“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

The transgender pride flag. 

© Wikimedia Commons

A Russian court has sentenced a 53-year-old trans woman to three years in prison, on bogus “distribution of pornography depicting minors” charges for sharing nude anime drawings on social media.

The case began in the summer of 2018, when Michelle was informed she was under criminal investigation for posts of “hentai” – sexually charged drawings featuring naked characters from Japanese cartoons – in 2013 and 2014.

Prior to the trial, which took place in November, the investigators ordered an “expert” evaluation of the images from the Center for Socio-Cultural Expertise, an organization known to provide damning conclusions in politically motivated criminal cases, including the case of Pussy Riot, the child pornography case against human rights defender Yury Dmitriev, and dozens of extremism cases against Russia’s Jehova’s Witnesses. Their evaluation of the drawings concluded that they included characters younger than 14 years of age. Authorities took Michelle into custody from the courtroom, immediately after the judge handed down the verdict. She remains in a solitary cell in jail pending an appeals hearing in her case.

Michelle, a survivor of bladder cancer who worked as an epidemiologist at a local clinic before she was fired because of the criminal case, has been on hormone therapy for transitioning for about two years. But she is legally recognized as male. She will therefore be forced to serve her sentence in a men’s penal colony. Such a blatant disregard for her gender identity leaves Michelle extremely vulnerable to abuse by both male detainees and guards.

Moreover, Maria Chaschilova, a lawyer at the Moscow LGBT Community Center, who was in contact with Michelle before her trial, says Michelle does not have access to hormone therapy in prison and will not have it in penal colony. The World Professional Association for Transgender Health warns that for trans people in detention the “consequences of abrupt withdrawal of hormones … include a high likelihood of negative outcomes such as surgical self-treatment by autocastration, depressed mood, dysphoria, and/or suicidality.”  

Michelle is appealing her conviction and sentence, but so long as this case persists Michelle’s rights to health, identity, expression, liberty, and even to life hang in the balance.

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

Participants hold placards during a protest demanding an end to what they say is discrimination and violence against the transgender community, in Bengaluru, India October 21, 2016.

© 2016 Reuters

India’s parliament passed a bill to protect transgender rights last week, but the new law is inadequate on several fronts. Trans activists and allied human rights groups have critiqued the various trans rights bills since the first one was introduced in 2016. In the end, lawmakers failed to consider the concerns the activists raised. As a result, India’s new law will violate the rights of trans people rather than respect and uplift long-persecuted communities.

Perhaps the most serious flaw in the new law is the procedure it mandates for legal gender recognition — the process by which trans people can change their documents to reflect their identity.

India’s new law sets up a two-step process. First, it requires an individual to apply for a “transgender certificate” from the District Magistrate where they live. This can be done on the basis of a person’s self-declared identity. Then, a certificate holder can apply for a “change in gender certificate,” which signals to authorities to change their legal gender to male or female. However, this second step requires the person to provide proof of surgery, issued by a hospital official, to the District Magistrate for a second evaluation, and the official must be “satisfied with the correctness of such certificate.”

This sets an extraordinary amount of power with one government office to arbitrate which trans people “qualify” to be recognized as who they are. It also coerces people into medical procedures they might not want — a fundamental rights violation that Indian and international jurisprudence condemns.

Indian courts have long held that trans people deserve the government’s recognition on their own terms, without mandatory intervention or discrimination.

In 2014, the Indian Supreme Court in NALSA v. India ruled that transgender people should be recognized as a third gender and enjoy all fundamental rights, while also being entitled to specific benefits in education and employment. Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan, writing for the bench, ordered that “Transgender persons’ right to decide their self-identified gender” should be recognized by state and federal authorities. The court made clear that “any insistence for [sex reassignment surgery] for declaring one’s gender is immoral and illegal.”

A Delhi High Court ruling in October 2015 laid out the intrinsic link between the right to legal gender recognition and other rights. Affirming a 19-year-old transgender man’s right to recourse against harassment by his parents and the police, Justice Siddharth Mridul wrote: “A transgender [person’s] sense or experience of gender is integral to their core personality and sense of being. Insofar as I understand the law, everyone has a fundamental right to be recognized in their chosen gender.”

In addition to violating court rulings, the new law’s provisions are also contrary to international standards for legal gender recognition. International standards and best practices — including those of multiple United Nations agencies, the World Medical Association, and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, all call for separation of legal and medical processes.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2015 recommended that states begin immediately “[i]ssuing legal identity documents, upon request, that reflect preferred gender, eliminating abusive preconditions, such as sterilization, forced treatment and divorce.” A 2015 report by the World Health Organization and the Asia-Pacific Transgender Network recommended that governments “[t]ake all necessary legislative, administrative, and other measures to fully recognize each person’s self-defined gender identity, with no medical requirements or discrimination on any grounds.”

The right to recognition as a person before the law is guaranteed in numerous international human rights conventions, and is a fundamental aspect of affirming the dignity and worth of each person. Legal gender recognition is also an essential element of other fundamental rights — including to privacy, to freedom of expression, to be free from arbitrary arrest, and rights related to employment, education, health, security, access to justice, and the ability to move freely.

Activists in India plan to challenge the new law on this and several other fronts.

That the law expressly prohibits discrimination against trans people in education, employment, health care, and several other spheres offers fertile ground for challenging those provisions of the law that are discriminatory. The new law also recognizes intersex people but offers them no specific protections. Momentum to protect intersex children from medically unnecessary “normalizing” surgeries, such as a 2019 ban on operations in Tamil Nadu, should guide improvements on that front as well.

Put simply, the process for recognition before the law and control over one’s own body should be separate from any medical interventions. But if an individual’s personal identity or transition process requires medical support, those services should be available and accessible.

India can — and should — do better.

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

A couple sitting by the ocean in Rabat, Morocco. 

© FADEL SENNA/AFP/Getty Images

(Tunis) - The Moroccan parliament should adopt the groundbreaking proposals made by a government-appointed body to enshrine individual freedoms, Human Rights Watch said today. In a memorandum published on October 28, 2019, the National Human Rights Council (also known by its French acronym, CNDH) recommended decriminalizing consensual sex between nonmarried adults and granting more religious freedoms.

The CNDH memorandum aims to contribute to the projected overhaul of Morocco’s penal code, which parliament is scheduled to begin reviewing on November 30. Many Moroccans have gone to prison for nonmarital sex, adultery, and homosexuality.  

“Morocco’s parliament should take the State out of people’s bedrooms and let them pursue their consensual private lives without fear of trials and prison time,” said Ahmed Benchemsi, Middle East and North Africa communications director at Human Rights Watch.

The CNDH is established by the constitution to provide guidance on human rights matters to Moroccan institutions.  

Its memorandum identified provisions of the penal code that violate or undermine individual freedoms, including articles 489, 490, and 491, which provide prison terms for same-sex relations, nonmarital sexual relations, and adultery, respectively. These provisions violate the right to privacy, as guaranteed under article 24 of Morocco’s constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Morocco has ratified.

In a report released in June, the Office of the General Prosecutor stated that 7,721 adults were prosecuted for having non-transactional sexual relations outside of marriage in 2018. The number includes 3,048 who were charged with adultery, 170 with same-sex relations, and the remainder for sex between unmarried persons.  

The CNDH also recommended specifically criminalizing rape in marriage, based on “the principle of considering consent the cornerstone of sexual relations between adults.” A law on violence against women, which went into effect in 2018, criminalizes some forms of domestic violence but fails to explicitly define and criminalize marital rape.

The council also urged repealing penal code article 220, which criminalizes proselytizing but only when done to lure people away from Islam.  The discriminatory law punishes “using seduction means in order to shake a Muslim’s faith or convert him to another religion” with up to three years in prison. Authorities have used this provision to deport foreign Christians , but also, to charge or convict Moroccan converts to Christianity allegedly for nothing more than talking about their new faith in the company of Muslims. In 2003, thirteen heavy metal musicians were convicted under article 220 for what the court called “Satan worship.”

The ICCPR protects the right or persons to free religious belief and practice, including the right to “teach” their religion in public and private.

The council recommends decriminalizing the act of eating or drinking in public during fasting hours in the month of Ramadan. Article 222 of the penal code punishes with up to six months in prison people “who are identifiably Muslim who ostensibly break the fast in a public place during Ramadan, without benefiting from one of the exceptions that Islam permits.”  

In 2009, the authorities arrested six religious freedom activists for planning a discreet forest picnic during Ramadan to protest article 222. Since then, the authorities have periodically arrested or prosecuted individuals who were eating, drinking, or smoking a cigarette publicly during Ramadan.

Under the Moroccan penal code, performing or undergoing an abortion is prohibited and punished with prison sentences, unless the procedure is “a necessary measure to safeguard the health of the mother.” The council recommends that the exception clause be broadened to include cases in which the abortion is in the interest of the woman’s “physical, mental and social health.” This wording, the council notes, comes from the World Health Organization’s constitution, which defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

According to numerous studies, criminalization does not lead to a decrease in abortions. It rather compels women to resort to non-medicalized abortions that endanger their right to life, health, privacy, and freedom from cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. There are 600 to 800 abortions every day in Morocco, an estimated one third of them performed in non-medicalized situations. Decisions about abortion belong to a pregnant woman without interference by the state or others, Human Rights Watch said.

A few days after the council published its memorandum, Prime Minister Saadeddine El Othmani and Human Rights Minister Mostafa Ramid, both leading members of the Justice and Development Party (PJD), rejected the recommendations on individual freedoms, invoking Morocco’s (traditional) “value system.” The PJD has 125 seats out of the 395 in the Parliament’s lower chamber.

The only party in the parliament that publicly supported the council’s recommendations at time of writing is the Party for Progress and Socialism, which holds 12 seats. The press reported that several other parties intend to propose pro-individual freedoms amendments to the draft penal code during parliamentary review, as an “interaction” with the council’s recommendations.

More than 25 nongovernmental organizations, including the Spring of Dignity, a collective of  associations defending women’s rights, the Moroccan organization of Human Rights, and the Forum for Truth and Equity, declared their support for some of the council’s recommendations, with a focus on those concerning individual freedoms.

The CNDH’s memorandum also includes recommendations on other human rights issues, such as abolishing the death penalty, for which a de facto moratorium has been in effect in Morocco since 1993. Human Rights Watch supports that recommendation and opposes capital punishment on principle, because it is inherently cruel and irreversible.

“Parliament should implement the road map that the CNDH has provided to protect personal liberties,” Benchemsi said.  “The state has no business policing the intimate lives of consenting adults.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Yulia Tsvetkova, talking about her youth theater project “Pink and Blue”.

© Yulia Tsvetkova/VK

A Russian feminist and LGBT activist is under house arrest for allegedly distributing pornography. It’s yet another example of Russia using unfounded accusations and vague laws to intimidate certain activists.

Yulia Tsvetkova, 26, is from Russia’s far east region of Khabarovsk. Neither her mother nor lawyer know the factual basis for the criminal accusation, but if prosecuted and convicted, Yulia faces up to six years in prison.

Police have repeatedly questioned Yulia about her work as an artist and youth theater director. In March, they questioned her about a series of body-positive drawings of naked women she posted on social media, alleging they were pornographic. Police also questioned Yulia about a youth theater performance on gender stereotypes. They cited a suspected violation of Russia’s discriminatory “gay propaganda” law, which bans spreading information about LGBT issues to children, even though the play didn’t cover LGBT issues. Yulia subsequently closed the theater out of security concerns.

In October, police again questioned Yulia on pornography allegations regarding a social media group she manages that features artwork depicting vulvas and calls for an end to taboos around vaginal anatomy and menstruation.

After police questioned Yulia again on November 20, they told her she was a criminal suspect, although it was not clear regarding which project. Two days later, police arrested Yulia for violating an order to remain in her city. The following week, police reportedly tried to persuade a child who played in Yulia’s youth theater to request victim status in a criminal case against her.

The next day, police escorted Yulia to court, where she learned that she faces additional administrative charges stemming from two other social media groups she manages – about LGBT and feminist topics, respectively. Authorities claim the groups’ activities violate the “gay propaganda” law, even though their content is marked as 18+. If Yulia is found guilty, she faces a maximum 100,000 ruble fine.

Yulia is not alone in facing repercussions of this sort. Earlier this year, Russian authorities used the “gay propaganda” law to block two major LGBT online groups. And in two other cases, authorities took the more serious step of threatening criminal prosecution against people in relation to LGBT issues.

Yulia’s mother, Anna Khodyreva, told me: “This case is an example of a bright smart girl who didn’t want to live according to the rules of everyone else in this grim city.” Nonconformism, however, isn’t a crime.

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

Participants march with a rainbow flag during a gay pride parade in Seoul

© AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon
 

Conservative lawmakers in South Korea have already blocked the passage of nondiscrimination laws that would protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and other minorities. Now, they’re trying to defang one of the few watchdogs protecting LGBT rights in the country.

This month, opposition politician Ahn Sang-soo introduced an amendment that would remove “sexual orientation” from the mandate of the National Human Rights Commission of Korean (NHRCK), a body tasked with promoting human rights and investigating discriminatory acts in South Korea. The amendment would seriously undermine its ability to address discrimination against LGBT people in education, employment, public services, and other areas.

The NHRCK’s work is badly needed. LGBT people face widespread discrimination in South Korea, with one national survey finding that nearly half of South Koreans do not want gay friends, neighbors, or colleagues. In interviews with Human Rights Watch, LGBT youth described how indifference or outright hostility toward LGBT people left them feeling isolated and alone, jeopardizing their mental health and well-being.

Ahn’s misguided opposition to LGBT rights illustrates why the NHRCK’s work is so vital. Ahn justified the amendment by repeating offensive and discredited myths about LGBT people. He has also repeated the dangerous misconception that LGBT rights endanger the freedom of religion, which increasingly has been used to permit and even encourage discrimination against LGBT people around the globe.

International human rights bodies have clearly said that governments cannot subject people to discrimination because of who they are or who they love. The NHRCK has been one of the few government entities in South Korea that has taken this principle seriously and worked to protect LGBT rights.

In the weeks ahead, South Korean lawmakers should reaffirm that discrimination against LGBT people is unacceptable. Rejecting Ahn’s amendment would be a start, but it isn’t enough.

President Moon Jae-in, himself a former human rights lawyer, and South Korean legislators should speak up publicly supporting victims of all rights violations, including LGBT people.

They should also finally enact nondiscrimination legislation that protects the rights of minorities and show the country that LGBT rights are human rights.

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

The transgender pride flag. 

© Wikimedia Commons

Last week, a Japanese television program outed and mocked a transgender woman, exposing the harsh reality trans people face in Japan. But a society that often misunderstands and objectifies them is only the beginning – Japan’s legal system also treats trans people like second-class citizens.

The television program, billed for families, features a host conducting impromptu interviews with unassuming “strange” people. In last week’s episode, a host discussed a trans woman’s gender identity without her permission, referring to her as “unusual.” The company has apologized for the humiliating incident.

Apologies send an important public message, and signal progress made by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) activists in shifting public discourse, but they only go so far. To combat social stigma, the Japanese government should reform its laws and put transgender people on equal footing with everyone else.

In Japan, transgender people who want to legally change their gender must appeal to a family court under the Gender Identify Disorder (GID) Act, introduced in 2004. The procedure is discriminatory, requiring applicants to be single and without children under age 20, to undergo a psychiatric evaluation to receive a diagnosis of “gender identity disorder,” and to be sterilized. This is regressive and harmful. The requirements rest on an outdated and pejorative notion that a transgender identity is a mental health condition, and compel transgender people to undergo lengthy, expensive, invasive, and irreversible medical procedures.

Human Rights Watch has interviewed dozens of people who do not want to undergo these procedures – they just want to be recognized before the law as equal citizens.

In January 2019, Japan’s Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that the sterilization requirement did not violate Japan’s constitution. However, two of the justices recognized the urgency of the situation and the need to reform the law. “The suffering that [transgender people] face in terms of gender is also of concern to society that is supposed to embrace diversity in gender identity,” they wrote.

United Nations experts and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health have both urged Japan to change its law and eliminate these discriminatory requirements.

Changing the law won’t prevent all acts of harassment or discrimination, but it would signal that the Japanese government stands for equal treatment of trans people. 

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

What does it mean to be a human rights voter?

Support candidates who want the government to adopt and enforce laws that promote and protect human rights. This means candidates who defend people from abusive systems, officials, individuals, and corporations, who support equal protection of the law, and who will push for policies that enable everyone to have the same opportunities to pursue their fundamental rights.

Poverty and Inequality

People walk around the neighboring streets around the Fred Jordan Mission, in Los Angeles, California, U.S. May 12, 2018.

© 2018 Reuters

We all have a right to the highest attainable standard of health, to housing, and to an adequate standard of living. About 40 million people in the United States live in poverty, even though many have jobs making at least minimum wage. A human rights voter should back candidates who work to ensure that everyone can get quality medical care, a safe and sturdy roof over their heads, and enough healthy food to eat.

Candidates should urge measures that would prevent companies from preying on the poor. For instance, they should support stronger regulation of predatory lending industries that offer high interest loans, often carrying triple-digit interest rates, that by design lead low-income borrowers into cyclical debt traps and greater poverty.

Questions for candidates:

- Do you support reforms that protect the right of everyone to just and fair work conditions, including a fair wage, that enables them to support their families?

- Will you oppose rollbacks to programs that support individuals’ basic health, nutrition, and housing needs?

- How will you ensure universal access to adequate health care?

- How will you ensure that people are protected from predatory lenders and abusive debt collectors?
 

Criminal Legal System

The front gate is pictured at the Taconic Correctional Facility in Bedford Hills, New York April 8, 2016.

© 2016 Reuters

We need to vastly reduce the number of people behind bars in the US – many of whom are incarcerated because of racist laws and policies that have disproportionately affected black and brown communities for decades. Candidates should support the decriminalization of drug use and possession; an end to disproportionate or cruel sentences, including the death penalty; the use of prolonged solitary confinement, especially for children; the use of pretrial detention only in exceptional cases; and an end to discriminatory money bail.

Questions for candidates:

- Do you support decriminalizing drug possession and use?

- Do you support greater access to evidence-based treatment for substance abuse?

- Will you work to end excessive sentencing? 

- Do you support the Democracy Restoration Act, restoring the right to vote to millions of formerly incarcerated Americans?

- How will you hold law enforcement agencies accountable for excessive use of force and unlawful police killings?
 

Racial Discrimination

Demonstrators gather outside City Hall to protest the police shooting of Stephon Clark, in Sacramento, California, U.S., March 30, 2018. 

© 2018 Reuters

Racial discrimination is a serious human rights problem in the United States – from thecriminal legal system and health and housing policies that disproportionately harm Black and Latinx people, to the surveillance of specific groups, such as Muslims or political activists from ethnic or religious minorities, to immigration policies that scapegoat non-citizens as criminals or subject asylum seekers and refugees to disparate treatment based on their national origin. Many of the discriminatory policies that disproportionately impact African Americans and the more general racial and economic discrimination that continues today are legacies of slavery. Candidates should support a congressional commission to develop a proposal to provide reparations for slavery, and the acts of murder, torture, rape, and other violence that accompanied it and continued long after its formal abolition.

Questions for candidates:

- How will you address racial barriers to affordable housing, adequate health care, and equal protection of the law?

- Do you support creating a commission to study how to account for and provide reparations for slavery and its enduring impact?
 

Women's Rights

People rallied outside the U.S. Supreme Court while the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra case remained pending, in Washington, U.S., June 25, 2018.

© 2018 Reuters

The US government should promote policies, practices, and laws seeking gender equality, because many women and girls have been left out of US successes so far, especially women of color, women with disabilities, Indigenous women, and female immigrants. Voters, no matter their gender, benefit when women in society do well. They should support candidates who back efforts to ensure women get the health care they need and oppose measures to limit treatment and access to contraception and abortion care. Systemic racism, economic and immigration status, and where a woman lives can make accessing even available health care difficult. Candidates should support efforts to target those most marginalized by the current healthcare system. Candidates should work to preserve progress to end violence against women and push for modern workforce policies including paid family leave, including to care for aging loved ones, measures to end the gender wage gap, and improving laws protecting pregnant women and banning sexual harassment.

Questions for candidates:

- What is your position on new regulations that limit women’s access to contraception, allow medical providers to discriminate against them, and block federally funded health providers from giving them information?

- Do you support paid family leave? How would you implement a program?

- Do you support legislative efforts to target and address racial disparities in women’s health outcomes, including the Jeannette Acosta Invest in Women’s Health Act?

- What measures should be taken to protect access to abortion information and services?  
 

Immigration

Immigrants attempt to enter the US between Ciudad Juarez, Mexico and El Paso, Texas, on April 29, 2019. Family apprehensions in El Paso area have topped about 60,000 individuals, an increase of 1,670%, up from about 3,000 last year, according to officials. 

© 2019 Paul Ratje/AFP/Getty Images

People fleeing their homes in search of safety have a right to seek asylum, and the US has a long history of helping refugees. Immigrants provide huge economic and social benefits to communities across the nation. Candidates should oppose a deterrence-only strategy toward migrants that has led to family separations, harsh detention conditions for adults and children, and a dismantling of the US asylum and refugee system. Candidates should seek to limit excessive surveillance and data collection to enforce the border and should support reform of an immigration system that resulted in serious abuses under previous US administrations.

Questions for candidates:

- Will you oppose requests for additional immigration funds without fundamental policy reform?

- What steps would you take to protect refugees and asylum seekers?

- Will you end the “Migrant Protection Protocols,” a program that is exposing tens of thousands of asylum seekers to danger in Mexico and injustice in US immigration courts?

- What will you do to ensure all immigrants facing deportation get a fair hearing before a judge?
 

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Rights

LGBT Rainbow Flag 

© 2008 Ludovic Berton (Wikimedia Commons)

We should work to end discrimination against people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Candidates should support the Equality Act, which would ban employers, landlords, schools, and others from discriminating against people because they are LGBT. They should support efforts to promote equality, including improving access to health care and addressing violence against transgender people, particularly trans people of color. They should oppose laws and policies that encourage discrimination, including sweeping “religious exemptions” that allow states and businesses to discriminate against LGBT people.

Questions for candidates:

- Do you support the Equality Act, which would ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity?

- How would you address the transgender military ban?

- How would you address violence against transgender people in the US?

- What is your position on religious exemptions that allow employers, landlords, service providers, and business owners to refuse service to LGBT people based on moral or religious convictions?
 

Privacy, Data Protection, Digital Rights

A 3D-printed Facebook Like symbol is displayed in front of a U.S. flag in this illustration taken, March 18, 2018.

© 2018 Reuters

Digital rights in the US are at a critical juncture: social media and other companies are vacuuming up vast amounts of personal information about us, yet Congress has not adopted comprehensive data protection laws. Barely regulated technologies affect everyone, including immigrants and schoolchildren. The US government wields massive secret surveillance powers, often with little oversight by Congress or the courts. Candidates should oppose surveillance that may disproportionately harm people of color, such as facial recognition, and rhetoric that stokes fear of Muslims.

Questions for candidates:

- What would you do to create stronger data protection rules for companies and the government?

- Do you support an end to warrantless surveillance programs?

- Do you support safeguards to limit the use of facial recognition software and other emerging technologies that could harm rights?
 

Climate Crisis and Toxic Pollution

Aerial view of a mountaintop mine in West Virginia.

© 2018 Mariam Dwedar for Human Rights Watch, flight provided by South Wings

Candidates should support policies that protect the human rights of people marginalized or otherwise most affected by climate change and toxic pollution. The global climate crisis means that Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and areas along the eastern US seaboard in particular will face increasingly severe extreme weather events.

Deregulation of health and environmental protections from mining pollution poses a serious danger to poor communities. Similarly, preventing bans of toxic pesticides will continue to put people, especially pregnant women and children, at risk. The independence of federally funded scientific research should be respected, and evidence-based regulations that mitigate the risks of climate change and toxic pollution should be enacted.

Questions for candidates:

- What is your plan to address climate change? How would you improve the US response to extreme weather events, particularly for low-income and marginalized communities?

- Will you commit to respect the independence of federally funded scientific research and enact evidence-based regulations that mitigate the risks of climate change, pollution, and toxic exposures?

- What will you do to make sure that companies responsible for coal-related pollution bear the costs of the clean-up?

- Will you create and enforce pesticide policies that are protective of pregnant women, children, and other groups at greater risk of exposure complications?

- Will you ensure compliance with relevant standards under the Food Quality Protection Act by demonstrating that there is a reasonable certainty a pesticide will not cause harm before approving or renewing its use?
 

National Security

In this photo reviewed by U.S. military officials, a U.S. flag is displayed on the control tower of the Camp VI detention facility, Wednesday, April 17, 2019, in Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba.

© 2019 AP Photo

The US government has frequently invoked national security as a justification for human rights violations. To date, there has been no real accounting of past practices, including torture. Candidates should commit to real accountability for US government-sanctioned torture and ill-treatment, including support for declassifying the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s torture program.

Candidates should commit to increasing transparency around the use of lethal force abroad, including by intelligence agencies, and ensuring that civilians unlawfully harmed by US forces receive prompt and appropriate redress. Candidates should commit to ensuring that US personnel implicated in war crimes are fully and fairly prosecuted.

Since early 2002, the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay has held people in indefinite detention, most without charge or trial. Those being prosecuted face fatally flawed military commissions. Candidates should commit to shuttering the Guantanamo facility and ensuring that there is due process for the detainees who remain there, whether in a court in the US or by transfer to a third country.

Questions for candidates:

- Will you increase transparency around the use of force by the US with the aim of reducing civilian casualties, abiding by the laws of war, including the impartial investigation and prosecution of personnel implicated in war crimes, and compensating civilians unlawfully harmed by US forces?

- Will you permanently close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay and end indefinite detention without charge or trial?

- Will you commit to declassifying and releasing the 2014 Senate Intelligence Committee report on the use of torture and enhanced interrogation techniques by the CIA following 9/11?
 

Foreign Policy

Flags fly outside the United Nations headquarters during the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019.

© 2019 AP Photo/Jennifer Peltz

The next president should reassert a leading US role in the promotion and protection of human rights abroad. The US should return to the United Nations Human Rights Council and other international human rights forums and processes. The US should also recommit to upholding its human rights obligations and adopting a principled, human-rights driven approach to engagement with the world. This means seeking international partners who commit to upholding their human rights obligations and seeking to hold to account those who violate them.

The United States should commend countries for supporting human rights and should work with other countries to hold rights-violating governments, allies, and foes alike to account. It is particularly important to seek candidates who commit to promoting and protecting human rights central to US foreign policy. Candidates should agree to adopt a range of public and private measures to pressure repressive governments to uphold the rights to expression, assembly, and privacy, sexual and reproductive health, rights of LGBT people, freedom of religion, rights of refugees and asylum seekers, and justice for grave international crimes.

Questions for candidates:

- Will you commit to making the protection and promotion of human rights central to US foreign policy?

- Will you support a permanent repeal of the “Global Gag rule” and ensure that US aid does not undermine comprehensive health care for anyone, in particular women, girls, and LGBT and gender non-conforming people around the world?

- Will you ensure US policy demonstrates commitment to resettlement and protection for refugees?

- Will you commit to rejoining the United Nations Human Rights Council?

- Do you commit to support and cooperate with the International Criminal Court?

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) – The Ugandan authorities should drop charges against dozens of people arrested over the last month in Kampala, the capital, on the basis of their presumed sexual orientation or gender identity, Human Rights Watch said today.

The police carried out two mass arrests on spurious grounds, abused the detainees, and forced at least 16 to undergo anal examinations. Such examinations violate their right to bodily integrity and freedom from torture and ill treatment.

“Whether it’s arresting victims threatened by a mob or rounding up revelers at a bar on trumped-up drug charges, Ugandan police are stooping to new lows in their persecution of people for being LGBT,” said Neela Ghoshal, senior LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Ugandan police should be protecting people, not violating their rights because of their presumed sexuality or gender identity.”

On October 21, 2019, police arrested 16 activists with Let’s Walk Uganda, a community-based organization working on economic empowerment for LGBT youth. Eric Ndawula, the organization’s program coordinator, who was among those arrested, told Human Rights Watch that the activists had called police to help them after a group of people surrounded the house they use as an office and shelter, shouting homophobic insults and threatening to break in. But after dispersing the mob, police interrogated the 16 people inside about their gender presentation, used homophobic insults, and arrested them all.

The following day, police searched the house, confiscated condoms, lubricant, and anti-retroviral medicines and charged the occupants with “carnal knowledge against the order of nature.” On October 23, a police doctor at Nsambya Police Barracks performed forced anal examinations on the 16 detainees, Ndawula said. The police released the activists on bail the next day. The charges against them remain in place.

On November 10, police raided Ram Bar, a known LGBT-friendly bar in Kampala, and rounded up 125 people. The Ugandan media outlet Kuchu Times reported that victims were dragged and thrown onto police trucks. Victims were initially told they were being detained under Uganda’s Anti-Tobacco Law (2015) for illegal use of shisha (water pipes), but one person caught up in the sweep told Human Rights Watch that police arrested everyone in the bar indiscriminately, though only a few clients were using shisha.

She said a woman in her cell at Kampala’s Central Police Station was able to phone her brother, a police officer, who told her the bar had been targeted to arrest homosexuals. One of those arrested, Joan Amek, an activist and director of Rella Women’s Foundation, said police made homophobic comments during the raid and at the police station.

The two women and some others were released on bond on November 11. But 58 remain in Luzira Prison on charges of “common nuisance” under Uganda’s penal code, with some scheduled to appear before the Buganda Road Magistrates’ Court on November 18. They are represented by lawyers with the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum, a Ugandan nongovernmental organization.

The two raids follow several months of violent incidents against LGBT Ugandans. On August 1, a group of motorcycle taxi drivers beat to death a young transgender woman, Fahad Ssemugooma Kawere, in Wakiso District, near Kampala. On October 4, unidentified people attacked Brian Wasswa, an openly gay and gender nonconforming activist in Jinja, with a hoe. He died the following day.

A medical doctor in Kampala faces criminal assault charges and investigation by the Uganda Medical and Dental Practitioners’ Council for allegedly assaulting a patient on October 19 because he believed she was a lesbian. On October 20, unidentified assailants attacked a gay Rwandan refugee in Kampala, inflicting severe blows to his head.

These attacks have taken place against a backdrop of homophobic discourse from high-ranking government officials. In October, Ethics and Integrity Minister Simon Lokodo told reporters that parliament planned to introduce a bill that would criminalize so-called “promotion and recruitment” by gay people, and would include the death penalty for “grave” consensual same-sex acts. Security Minister Elly Tumwine claimed in an October 3 television interview that LGBT people were linked to an alleged terrorist group.

The Office of the President disavowed Lokodo’s statements, stating that the“Government of Uganda does not have any plans of re-introducing the anti-homosexuality bill on the floor of Parliament.” Health Minister Aceng Jane Ruth condemned several of the instances of homophobic violence.

The ongoing cases against the 16 members of Let’s Walk Uganda and the scores of people rounded up at Ram Bar, however, leave LGBT activists in Uganda skeptical of the government’s assurances. Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, said in a statement: “Whereas government recently issued a statement assuring safety and protection of all Ugandans, including minority groups[…] What good is that statement now, when security forces are blatantly violating our human rights with impunity.”

Clare Byarugaba, an activist with Chapter Four Uganda, accused the police of seeking to distract public attention from a recent brutal crackdown by security forces on students protesting fee increases.

Uganda should drop charges in both cases and repeal articles 145, 146, and 148 of the penal code, which criminalize consensual same-sex relations and violate rights to privacy and non-discrimination, Human Rights Watch said. It should also decriminalize petty offenses such as “common nuisance,” in accordance with the Principles on the Decriminalization of Petty Offenses in Africa adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in 2017.

The Health Ministry and the police should ban forced anal examinations and their use as “evidence” in homosexuality prosecutions. These exams have no scientific value and violate the Convention against Torture, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

“LGBT Ugandans wake up every day facing the risk of police harassment, arbitrary arrest, and abuse,” Ghoshal said. “Uganda should decriminalize consensual same-sex conduct and stop using petty offenses as legally sanctioned harassment of people who are trying to live their lives in peace.”

Selected Accounts

Eric Ndawula, arrested in “Let’s Walk Uganda” raid

The third day, police took us to Nsambya police barracks which has a health facility. When we reached the barracks, the doctor told us he was going to examine [us]. He first made comments, “You are young, spoiling your lives” and “lured into devilish acts” and “working on behalf of the devil.” He did anal examination of us all, one by one, in a ward at night in the dark with no power. The nurse held the torch while the doctor made the examination.

The exam is really humiliating and dehumanizing. The doctor tells you to lie down on the bed and make a “four” with your legs. He tells the nurse to bring the torch closer. Wearing gloves, [he] inserts his fingers in the anus. He tells you to hold then release and asks whether you feel pain. If you don’t feel pain there, he puts another finger.

The doctor told me he found bruises. He mentioned that to all of us. He said to some people they are “loose” and his conclusion is that we have all engaged in anal sex… Then they administered HIV tests on all of us. They never told us the results.

Joan Amek, arrested in Ram Bar raid

We were first told to go “chini,” I guess to squat or sit on the floor. They were asking homophobic questions especially to the trans women; what are they, why do they have plaited hair? A police lady at some point said she would beat the hell out of a trans woman because of her walking style and ways. They kept on calling us prostitutes and genderless people. They kept on making common mistakes on he and she and dramatically laughing about it, saying that they thought we didn’t care so why are we complaining.

After the drug accusations failed, they accused us of being idle. But there is no crime, they just need something to pin on people.

“Judy,” arrested in Ram Bar raid

The impact this has caused has messed up so many lives. Many don’t even think they have a life to come back to even after their release. Some of us who are out feel guilty because our other friends are still in there. For others, they couldn’t imagine talking to their families about this due to fear. All our lives will never be the same. A number practically lost jobs because of this and families don’t want anything to do with them even after they get out. I and my friends can’t even have decent sleep because our minds can’t rest.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Maksim Pankratov, 21 y/o, interviewed by children on “Real Talk”

© personal archive / Maksim Pankratov

(Moscow) – Russian authorities should drop a criminal case over a YouTube video of children talking to a gay man and ensure the man’s safety amid threats and attempted physical attacks, Human Rights Watch said today.

Maksim Pankratov, 21, took part in the “Real Talk” video series, modeled on an American show “Kids Meet,” on which children interview people with different life experiences, asking them unscripted questions. “Real Talk” previously featured children interviewing a woman with anorexia, an African man, a person of small stature, and others.

In the video, posted earlier this year, four children, ages six to 13, talk to Pankratov about his life and experiences as a gay man. In response to their questions, he tells them how he found out about his sexual orientation, how other people treat him, how he likes to dress, how he feels about girls, and how eventually he would like to get married and to have his own biological children or adopt a child. There was no discussion of sex or physical intimacy.

In October 2019, the Interior Ministry opened an administrative case over alleged “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” against the YouTube channel owners, and the state media and communications watchdog agency, Roskomnadzor, blocked the video. Then in November, Moscow’s investigative agency opened a criminal investigation alleging that the episode amounted to sexual assault of children.

“This case is a particularly disturbing example of authorities using Russia’s ‘gay propaganda’ law as a tool for discrimination and intimidation,” said Kyle Knight, senior lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The perniciousness of the ‘gay propaganda’ law apparently knows no boundaries. A criminal charge of sexual assault of children for a YouTube video that contained no sexual content is as outrageous as it is terrifying.”

Under Russia’s “gay propaganda” ban, adopted in 2013, portraying same-sex relations as socially acceptable is illegal. The cynical political rationale is that such information supposedly threatens the well-being of children. Human Rights Watch research has found the opposite ­ the law seriously endangers children by cutting them off from accurate and affirmative information about sexual orientation and gender identity, and curtails their ability to access mental health services. The law has been used to target peaceful public protests, individuals’ social media posts, teachers, and Deti-404, a website providing psychosocial, or mental health, support for LGBT youth.

In 2017 and 2019, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled that Russia is violating fundamental rights and its human rights obligations by invoking the “gay propaganda” law. However, instead of repealing the discriminatory law, the authorities stepped up from administrative sanctions to criminal prosecution. In July, a same-sex couple with two children fled the country after being targeted. Social workers who gave their family a positive evaluation were charged with inadequate performance of duties, a criminal offense punishable by up to three months in prison.

Pankratov told Human Rights Watch that “people [who commented on the video] reacted positively” and based on their comments, the video “made them understand that gay people are no different from them.”

Pyotr Tolstoy, a member of the lower chamber of Russian parliament, started to advocate against the video in September, calling it “ethically unacceptable and immoral” and alleging that it was “gay propaganda” and did psychological damage to children. Then on November 2, Moscow’s investigative agency confirmed and the media widely reported that a criminal case into sexual assault against children had been opened in connection to the video. Anyone charged in the investigation could face a possible prison sentence of 12 to 20 years.

The police and child protection services reportedly put pressure on the parents of the children filmed for the video series in an effort to make them testify against the YouTube channel’s owners.

Pankratov said that in the wake of the criminal case announcement, he immediately started receiving threats and hate messages online. “People who had not seen the video [because it was blocked] thought there really was some sexual assault of those kids and they began writing all kinds of ugly things to me,” he said.

That same week, when he was walking near his home, two men whom he did not know chased him, and he barely escaped. He told Human Rights Watch that he did not report the attempted attack and threats to the police because he feared they would hold him responsible for the alleged sexual assault. He said he was very distressed and frightened.

“The ‘gay propaganda’ law has created both a climate of fear for LGBT people in Russia, and a climate of impunity for their attackers,” Knight said. “In this case, a gay man with well-founded fears for his physical safety does not even contemplate seeking help from the authorities but instead fears that going to the police would do him harm.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Panamanians protesting constitutional reforms on November 2, 2019. 

© 2019 Iván Chanis Barahona

Update: On November 8, President Cortizo recommended that many of the controversial constitutional amendments be scrapped, including the one banning marriage equality. The National Assembly will revisit the constitutional reforms in the next legislative session in 2020.

“They are gay and they cannot enter,” said legislator Jairo “Bolota” Salazar on October 29 about a group of protesters outside the Panamanian National Assembly, as he barred them from entering the building.

This affront encapsulates the grievances of protesters who have taken to the streets of Panama City to protest against constitutional reforms preliminarily approved by the legislature last week. One of these would amend the constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman. Panama already excludes same-sex couples from marriage under Article 26 of its Family Code. But writing discrimination into the constitution would effectively bar lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people from being equal members of Panamanian society.

The past week’s protests, to which police have reportedly responded with arbitrary detentions and excessive force, address issues beyond marriage equality. Protesters are angered by legislators’ proposals to modify the national budget and even appoint a special prosecutor who could pursue charges against state attorneys that investigate them. But Representative Bolota Salazar’s homophobic comments have brought the issue of marriage front and center, with President Laurentino Cortizo condemning the comments and affirming, “We are here to serve the country and that means not turning our backs on citizens.”

The proposed constitutional reform follows a wave of regional progress on marriage equality. In 2018, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued an advisory opinion calling on states to take steps towards achieving marriage equality. Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Uruguay, and many Mexican states already perform same-sex marriages, with Costa Rica slated to start doing so in 2020. Enshrining anti-LGBT discrimination in its constitution would put Panama out of step with its neighbors.

While Bolota Salazar has walked back his homophobic remarks, he and fellow Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) members say they have no intention of scrapping the discriminatory proposal. Pro-equality protestors and their allies plan to maintain pressure on the president ahead of his statement on the reforms on November 7. Further legislative debates are to take place in 2020, followed by a referendum on the reforms.

Though Bolota Salazar shut LGBT protesters out of the National Assembly last week, legislators will have a chance to reexamine their demands in the next legislative session and make some room for them in Panamanian society.

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

Maksim Pankratov, 21 y/o, interviewed by children on “Real Talk”

© personal archive / Maksim Pankratov

This week, investigative authorities in Moscow opened a criminal investigation into alleged sexual assault of children in connection with a video in which Russian kids ask a gay man questions about his life.

The video series by Russian YouTube channel “Real Talk,” is a local adaption of the US show “Kids Meet,” where children meet people with different life experiences and ask unscripted questions. The channel has featured children interviewing an older person, a woman with anorexia, a black person, a person of short stature, and others.

On the video featuring a gay “interviewee,” four children, aged 6 to 13, chat with the 21-year-old Maksim who sits in a chair a few feet away from them. In response to their questions, he explains how and when he discovered his sexual orientation, shares his hope to eventually have kids, talks about his family and friends, and about the way people treat him. The interview did not include any discussion of sex or physical intimacy.

In September, State Duma deputy Pyotr Tolstoy reached out to the Interior Ministry and the state telecommunications watchdog Roskomnadzor. He expressed concern the video violates the Russia’s ban on “gay propaganda” and could cause psychological damage to children. In October, the Interior Ministry launched an administrative case over alleged “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations.” Subsequently, Roskomnadzor blocked the video and the owners deleted their YouTube account.

On November 2, Moscow’s investigative agency confirmed a criminal case into “sexual assault of minors” had been opened and the investigators had questioned the video producers and were currently “seeking to establish the victims of the crime and all relevant circumstances.”

In the past, Russian authorities have used the discriminatory “gay propaganda” law to ban peaceful protest and to stifle LGBT-friendly information. The European Court of Human Rights already ruled in 2017 and 2019 that Russia is violating fundamental rights and its human rights obligations by invoking its ban on “gay propaganda.” This year, the authorities stepped up from administrative suits and intimidation to criminal prosecution. In July, a same-sex couple with two kids fled the country after being targeted by authorities. The social workers, who gave their family a positive evaluation, were charged with inadequate performance of duties, a criminal offense punishable by up to three months in prison. Now, investigators are equating a talk show interview by children as “sexual assault of children,” a crime punishable by twelve to twenty years’ imprisonment under Russian law. This madness has to stop.

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

Kasymberdy Garayev

© 2019 Photo Courtesty of RFE/RL

Update: On November 6, 2019, at around 11 p.m., Kasymberdy Garayev and his father, Maksat Garayev, had a video call with the chief editor of RFE/RL’s Turkmen service from their home. Maksat Garayev asked the editor to tell people and organizations that had  expressed their concerns about his son that everything is fine with him. The circumstances of what happened to Kasymberdy Garayev when RFE/RL lost contact with him remain unclear.

(Berlin) – A man is feared missing in Turkmenistan after he made his sexual orientation public, Human Rights Watch said today. The Turkmen government should urgently clarify whether the man, Kasymberdy Garayev, is in custody, and if he is, release him immediately and explain why he was being held.

“We are very concerned that Kasymberdy Garayev is being held incommunicado in the wake of coming out about his sexual orientation,” said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Given Turkmenistan’s appalling human rights record, including enforced disappearances, we have every reason to fear for his safety and well-being.”

On October 21, 2019, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) published a narrative by Garayev in which he came out, but initially did not identify him by name for security reasons. RFE/RL told Human Rights Watch that Turkmen authorities started to search for Garayev after the story was published. On October 24, he told RFE/RL that he had been summoned by police for a background check. RFE/RL lost contact with him 30 minutes before he was due to appear at the police station and could not confirm whether he had gone to meet with the police and whether anyone has seen him since.

Turkmen police had detained Garayev previously, in 2018, after the authorities used proxies to lure him online into a date with another man. He told RFE/RL, “They used a stun gun, they demanded that I confess to the camera that I was gay.” Garayev was released without charge after several hours.

On October 31, RFE/RL published a video that Garayev had asked RFE/RL to release if anything happened to him, such as if he went missing. In the video, Garayev apologizes to his family and discloses his name.

Garayev is a cardiologist who returned to Ashgabat in the summer of 2018 after completing medical studies in Minsk, Belarus. He told RFE/RL that while in Minsk, he “tasted freedom” and started to accept his sexual orientation.

The RFE/RL article said that Garayev decided to tell RFE/RL his story to push back against Turkmenistan’s extremely hostile environment toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and constant bullying by his family. By coming out, Garayev said, he wanted to start a discussion in Turkmen society so that attitudes towards sexual minorities would change.

Adult consensual same-sex conduct is a criminal offense under Turkmen law, punishable by a maximum two-year prison sentence. In past years, police have used forced anal exams on people accused of same-sex conduct. These examinations lack evidentiary value and are a form of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment that may in some cases amount to torture.

Turkmenistan has a highly repressive government. People who cooperate with foreign media outlets are often persecuted. More than 120 people have been forcibly disappeared either after being arrested or following a trial, and their families have no official information about their whereabouts or status. In this context, when someone who has been summoned by the police is reported missing, there is a real risk they could be the victim of an enforced disappearance.

Garayev told RFE/RL that after he was released from his previous arrest, his family members verbally abused him and attempted to “cure” him by bringing him to imams and making him seek psychological treatment. Garayev is also barred from leaving Turkmenistan, allegedly because his family has government contacts they are able to use to seek the ban.

“The Turkmen government should decriminalize consensual same-sex conduct and take steps to protect LGBT people from violence and discrimination,” Denber said. “And they should immediately take steps to determine Garayev’s whereabouts and well-being.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am