years for anyone who forces another person, through violence or threats, to commit or endure an “indecent act.” The minimum sentence is six years if the victim is under the age of 15.[38] However, “indecency” is ill-defined, and it should instead be replaced with specific reference to sexual assault that is not penetrative rape.[39]

Articles 509, 510, 519, and 520 prohibit lewd or obscene acts against minors. Article 524 provides that anyone who seduces a woman or a girl under the age of 21, even with consent, to gratify the sexual needs of others, will be punished by imprisonment for a minimum term of one year and a fine.[40]

In a positive development, parliament repealed article 522 of the criminal code in 2017, which had allowed rapists to escape prosecution by marrying their victim.[41] However, it left a loophole for cases concerning sex with children ages 15-17 and seducing a virgin girl into having sex with the promise of marriage.

Violence against Lesbians and Transgender Persons in Lebanon

In 2019, Human Rights Watch published a report documenting the systemic discrimination that transgender women face in Lebanon, in which it detailed crimes of sexual violence against them committed with impunity.[42]

Suha, a 24-year-old transgender woman from the Lebanese north, told Human Rights Watch:

The mayor of my town sexually harassed me; lieutenants sexually harassed me. I was kidnapped in 2011 by a man in the street in my neighborhood. Apparently, he had been watching me and he knew about me. He pulled me into a car in the street and took me to an apartment and tied me to a chair. He raped me until I passed out. I tried to report it [to the police station in Akkar], but they told me I’m sick and a liar. They said I’m schizophrenic.[43]

Suha’s case is not unique. In a context where gender-based violence is pervasive,[44] transgender women, as well as lesbians and transgender men, are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

In Lebanon, the combination of social and economic marginalization, laws that criminalize homosexual conduct (article 534 of the Penal Code)[45] and sex work (article 523),[46] vague “morality” laws (articles 531, 532, 533, and 526),[47] and the absence of legislation protecting against discrimination, or  reliable complaint systems, are formidable barriers that impede lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people’s ability and willingness to report sexual violence  to the police.[48] This creates an environment in which state and non-state actors can abuse them with impunity.

The 2014 domestic violence law makes no provision for same-sex intimate partner violence, and hence provides no guarantee that judiciary members apply the law to lesbian women or transgender individuals experiencing domestic violence, such as sexual abuse, including through provision of protection orders.[49]

Lebanon also has no law criminalizing sexual harassment, including at work, and sexual harassment is neither defined nor prohibited under the Lebanese Labor Code.[50] Parliamentarians have introduced multiple draft laws on sexual harassment, but parliament has yet to act.

Many women face sexual harassment at work in Lebanon. Human Rights Watch has documented how Syrian refugee women in Lebanon experienced sexual assault, harassment, or attempted sexual exploitation, sometimes repeatedly, by employers, landlords, local faith-based aid distributors, and community members.[51] Human Rights Watch found that residency rules left Syrian refugee women vulnerable to sexual harassment by their employers.[52] Human Rights Watch has also documented  sexual harassment, as a recurring violation that transgender women face in the workplace. In instances when they are employed, transgender women reported encountering sexual abuse from employers and coworkers. Lacking access to redress, including complaint mechanisms that hold abusers accountable for their discrimination, trans women reported having been forced out of jobs.[53]

Due to underreporting and the lack of reliable complaints mechanisms, there is no estimate on the number of rape cases reported and prosecuted in Lebanon in recent years. Additionally, there are no official national statistics on the prevalence of sexual violence perpetrated by an intimate partner.[54] Since perpetrators are rarely held accountable before the law, victims of rape often lack confidence in the authorities to punish offenders, deterring reporting.[55]

According to a 2017 report by Helem, a Beirut-based LGBT rights organization, individuals with non-normative sexual orientation or gender identity and expression can rarely seek legal protection from sexual violence, due to the criminalization of their identities and the fear of persecution.[56]

Lebanon ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1997. Lebanon maintains reservations to Article 9(2) (equal rights with respect to nationality of children), Article 16(1)(c), (d), (f), and (g) (equality in marriage and family relations), and Article 29(1) (administration of the Convention and arbitration in the event of a dispute).[57] In November 2015, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, during its review of Lebanon’s record under CEDAW, called on Lebanon to criminalize marital rape.[58]

Human Rights Watch urges Lebanon to explicitly criminalize marital rape, and clearly define sexual assault as a violation of bodily integrity and sexual autonomy, and rape as a form of sexual assault that is a physical invasion of a sexual nature without consent or under coercive circumstances. A physical invasion would include penetration, however slight, of any part of the body of the victim – or of the rapist by the victim – with a sexual organ, or of the anal or genital opening of the victim with any object or any other part of the body. Lebanon should also repeal the remaining loophole of article 522 of the criminal code, which still allows prosecution and convictions to be dropped where a perpetrator marries their victim in cases concerning sex with children ages 15-17 and seducing a virgin girl into having sex with the promise of marriage.

Human Rights Watch urges Lebanon to repeal article 534 of the Lebanese Penal Code, which criminalizes “sexual intercourse contrary to the order of nature,” and pass comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation that prohibits discrimination on the grounds of gender identity and sexual orientation and includes effective measures to identify and address such discrimination and gives victims of discrimination and violence, including sexual violence, an effective remedy. In order to safeguard the right of sexual and gender minorities to report crimes without facing the risk of arrest, Lebanon should ensure that no sexual violence survivor is denied assistance, arrested, or harassed on the basis of their gender identity, their sexual orientation, or their status as a sex worker.


Human Rights Watch respectfully requests the UNSRVAW to include the following recommendations to States in the thematic report to the UN General Assembly:

  • States must adopt all necessary measures to prevent, investigate and punish sexual violence perpetrated by both State and non-State actors on the basis of real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, and provide reparations to victims, including:
    • Repeal legislation that discriminates against individuals on the basis of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, and introduce laws and policies that protect people with non-normative sexual orientation or gender identity;
    • Develop reliable, accessible, and non-discriminatory complaints mechanisms through which lesbians and transgender people can report cases of sexual violence, as well as any denial of service, stigma, or discrimination in the health or justice sectors;
    • Ensure that complaints are handled confidentially and swiftly, following a clear procedure, and that lesbian and transgender survivors can submit complaints without fear of reprisals;
    • Issue clear policy directives to ensure that reported cases of violence against lesbians and transgender individuals are effectively and impartially investigated and prosecuted; and
    • Ensure that individuals who discriminate against, abuse, mistreat, or inflict violence on lesbians and transgender people are held accountable, and the penalties imposed are commensurate with the gravity of the crime and harm inflicted.
  • States should introduce and proactively strengthen ethical and safe data collection mechanisms that monitor sexual violence against women and disaggregate the data by sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • States should ensure that all state agents in all sectors, including health, education, and justice, receive mandatory training on the appropriate protocols and responses in the provision of services to lesbian and transgender survivors of sexual violence, including on the vulnerability of individuals with non-normative sexual orientation or gender identity to sexual violence motivated by prejudice, on secondary victimization, and regarding the specific needs and rights of lesbian and transgender persons.

[1] HRW Women’s Rights Division https://www.hrw.org/topic/womens-rights

[2] “All of My Body Was Pain”

Sexual Violence against Rohingya Women and Girls in Burma https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/report_pdf/burma1117_web_1.pdf

[3]“They Were Men in Uniform”

Sexual Violence against Women and Girls in Kenya’s 2017 Elections https://www.hrw.org/report/2017/12/14/they-were-men-uniform/sexual-violence-against-women-and-girls-kenyas-2017

[4] Unequal and Unprotected

Women’s Rights under Lebanese Personal Status Laws https://www.hrw.org/report/2015/01/19/unequal-and-unprotected/womens-rights-under-lebanese-personal-status-laws

[5] “They Said We Are Their Slaves”

Sexual Violence by Armed Groups in the Central African Republic https://www.hrw.org/report/2017/10/05/they-said-we-are-their-slaves/sexual-violence-armed-groups-central-african

[7] “The Power These Men Have Over Us”

Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by African Union Forces in Somalia https://www.hrw.org/report/2014/09/08/power-these-men-have-over-us/sexua...

[8] “They Burned it All”

Destruction of Villages, Killings, and Sexual Violence in Unity State South Sudan https://www.hrw.org/report/2015/07/22/they-burned-it-all/destruction-villages-killings-and-sexual-violence-unity-state

[9] CEDAW/C/GC/28 paras 18 and 31

[10] CEDAW/C/GC/33 paras 8 and 49

[11] CEDAW/C/GC/35 paras 12 and 29(c)(i)

[12] CEDAW/C/GC/36 para 45, 46(i) and 66

[14] Corrective rape is a widely reported phenomenon in which men rape people they presume or know to be lesbians in order to “convert” them to heterosexuality. See 2011 Human Rights Watch report , "We'll Show You You're a Woman" Violence and Discrimination against Black Lesbians and Transgender Men in South Africa https://www.hrw.org/report/2011/12/05/well-show-you-youre-woman/violence-and-discrimination-against-black-lesbians-and

[16] ibid

[18] A/HRC/32/42/Add.2 Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences on her mission to South Africa para 33

[19] Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act 32, 2007 https://www.justice.gov.za/legislation/acts/2007-032.pdf

[21] Human Rights Watch report, "We'll Show You You're a Woman"

Violence and Discrimination against Black Lesbians and Transgender Men in South Africa https://www.hrw.org/report/2011/12/05/well-show-you-youre-woman/violence-and-discrimination-against-black-lesbians-and

[22] Ibid Recommendations

[23] The National Task Team (NTT) on Gender and Sexual Orientation-Based Violence was established by the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (DOJ & CD) in March 2011 is to address human rights concerns and violations amongst Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) persons.

[25] Data Collection and Reporting on Violence Perpetrated Against LGBTQI Persons in Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa and Uganda available at: http://www.iranti.org.za/2020/03/23/press-release-iranti-launches-five-country-study-on-violence-against-queer-persons/

[26] Report on the Re-establishment of Sexual Offences Courts Ministerial Advisory Task Team on the Adjudication of Sexual Offences Matters https://www.justice.gov.za/reportfiles/other/2013-sxo-courts-report-aug2013.pdf

[27] Supra n 21 p 46 – 54

[28] Ministerial Advisory Task Team on the Adjudication of Sexual Offences Matters (MATTSO) established by the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development https://www.justice.gov.za/reportfiles/other/2013-sxo-courts-report-aug2013.pdf

[29] Müller, Alex; Meer, Talia. (2018). Access to Justice for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Survivors of Sexual Offences in South Africa: A research report. Cape Town: Gender Health and Justice Research Unit available at: http://www.ghjru.uct.ac.za/sites/default/files/image_tool/images/242/report_images/1%20ICOP%20LGBT%20Doc%20PDF.pdf

[31] The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Population Fund and UN Women (2018). Gender-Related Laws, Policies and Practices in Lebanon. Available at: https://civilsociety centre.org/sites/default/files/resources/gender_justice_in_lebanon_final_report_eng.pdf

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Human Rights Watch (2014). Lebanon: Domestic Violence Law Good, but Incomplete. Available at: https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/04/03/lebanon-domestic-violence-law-good-incomplete

[36] Human Rights Watch (2016). Lebanon: Reform Rape Laws. https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/12/19/lebanon-reform-rape-laws

[38] Ibid.

[39] Human Rights Watch (2016). Lebanon: Reform Rape Laws. Available at: https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/12/19/lebanon-reform-rape-laws

[40] Ibid.

[41] Human Rights Watch (2018). Lebanon: 5 Steps to Improve Women’s Rights. Available at: https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/03/08/lebanon-5-steps-improve-womens-rights

[42] Human Rights Watch (2019). “Don’t Punish Me for Who I Am”: Systemic Discrimination Against Transgender Women in Lebanon. Avaliable at: https://www.hrw.org/report/2019/09/03/dont-punish-me-who-i-am/systemic-discrimination-against-transgender-women-lebanon#3a465f

[43] Human Rights Watch interview with Suha, Beirut, November 27, 2018. Human Rights Watch (2019). “Don’t Punish Me for Who I Am”: Systemic Discrimination Against Transgender Women in Lebanon. Available at: https://www.hrw.org/report/2019/09/03/dont-punish-me-who-i-am/systemic-discrimination-against-transgender-women-lebanon#3a465f

[44] The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ). July 2019. Gender-based Violence in Lebanon: Inadequate Framework, Ineffective Remedies. Available at: https://www.icj.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Lebanon-Gender-Violence-Publications.pdf

[46] Ibid.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Human Rights Watch (2019). “Don’t Punish Me for Who I Am”: Systemic Discrimination Against Transgender Women in Lebanon. Avaliable at: https://www.hrw.org/report/2019/09/03/dont-punish-me-who-i-am/systemic-discrimination-against-transgender-women-lebanon#3a465f

[49] Human Rights Watch (2019). “Don’t Punish Me for Who I Am”: Systemic Discrimination Against Transgender Women in Lebanon. Available at: https://www.hrw.org/report/2019/09/03/dont-punish-me-who-i-am/systemic-discrimination-against-transgender-women-lebanon#3a465f

[50] Lebanese Labor Law of 1946 (revised in 1996), art. 44, art. 31, http://www.ilo.org/dyn/natlex/docs/WEBTEXT/39255/64942/F93LBN01.htm#t1c6

[51] Human Rights Watch (2013). Lebanon: Women Refugees from Syria Harassed, Exploited. Available at: https://www.hrw.org/news/2013/11/26/lebanon-women-refugees-syria-harassed-exploited

[52] Human Rights Watch (2016). “I Just Wanted to be Treated like a Person.” Available at: https://www.hrw.org/report/2016/01/12/i-just-wanted-be-treated-person/how-lebanons-residency-rules-facilitate-abuse

[53] Human Rights Watch (2019). “Don’t Punish Me for Who I Am”: Systemic Discrimination Against Transgender Women in Lebanon. Available at: https://www.hrw.org/report/2019/09/03/dont-punish-me-who-i-am/systemic-discrimination-against-transgender-women-lebanon#3a465f

[54] UN Women. Global Database on Violence against Women: Lebanon. Available at: https://evaw-global-database.unwomen.org/es/countries/asia/lebanon

[55] The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Population Fund and UN Women (2018). Gender-Related Laws, Policies and Practices in Lebanon. Available at: https://civilsociety centre.org/sites/default/files/resources/gender_justice_in_lebanon_final_report_eng.pdf

[56] Helem (2017). Human Rights Violations against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) individuals in Lebanon. Available at: https://www.ecoi.net/en/file/local/1398874/1930_1493282102_int-ccpr-ico-lbn-27152-e.pdf

[57] United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Situation Analysis of Gender-Based Violence in Lebanon (2012). Available at: http://www.unfpa.org.lb/Documents/-1Situation-Analysis-of-GBV-inLebanon.aspx.

[58] Lebanon: United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (2015). Available at: https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CEDAW%252FC%252FLBN%252FCO%252F4-5&Lang=en

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, center right, speaks during a plenary session in the House of Parliament in Budapest, Hungary, Monday, March 23, 2020.

© 2020 Tamas Kovacs/MTI via AP

Hungary’s parliament this week passed a law making it impossible for transgender or intersex people to legally change their gender – putting them at risk of harassment, discrimination, and even violence in daily situations when they need to use identity documents. The law is a major backwards step on transgender and intersex rights, and yet another violation of Hungary’s international rights obligations. It comes at a time when the government has used the Covid-19 pandemic as a pretext to grab unlimited power and is using parliament to rubber-stamp problematic non-public health related bills, like this one.

“Danny,” a 33-year-old transgender man living in Budapest, described his daily humiliation to Human Rights Watch. “I’m always stressed and uncomfortable … where I have to show my identity documents, for instance when I go to the post office or want to cross a border. I get funny looks, questions, and am forced to explain a very personal story to random strangers and that’s humiliating,” Danny said. “It really destroys my day.”

The legislation redefines the word “nem,” which in Hungarian can mean both “sex” and “gender,” to specifically refer to a person’s sex at birth as “biological sex based on primary sex characteristics and chromosomes.” According to Hungarian law, birth sex, once recorded, cannot be amended. This means that anyone who doesn’t identify with the sex they were assigned at birth – such as transgender people – will be denied the right to change their legal gender marker to correspond to their identity.

Intersex refers to the estimated 1.7 percent of people born with sex characteristics that differ from social expectations of female or male. Because their bodies are often misunderstood or miscategorized, intersex people may need access to legal gender recognition procedures later in life.

This new law compounds the marginalization trans people in Hungary already face. A recent survey showed that 95 percent of respondents in Hungary believe the government does not effectively combat anti-LGBT bias. It also violates Hungary’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Hungarian President Janos Ader has a duty to ensure that people’s basic rights are not violated by unconstitutional laws. He should decline to sign this law and instead refer it to the Constitutional Court for review. And the European Union’s Commissioner on Equality, Helena Dalli, should strongly denounce Hungary’s attack against nondiscrimination, a core right enshrined in EU treaties.

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

People affected by the coronavirus economic downturn, line up to receive food donations at the Iterileng informal settlement near Laudium, southwest of Pretoria, South Africa, Wednesday, May 20, 2020. 


© 2020 AP Photo/Themba Hadebe

(Johannesburg) – The South African government’s Covid-19 aid programs, including food parcels, have overlooked refugees and asylum seekers. They include many lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people who fled to South Africa to escape persecution. 
The government should take urgent steps to facilitate support, including from donors, for refugees and asylum seekers with little access to food and other basic necessities during the ongoing nationwide lockdown.

“The Ramaphosa administration should either ensure access to food for thousands of refugees and asylum seekers, or say that it can’t meet the need and seek donors to step in and provide assistance,” said Dewa Mavhinga, southern Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The government is ignoring the plight of refugees and asylum seekers currently confined in their homes and unable to work to provide for themselves.”

Undocumented migrants and asylum seekers live on the economic margins, a situation exacerbated by the government’s stringent lockdown measures. After receiving numerous pleas from refugees and asylum seekers, Human Rights Watch raised the issue with the South African Human Rights Commission, which confirmed receiving similar reports and pressed the authorities to ensure that everyone in South Africa can realize their rights.

On May 12, 2020, the rapporteur for South Africa of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Solomon Ayele Dersso, sent an urgent appeal to the government to protect the rights of vulnerable groups, including refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants in the context of the lockdown.

South Africa is a common destination for LGBT people fleeing their home countries due to persecution on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression. The Refugees Amendment Act of 2008 expressly includes persecution on the basis of sexual orientation as a ground for seeking asylum in South Africa. Thirty-three out of the 70 countries that criminalize adult consensual same-sex conduct are in Africa. Across the continent, discriminatory laws and hostile social attitudes lead many LGBT people to flee their countries of origin – including many from Zimbabwe, Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, and Nigeria – and travel to South Africa, often against considerable odds, to seek asylum and a better life.

Victor Chikalogwe, director of the LGBT refugee advocacy group People Against Suffering, Suppression, Oppression, and Poverty (PASSOP), has said that the lockdown has made life incredibly difficult for many undocumented LGBT migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers, as they are unable to work in the informal trades that have sustained them, including restaurants, bars, or sex work. They are not eligible to receivegovernment social grants or food parcels, which are distributed only to those with South African identity cards and Social Security cards.

Thomars Shamuyarira, a transgender man from Zimbabwe who is the director of The Fruit Basket, a Johannesburg-based group that provides support to African LGBT migrants, said that the Covid-19 lockdown measures have had a severe impact on LGBT refugees and asylum seekers who do not have access to informal employment, food, medicine, and accommodation. 

Human Rights watch spoke with a gay man from the Democratic Republic of Congo who fled to South Africa following a targeted attack on the basis of his sexual orientation by an armed group in South Kivu. He said he has tried unsuccessfully since 2014 to get refugee status and that the lockdown makes it even more difficult for him to survive from one day to the next.

A gay man who fled Zimbabwe in 2014 after his family members threatened to kill him when they discovered his sexual orientation said that he has been unable to do sex work due to the lockdown, therefore unable to pay rent or buy food.

On March 24, The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights expressed concern about the vulnerability of refugees and asylum seekers under Covid-19 regulations and addressed a letter to South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who currently serves as African Union Chairperson, urging the South African government to adequately address human rights issues in its responses to Covid-19. This should include ensuring that undocumented refugees and asylum seekers in South Africa have access to basic services.

The South African authorities should ensure that essential goods and services are provided to everyone in need without discrimination, Human Rights Watch said. Special arrangements should be made to protect the rights of vulnerable groups, including refugees, asylum seekers, and the homeless, who may not normally have access to basic goods, including food, water – potable and washing – and health care.

The national lockdown will be most effective if carried out not only in accordance with the law, but also hand-in-hand with the fulfillment of the government’s obligation to provide basic goods and services to vulnerable community members. Services should be available to all who are in need, including those living in areas under movement restrictions or under quarantine, those infected with Covid-19, and marginalized groups such as refugees, migrants, and people with disabilities. The government should take special measures to protect women and girls from physical and sexual abuse and exploitation and provide timely help to victims.

“South Africa should make special efforts to protect the most vulnerable in the country and ensure that refugees and asylum seekers are not overlooked or forgotten,” Mavhinga said. “The authorities should act and seek donor support to avert an imminent humanitarian catastrophe.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Participants ride bikes during the Gay Pride Parade in Tirana, Albania, May 13, 2017. 

© 2017 AP Photo/Hektor Pustina

Albania’s Order of Psychologists has announced that it will prohibit members from offering “conversion therapy,” or pseudo-therapeutic attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

The decision effectively bans conversion therapy in Albania, as registered therapists are required to be members of the group in order to legally practice.

Albania’s prohibition is a welcome development, even if discrimination against LGBT people in the country remains high. Studies have shown that efforts to change sexual orientation and gender identity are ineffective, and may foster anxiety, depression, suicide, and other mental health problems.

The World Psychiatric Association has criticized these fraudulent therapies as “wholly unethical,” and the Pan American Health Organization has warned that they pose “a serious threat to the health and well-being of affected people.” A wide range of medical associations in places such as Brazil, Hong Kong, India, Lebanon, Turkey, South Africa, and the United States have similarly condemned these practices.

Therapies that purport to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity may also constitute serious human rights abuses. These efforts often involve discrimination, restrictions on movement, and physical and sexual abuse, and may at times amount to torture or other forms of ill-treatment.

In recognition of these facts, many countries have begun to proscribe these efforts, especially in psychiatric and medical settings.

Malta, Ecuador, and Germany have used criminal law to regulate the practice, punishing violators with fines and imprisonment. Other countries, like Brazil and Taiwan, outlaw it via professional sanctions. Lawmakers in many countries around the globe are considering bans on the practice, including in Australia, Canada, Chile, France, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, Spain, and the United States.

As countries debate the scope of conversion therapy bans, one thing is clear – conversion therapy is widely recognized as ineffectual and psychologically harmful. In addition to banning the practice in psychiatric and medical settings, countries should take steps to educate mental health professionals and the public about the harm that it causes, provide support to survivors, and work to lessen the stigma that drives people into conversion therapy.

Albania’s decision should spur medical and mental health professionals in other countries to take a strong stance against conversion therapy, and to formally condemn it as a dangerous and discredited practice.

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

A Ugandan transgender woman in a town near Kampala, shortly before she fled the country in 2014. She left to escape police harassment and violence.

© 2014 Human Rights Watch

AfroQueer podcast recently launched a special episode in advance of its upcoming third season. Checking in with queer Africans on how they are faring during the Covid-19 pandemic, the episode was aptly titled “How are you doing?”

The wide-ranging answers surfaced in the podcast reflect the different realities faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. There is no singular “LGBT experience” of Covid-19. United Nations agencies, activists, and some governments have rightly identified particular vulnerabilities of LGBT people that need to be taken into account in the pandemic response. But levels of vulnerability vary according to factors like economic status, immigration status, and where one calls home.

Prisoners’ rights are LGBT rights.

If you are LGBT and homeless in Uganda, you could find yourself in prison. AfroQueer interviewed Adrian Jjuuko, lawyer and director of the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum, who tirelessly defended 19 homeless gay, bisexual, and transgender youth whom police detained shortly into Uganda’s Covid-19 lockdown on charges of “negligent act likely to spread infection of disease.” Their crime? Living in a shelter. For 50 days they languished in jail, where prison officials refused to allow lawyers to visit them on Covid-19 pretexts. The director of public prosecutions finally withdrew the charges on May 18.

Economic rights are LGBT rights.

In Burkina Faso, Emma, a trans activist, told AfroQueer the hardest thing for many LGBT people who have lost jobs, largely in the informal sector, is having to move in with family members to stave off hunger – “a terrible choice, as many of them have homophobic parents.” At least, Emma says, the government is providing free water to those who need it.

Refugee rights are LGBT rights.

David, a gay refugee from Nigeria, lives in Boston with his American husband. As a Lyft driver, he transports essential workers, sanitizing his car after each drop-off. The gig economy is hard, he says, but “I’m doing my best to keep the economy running, which I’m very proud of as an immigrant.” Juliet, a refugee in Sweden, may be safer from homophobia than in her home country of Zambia, but finds that far-right groups scapegoat immigrants and refugees as vectors of disease.

Protecting LGBT people’s rights during the pandemic will depend on addressing a range of rights issues. A more just world, on all levels, will keep LGBT people safer in future global crises.

This dispatch is the first of a six-part collaboration between Human Rights Watch and AfroQueer podcast, seeking to amplify the voices of LGBT Africans.

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

The Supreme Federal Court (Supremo Tribunal Federal) in Brazil.

© 2013 Lou Avers/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

Amid the public health crisis in the country, Brazil has recently achieved two significant victories for the right to education and the rights of women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. On April 24, the Supreme Court unanimously struck down a 2015 law from Novo Gama, Goias state that banned learning materials with information on “gender ideology” in municipal schools. On May 8, the court struck down a similar part of a 2018 law from Foz do Iguaçu, Paraná state, prohibiting educational policies and school activities “likely to apply ‘gender ideology’ or the terms ‘gender’ or ‘sexual orientation.’”

“Gender ideology” is a vacuous catch-all term generally intended to denote an ill-defined gay and feminist conspiracy to wreak havoc on traditional values. In Brazil, far-right movements and politicians have peddled disinformation to popularize the term. In the case of the Foz do Iguaçu law, the legislature also seems to have wanted to eliminate education about the realities of women and LGBT people by banning words used to describe their experiences.

Brazil’s former attorney general, Raquel Dodge, challenged the Novo Gama law as constitutionally deficient. The Communist Party of Brazil did the same for the Foz do Iguaçu law. In both cases, the Supreme Court agreed unanimously that the laws violated “procedural and substantive” constitutional principles and provisions.

The court ruled that municipalities cannot override national education plans and also found that the municipal bans violated the rights to equality, education, and freedom of expression. In the Novo Gama case, the ruling written by Justice Alexandre de Moraes and supported by the full court said that the law “imposed silence, censorship, and more broadly, obscurantism.” In the Foz do Iguaçu case, Justice Cármen Lúcia’s ruling held that “the suppression of curricular content is a serious measure that directly affects the daily lives of students and teachers… [and harms] an indispensable part of their right to learn.”

In effect, the court’s rejection of the amorphous bans on “gender ideology” upholds children’s right to comprehensive sexuality education – their right to age-appropriate learning material that can help foster safe and informed practices to prevent gender-based violence, gender inequality, sexually transmitted infections, and unintended pregnancies.

The Supreme Court’s decisions also uphold the right to non-discrimination by holding that the municipal legislatures neglected their duty to promote politics of inclusion and equality, which can prevent prejudice and violence against LGBT people. While the court based its arguments on Brazil’s constitution, its ruling is in line with international human rights standards relating to the rights to information, education, health, and non-discrimination.

The court’s decisions reverberate beyond Brazil’s borders. “Gender ideology” rhetoric spans the globe, first propagated by the Vatican and since sustained by opportunistic politicians and ideologues who seek to limit women’s, adolescents’, and LGBT people’s rights.

In Colombia, some political leaders and evangelical churches used such rhetoric to attack the landmark 2016 peace accord between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which includes provisions addressing the historical exclusion of women and LGBT people in the country. In Costa Rica, “gender ideology” claims shaped the 2018 presidential race when a right-wing evangelical candidate employed the term to make same-sex marriage a key issue in the election. In Europe, political crusades against “gender ideology” have been used to galvanize support for measures that restrict access to abortion and comprehensive sexuality education in Poland  and legal gender recognition for transgender people in Hungary.

Other nations should take note of the Brazilian Supreme Court’s unequivocal rebukes of the municipal laws, which show how independent democratic institutions can respond to disinformation and protect fundamental rights. 

Regrettably, the laws from Novo Gama and Foz do Iguaçu are not anomalies in Brazil. In response to the Supreme Court’s recent jurisprudence, President Jair Bolsonaro has vowed to send to the National Congress a federal bill with similar content. Hundreds of bills are pending or have been approved in municipal and state legislatures and in Congress that aim to limit “gender ideology” or “indoctrination.” These would restrict the right to comprehensive sexuality education and promote intolerance. About 15 petitions are before the Supreme Court to challenge such laws. The Supreme Court’s latest rulings are sending a clear and powerful message that all Brazilian policymakers should heed.

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

Rainbow flags symbolizing LGBT rights.

© 2017 Reuters

On  May 17, 1990, the World Health Organization removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders, recognizing homosexuality as a natural variant of human sexuality. This milestone now marks an annual celebration of sexual and gender diversities, known as the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT). Yet the lasting impact of stigma, and “othering” is evident in the discrimination and abuse that  lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people around the world continue to experience.

“Breaking the Silence” is this year’s theme, under the pall of a pandemic that has had a devastating effect on lives and livelihoods across the globe. COVID-19 has affected people across divisions of race, class, and gender and exposed the fault lines of inequality, disproportionately affecting those on the social and economic margins. In a crisis, it’s easy to lose track of progress and setbacks over the last year that have contributed to the climate in which many LGBTQ+ people experience the pandemic. The annual celebration  is an opportune moment to reflect on the advances made in LGBTQ+ rights, and the challenges that remain.

In Uganda, 19 homeless gay, bisexual and transgender people have spent two months in prison on spurious charges of violating COVID-19 related curfew regulations. Forced out of their family homes, they had nowhere else to go, but police decided that for them, living in a shelter was a crime. In Hungary, Viktor Orbán has used the pandemic to rule by decree, and has introduced legislation that would ban legal gender recognition for transgender people.

In Panama, where women and men have been required to remain quarantined on alternate days, some transgender people have faced abuse from security officials, no matter which day they ventured out. In the Philippines, LGBTQ+ people experienced humiliating punishments by village officials enforcing a curfew. And religious leaders have fueled rumors that Covid-19 is divine retribution for immoral behavior – that leads to LGBTQ+ people being scapegoated, for example in Ukraine and Senegal.

At a time when access to health care is a global concern, LGBT people remain vulnerable to discrimination, driven by health workers’ personal prejudice or government policy. Tanzania is a stark example. For four years the government has targeted drop-in centers that provide care to LGBTQ+ people, banned the import of water-based lubricant, and arrested lawyers and activists who challenged these measures. HIV prevention and treatment programs had been one of the few relatively safe spaces for LGBTQ+ groups to operate.

Access to appropriate health care is a struggle for transgender people in many parts of the world. Coercive medical requirements can foster abuse. In Japan, for example, transgender people are forced to be sterilized to qualify for legal documents reflecting their gender identity. And in the U.S., the Department of Health and Human Services has proposed a rule to allow organizations with discriminatory policies to receive federal funds, and is poised to roll back Obama-era health care protections for transgender people.

LGBTQ+ people are often cast as a threat to traditional notions of the family, society and the nation. Stigma and hate speech are even more threatening in a pandemic, when vulnerable groups are blamed and targeted. In Poland, local municipalities declared towns LGBT-free zones, spurred on by a government that has waged a sustained campaign against so-called  “gender ideology.” Under this rubric, women’s reproductive rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and comprehensive sexuality education are cast as a sinister, coordinated threat to “traditional values.” In the midst of the pandemic, the Polish parliament considered two bills that would be harmful to women and LGBTQ+ people.

Hostility toward LGBTQ+ people is compounded when activists are silenced. In July, the European Court of Human Rights ruled against  Russia’s failure to register two NGOs working on LGBTQ+ issues, highlighting the stifling effects of Russia’s “gay propaganda” law, which  effectively outlaws expression of identity.

The law’s effects were compounded most recently through spurious charges against a TV presenter for interviewing a gay man, restrictions against a lesbian activist, and by forcing a gay couple to flee with their children. An extreme manifestation of the erasure of LGBTQ+ identities are the purges against gay men and lesbians in Chechnya. Neither the purges nor the threats against activists were effectively investigated.

Attacks on free expression have been overlaid with religious objections in Poland, where an activist was charged for combining a rainbow image and a religious icon, while in Brazil a court battle ensued over a satirical film. Kenya’s Constitutional Court upheld the 2018 ban on the highly acclaimed film Rafiki in April on grounds that the ban will “protect society from moral decay.” Concert organizers in Lebanon canceled the performance of the indie band Mashrou’ Leila following pressure and threats of violence and the government’s failure to offer adequate protection. On the other hand, police in Lublin, Poland defended Pride march participants against protesters, while in Lebanon, anti-government protests afforded a unique opportunity for queer and trans visibility.

It is a truism that laws prohibiting same-sex conduct or gender expression provide tacit state sanction for discrimination and contribute to a hostile environment in which discrimination and violence occurs. The number of countries criminalizing same-sex behavior fluctuates as some decriminalize and others introduce new legislation.

Laws that were first imposed in the colonial-era have morphed into markers of post-colonial sovereignty and national identity. A week after last year’s IDAHOBIT celebrations, the Kenyan high court upheld that country’s anti-homosexuality laws based on an absurd argument that the law did not discriminate against same-sex couples. Almost a year later a high court judge in Singapore came to a similar conclusion. Gabon introduced a new penal code provision outlawing consensual same-sex activity, but Botswana’s highest court repealed that country’s archaic sodomy law as a relic of the past that rightly “belongs in museum or the archives.”

Brunei extended its penal code to include death by stoning for same-sex conduct and adultery. Following international outcry, the Sultan extended a moratorium on the death penalty. Indonesia’s controversial draft penal code revisions to outlaw all sexual relations outside of marriage drew widespread protests and were shelved. Such provisions would pose particular threats to women as well as LGBTQ+ people. Hong Kong, on the other hand, took steps to dismantle the last vestiges of its defunct sodomy law, repealed in 2007, by eliminating additional discriminatory provisions.

Taiwan became the first country in Asia to allow for same-sex marriage in adherence to a constitutional court ruling, despite a referendum that came out opposed. And Northern Ireland finally joined the rest of the United Kingdom in allowing same-sex marriage.

Violence, often with impunity, is ubiquitous for LGBTQ+ people in many parts of the world. Last May, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights referred a case of impunity in Honduras involving the 2009 assassination of Vicky Hernàndez, a transgender woman, to the Inter-American Court. In El Salvador, a judge ruled that a case against three police officers charged with aggravated homicide of Camila Díaz Córdova, a transgender woman, could proceeded to trial, though not as a hate crime.

In Uganda, LGBTQ+ rights activist Brian Wasswa, 28, was brutally murdered. Ethics Minister Simon Lokodo threatened to reintroduce a bill that would include the death penalty for “grave” consensual same-sex acts. A government spokesperson later retracted that threat.

In February, no hate motive was included in a Russian case in which 47-year-old Roman Edalov, a gay man, was killed after his attacker hurled homophobic insults. In contrast, in Belarus, police investigations into the brutal attack on a gay filmmaker and his companions led to conviction as a hate crime. And in Kazakhstan, where homophobic attitudes are pervasive, a court ruled to protect a couple’s privacy when a social media post sparked threats of violence against them. While in Morocco, an outing campaign has terrorized men who use dating apps to meet other men.

In many parts of the world, LGBTQ+ people are shunned socially and marginalized economically. There is a strong correlation between abuse, discrimination and socio-economic status. The pandemic is likely to dramatically exacerbate this situation. When LGBTQ+ kids face bullying and discrimination in school, it can affect their performance and life chances, as evident in school climate studies in Japan, the Philippines, the U.S. and Vietnam.

Transgender people in India hoped for reprieve from extreme economic vulnerability, as well as enhanced recognition and social acceptance through the long-awaited, but ultimately disappointing Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2019. In Pakistan, a high ranking official in Karachi reassured the hijra community that they would receive government support during the pandemic. In the U.S., the Supreme Court is considering whether discrimination against LGBTQ+ workers is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by existing federal law.

As IDAHOBIT is celebrated throughout the world, as an aspect of  “breaking the silence,” challenges to  equal access to healthcare, education, protection from discrimination and violence, and rights to association, expression and privacy remain pressing in many parts of the world. Even in a crisis of staggering proportions, the advances that have been made in human rights, including for LGBTQ+ people, need to be protected.

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

(Washington D.C., May 18, 2020) –The government of Panama has taken an important initial step to address the discriminatory impacts of its gender-based quarantine measures on transgender people by communicating its concern to security agencies, Human Rights Watch said today. It has yet to issue guidelines to specify that transgender people may comply with quarantine measures in accordance with their gender identity, as Human Rights Watch recommended in a letter to President Laurentino Cortizo Cohen on April 23, 2020.


On May 11, the Public Security Ministry issued a statement noting that it “has spoken with the security sector to prevent any type of discrimination against the LGBTI population” in the implementation of Covid-19 related restrictions.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Panama: Government Takes Step to End Quarantine Gender Discrimination

Protect Transgender People From Police, Security Guard Abuse

(Washington DC) – The government of Panama has taken an important initial step to address the discriminatory impacts of its gender-based quarantine measures on transgender people by communicating its concern to security agencies, Human Rights Watch said today. It has yet to issue guidelines to specify that transgender people may comply with quarantine measures in accordance with their gender identity, as Human Rights Watch recommended in a letter to President Laurentino Cortizo Cohen on April 23, 2020.

On May 11, the Public Security Ministry issued a statement noting that it “has spoken with the security sector to prevent any type of discrimination against the LGBTI population” in the implementation of Covid-19 related restrictions.

Police officers are pictured during the curfew as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak continues, in Panama City, Panama, March 31, 2020. 

© REUTERS/Erick Marciscano

“The government’s statement is an important recognition of the discrimination transgender people have faced under the quarantine enforcement measures,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “Panama’s leadership has expressed a commitment to address discriminatory practices by security agents, and we will continue to monitor the situation to make sure the new policy is carried out.”

On April 1, Panama put into effect a gender-based quarantine schedule in response to Covid-19, requiring women and men to remain quarantined on alternate days. However, as Human Rights Watch documented in a letter to the president, the measure resulted in police and private security guards singling out transgender people for profiling and, in some cases, arresting and fining them or preventing them from buying essential goods.

In a video released today, Human Rights Watch presents the experiences of two transgender people who were subject to discrimination when they left their home for essential needs. These cases occurred before the Public Security Ministry issued its statement and were described in the letter to President Cortizo.
The police detained Mónica, a transgender woman in Panama Province, when she attempted to enter a supermarket on a day designated for men. Police inappropriately touched her on the breasts and mocked her gender identity during a body search at Casa de Justicia Comunitaria de Paz Pedregal.
Heber, a transgender man in Colón Province, said police denied him entry into a supermarket on a day designated for women. The officers ridiculed him, saying they would not explain to other women in the queue “what he was.”
The experiences of Mónica and Heber demonstrate the importance of a clear articulation from the government that trans people can comply with the quarantine in accordance with their gender identity or expression, Human Rights Watch said.


Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

The transgender pride flag. 

© Wikimedia Commons

The following is a joint statement by Liberty, Amnesty International UK and Human Rights Watch:

Human rights are universal and belong to everyone. Yet too often in the UK trans people are spoken about and treated as though their rights don’t matter.

The toxic media coverage about trans people has recently spiked. At times of crisis and political change, marginalised groups are often singled out for abuse and hate. History has shown us time and time again the dangers of setting the rights of one marginalised group up for debate. But we know that our rights and freedoms are bound together.

What’s more, this isn’t an equal conversation or level playing field. Key voices are missing – trans and non-binary people, and in particular young trans people. They are so often spoken about, not listened to. As a society, we need to make space so they can be finally heard without having to defend who they are.

We need to do this because denying rights leads to dehumanisation.

This is already happening in Hungary, Russia and the US, where trans people are facing serious human rights abuses, and new and vicious attacks on their fundamental rights.

We cannot allow this to happen here. Today, as we mark the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT), our collective of UK human rights organisations wants to remind people that trans rights are an indivisible part of human rights.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Rainbow flags symbolizing LGBT rights.

© 2017 Reuters

Lawmakers around the world have proposed new legislation to ban ‘conversion therapy’ – attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

In Canada, for example, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said banning conversion therapy was a “top priority” for his government, while lawmakers in Australia, France, Ireland, New Zealand, and Spain have also called for bans.

The UN’s special rapporteur on torture has said that, in some instances, conversion therapy can “lead to severe and life-long physical and mental pain and suffering and can amount to torture and ill-treatment.” According to the American Psychological Association, ‘conversion’ or ‘reparative therapy’ for LGBT people has been linked to cases of depression, anxiety, and suicidality.

In 2018, the European Parliament called on states to ban these practices – though it did not give guidance on how conversion therapy should be defined or curbed. This is important because the details matter, and a rush to adopt punitive legislation, imposing criminal penalties on non-violent and non-coercive practices as well as abusive ones, has overshadowed the need to support survivors.

Countries are doing the right thing by regulating coercive and harmful ‘gay cures’. But these laws must be based on human rights and offer meaningful solutions for people who are harmed – rather than focusing almost exclusively on penalties for practitioners, which is the path that many countries seem to be following.

In 2016, for instance, Malta became the first country to ban some forms of conversion therapy. Practitioners face fines of up to €5,000 or six months in prison, with stiffer penalties for licensed professionals.

Germany’s parliament recently approved a ban on promoting or providing conversion therapy for under-18s, and made its practice a criminal offence punishable with imprisonment.

IrelandNew Zealand and France are considering criminalising advertising or performing conversion therapy on children and adults, with prison terms for offenders. In Ecuador, conversion therapy practices comparable to torture can be punished with up to thirteen years in prison.

Protecting human rights

While these responses are new, conversion therapy isn’t. It grew in popularity in the 1960s and ’70s, when homosexuality and transgender identity were considered mental disorders and ‘cures’ included counselling, physical punishment and even surgical intervention.

Since then, LGBT identities have been widely recognised as a normal form of human development; the World Health Organisation has declassified ‘homosexuality’ and ‘gender identity disorder’ as mental disorders; and ‘conversion’ attempts have been discredited as ineffective and harmful.

Despite these changes, attempts to ‘cure’ LGBT people persist globally. A key challenge for lawmakers seeking to ban these practices is that they involve a wide range of activities including verbal and emotional abuse, restrictions on movement, physical and sexual assault, talk therapy and religious counselling.

Proposed bans in Ireland and New Zealand do not distinguish between different forms of ‘therapy’, all of which would be criminalised.

Backers of a ban in France have also signalled that they intend it to be sweeping, and for it to expressly regulate religious counselling.

These moves are potentially problematic. To be consistent with human rights principles, such bans must include safeguards for expression, so that speech that is not coercive or abusive isn’t criminalised. Penalties such as incarceration should be strictly proportionate to the harm caused.

Lawmakers certainly can and should ban practices targeting vulnerable individuals, including children. These activities also can be prohibited within therapeutic or commercial settings as fraudulent or unethical.

They can reinforce that message by requiring mental health professionals to learn about the dangers of conversion therapy, and by investing in public educational campaigns against these practices, including in schools.

But they must be clear and precise about what bans prohibit, and careful not to criminalise private opinions about same-sex activity or transgender identities. This would be bad for freedoms of belief and expression – and it could turn campaigners against LGBT rights into martyrs, giving them new platforms.

Supporting survivors

A human rights approach to conversion therapy would not be purely punitive. It would focus on delegitimising conversion therapy practices, holding practitioners accountable for damage they cause, and supporting survivors.

While criminal law is one tool, lawmakers could also expand civil liability for the physical or mental pain and suffering that conversion therapy can inflict.

Taiwan, for example, fines practitioners and suspends their professional licences, and similar penalties have been levied in Brazil. Most of the US states that have banned conversion therapy impose professional disciplinary measures on practitioners, not criminal penalties.

Effectively addressing conversion therapy requires training mental health professionals to affirm a diversity of sexual orientations and gender identities. It means creating and publicising systems for individuals to report abuse. And it means funding and expanding services for survivors, as Germany has.

Eliminating discrimination in practice as well as policy and law, would be a huge factor in reducing the numbers of conversion practitioners’ clients.

Ultimately, the most effective and rights-respecting approach is to bring about a world where efforts to change sexual orientation and gender identity are widely recognised and rejected as a harmful fraud.

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

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
(Tokyo) – Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe should commit to introducing a law protecting against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, J-ALL, Athlete Ally, and Human Rights Watch said today. Ninety-six human rights and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) organizations signed and sent a letter to the prime minister on April 17, 2020 after several months of coordination with related officials, but he has not responded.
Tokyo was slated to host the 2020 Summer Olympics, but the International Olympic Committee and the Japanese government postponed the games for a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. To mark the International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT) on May 17, the 96 groups publicly urged the government to pass LGBT non-discrimination protections ahead of the Olympics in 2021.
“LGBT people in Japan are entitled to equal protection under the law,” said Yuri Igarashi, co-representative director of the Japan Alliance for LGBT Legislation (J-ALL), an umbrella organization of 100 LGBT organizations in Japan. “Postponing the Olympic Games to 2021 will give the government time to introduce and pass protections of benefit to everyone in Japan.”
The Olympic Charter expressly bans “discrimination of any kind” including on the grounds of sexual orientation as a “Fundamental Principle of Olympism.” Japan has also ratified core international human rights treaties that obligate the government to protect against discrimination, including the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
The Tokyo 2020 Summer Games were advertised as celebrating “unity in diversity” and “passing on a legacy for the future.” In March 2015 Prime Minister Abe publicly proclaimed Japan’s intention to “stamp out discrimination and respect human rights” and made clear at the national Diet that “discrimination or prejudice against sexual minorities is not allowed in any aspect of society.”
“We have seen through history the power of the Olympics to mobilize athletes and fans to speak out for what they believe in, from Tommie Smith and John Carlos protesting racism in 1968 to the Principle 6 campaign in 2014,” said Hudson Taylor, founder and executive director of Athlete Ally. “Sport teaches us that we are stronger when we stand together, and now is the time for the global sport community to stand in solidarity with the LGBT community in Japan.” 
While Japan’s national government has not enacted anti-discrimination legislation on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity, in October 2018 the Tokyo metropolitan government adopted an ordinance that protects LGBT people from discrimination in line with the Olympic Charter.
Tokyo’s action was important, but several Tokyo Olympic competitions, including the marathon, golf, fencing, race walking, and surfing, will take place outside of Tokyo in Hokkaido, Saitama, Chiba, Shizuoka, Kanagawa, Miyagi, and Fukushima prefectures. LGBT fans, athletes, and visitors in these prefectures will not be protected under Tokyo’s anti-discrimination ordinance.
Japan has increasingly taken a leadership role at the United Nations by voting for both the 2011 and 2014 Human Rights Council resolutions calling for an end to violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. But LGBT people in Japan continue to face intense social pressure and fewer legal protections than other Japanese. According to the results of a survey J-ALL conducted in April, LGBT people in Japan are facing specific difficulties during the Covid-19 pandemic, including disruption of access to health care, decreased income, and fear that their sexual orientation and gender identity will be exposed without legal protections when they seek services.
IDAHOBIT is celebrated annually on May 17 around the world including International organizations as the day against discrimination to mark the day in 1990 when the World Health Organization removed its diagnosis for homosexuality as a “mental disorder.”
“Japan has an opportunity to be a global LGBT rights leader,” said Kanae Doi, Japan director at Human Rights Watch. “The Tokyo metropolitan government has shown solidarity with the LGBT community, and the national government should follow suit.”
On this memorial day, J-ALL, Human Rights Watch, and Athlete Ally strongly call for the elimination of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity under any circumstances.
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am