“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

Same-sex marriage supporters cheer outside the Legislative Yuan Friday, May 17, 2019, in Taipei, Taiwan after the legislature passed a law allowing same-sex marriage.

© 2019 AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying

Crowds waving rainbow flags broke into cheers – and tears of joy – as news spread that Taiwan’s lawmakers had passed a bill today allowing same-sex couples to marry.

Starting May 24, same-sex couples will be able to tie the knot with almost the same rights as different-sex couples. This is a first in Asia and a significant milestone on the road to equality in the region.

An early morning tweet from Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, presaged the positive outcome of two long years of campaigning by marriage equality activists.

Good morning #Taiwan. Today, we have a chance to make history & show the world that progressive values can take root in an East Asian society.

Today, we can show the world that #LoveWins. pic.twitter.com/PCPZCTi87M

— 蔡英文 Tsai Ing-wen (@iingwen) May 17, 2019

The events in Taiwan over the past two years followed a path familiar to LGBT activists the world over – as same-sex couples struggled for rights in the face of social prejudice. In 2017, the Constitutional Court found Taiwan’s existing marriage act violated the Constitution on discrimination grounds by excluding same-sex couples.

The court gave Parliament two years to rectify this, but public opposition led to a referendum in 2018 to gauge public opinion on same-sex marriage. Too often around the world, LGBT people’s fundamental rights are debated in the court of public opinion, throwing the right to non-discrimination into question. The results of the referendum were clear – the majority rejected marriage equality.

In a last-ditch attempt to prevent marriage equality, two alternative bills were introduced in parliament that offered a separate, and unequal, form of partnership recognition that fell far short of marriage. But Taiwan’s lawmakers rejected these initiatives and voted in favor of the bill first proposed by the cabinet that provides a path to marriage for same-sex couples.

A cornerstone of democracy is the protection of minority rights from the whim of the majority. LGBT people require protection from discrimination, precisely because of social attitudes that lead to systemic discrimination.

Taiwan’s lawmakers voted to uphold minority rights in the face of discrimination, and in doing so set a positive example for the region. Today is indeed a day for celebration.

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

(Tunis) – Tunisia should revise its laws and practices to recognize and protect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, Human Rights Watch said today on the International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia.

Human Rights Watch joined the Civil Coalition for Individual Freedoms in Tunisia today in issuing a statement that called on the government to decriminalize consensual same-sex conduct, end forced anal examinations, recognize transgender people, and stop harassing LGBT organizations.

“Tunisia has taken rhetorical steps toward ending institutionalized discrimination against LGBT people, by agreeing to end forced anal exams and establishing a presidential commission that called for decriminalization of same-sex conduct,” said Neela Ghoshal, senior LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “But arrests and forced anal exams continue, while the state attempts to silence one of the groups vocally condemning these practices.”

The Tunisian government has taken steps to withdraw the legal registration of a leading Tunisian LGBT rights organization, Shams, claiming its work on behalf of sexual minorities contravenes “Tunisian society’s Islamic values” and laws that criminalize homosexual acts. A court of appeal is expected to issue a ruling in the case on May 20.

Article 230 of the penal code punishes consensual same-sex relations with up to three years in prison. Tunisian law also punishes any act the authorities perceive as contrary to “morality” and “decency.” The coalition noted that the police frequently arrest people solely on the basis of non-normative gender expression. 

While the Tunisian authorities in 2017 committed to ending anal tests as evidence in homosexuality prosecutions, the courts continue to order this practice, which has no scientific basis and has been condemned by international experts as torture.  

Crimes against people perceived to be homosexual or transgender continue in an atmosphere of impunity, the coalition said. Unchecked discrimination prevents LGBT people from enjoying their most basic rights to health, education, work, and to seek legal action against abusers.  

The coalition issued a series of recommendations to the Tunisian government. It called on parliament to adopt the draft Code of Individual Freedoms, which was put forward by a group of parliament members in October 2018. The code would provide for decriminalization of homosexual acts and a rights-respecting process by which trans people could change their sex marker on legal documents.

It also called on judges to bar the use of anal testing, and for doctors to refuse to conduct anal tests.

The signatory associations:

Tunisian League for the Defense of Human Rights

Tunisian Association of Democratic Women

Tunisian Association for the Defense of Individual Liberties

Beity Association

Damj Association - for Justice and Equality

Tunisian Association for Positive Prevention

Shams Association

Mawjoudin Association

Chouf Association

Association for the promotion of the Right to Difference

Tunisian federation for a citizenship of both banks

CALAM Association

Legal Agenda Tunisia

Tunisian Association for Reproductive Health

Tawhida Ben Cheikh Group

Tahadi Association

Free Sight Association

Fanni Raghman Anni Association

Doustourna Association

Lawyers without Borders

International Federation for Human Rights

Euromed Rights Network

Human Rights Watch

World Organization Against Torture

Al Bawsala Association

Outcasts Collective

Alwani Association

Committee for Respect for Freedoms and Human Rights

Tunisie Terre des Hommes Association

Ahmed Tlili Foundation for Democratic Culture

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

The Indonesian film Kucumbu Tubuh Indahku (Memories of My Body) is winning awards and accolades around the world. But at home in Indonesia, few may get to see this evocative masterpiece because of an overblown call to censor it. Its creator, Garin Nugroho, knew the film would be provocative because of its political content, but it’s the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) content, not politics, that is proving controversial. Although the Film Censorship Board (LSF) approved the film, local Islamist leaders from Java to Kalimantan and Sumatra have effectively prevented its screening.

Garin’s film covers a period in the late 1960s, when Gen. Soeharto came to power and the army and anticommunist militias killed more than 1 million left-leaning activists. Back then, censorship was common. Authoritarian rule tolerated only one television station and one radio channel, both under government control.

In the 1980s, Soeharto was at the peak of his power. With a tight grip on the country, he positioned his generals to control almost all government ministries.

Soeharto’s fall in May 1998 opened the gate to democratic rule and the freedom of expression, but this freedom also enabled political Islamists to flex their muscles. Over the last two decades, Islamists have pushed the government to increasingly adopt legal provisions based on the sharia. Many of these regulations discriminate religious or sexual minorities. 

Indonesia has been engulfed by a government-driven moral panic about gender and sexuality since early 2016. Politicians, government officials and state offices have issued anti-LGBT statements, calling for a criminalization of or “cure” for homosexuality, and for censorship of information related to LGBT individuals and activities.

Garin’s main character in the film is a boy named Juno, who grows up as an orphan and experiences many painful episodes in his life. His father, enduring distress, disappears after seeing the massacre of many suspected communists. Juno moves from one relative to another. He is gay.

Juno is a composite character based in part on the life of a real-world dancer named Rianto, who also plays in the film. Rianto was born in 1981 in a village in Banyumas in Java. Rianto, from a young age, learned a Javanese folk dance called lengger, a traditional cross-gender dance in which “the feminine and masculinity overlap”, as the filmmaker describes it. Rianto is now an established dancer with his own dance studio in Tokyo, teaching Japanese to play the gamelan, the percussive music form from Bali and Java, and to dance Javanese dances. 

The film was released in Indonesian theaters on April 18, but local officials immediately banned it in DepokBekasiGarutBogor (West Java), Palembang (South Sumatra), Pontianak and Kubu Raya (West Kalimantan), as well as Balikpapan (East Kalimantan). The ban came after three petitioners used change.org to ask the government to ban the film, apparently on the basis of the movie’s trailer, contending that it was an “LGBT-promoting” film. The abovementioned local authorities immediately cancelled screenings in their cities. 

“We worry that the younger generation, who are looking for their identities, will imitate the [LGBT] behavior in this film,” wrote one of the petitioners, Rakhmi Mashita

In Kubu Raya, Regent Muda Mahendrawan decreed that the film was against “religious values” and would drive young people to accept “deviant sexual activities,” stressing that he regretted that the Censorship Board had approved the film. 

Masduki Baidowi of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), the semiofficial state Islamic institution, supported those local initiatives, calling on the government to ban the film nationwide. “The bad influence of LGBT people is a hot topic lately,” he said. “The MUI closely follows this development in a bid to protect Muslims from the negative impact of the LGBT movement.”

In Pontianak, a Malay youth paramilitary organization attacked a World Day Dance festival soon after the film’s ban there, claiming that the dances “promoted LGBT lifestyles.” They beat a campus lecturer and some students, claiming that the tight shirts worn by male dancers from the local university – and “dancing femininely” – were incompatible with Indonesian culture.

In fact, the dance lengger is mentioned in Serat Centhini, a 12-volume compilation of Javanese tales and teachings, published in 1814. It contains verses on sexuality, including overlapping femininity and masculinity. Serat Centhini depicts Java in the 17th century. 

Since 2017, police across Indonesia have raided saunas, nightclubs, hotel rooms, hair salons and private homes on suspicion of LGBT activities. Militant Islamists often tip off police or accompany them during these raids. Police have also initiated social media monitoring to target LGBT groups. The government’s failure to halt arbitrary and unlawful raids by police and militant Islamists on private LGBT gatherings has derailed public health efforts to curb HIV in men who have sex with men.

The film has no gay sex scenes and no kissing. In fact, it invites young Indonesians to contemplate how rich traditional ethnic culture must fight to survive imported cultures and religions, including Islam, that have entered Indonesia.

It used to be common to see LGBT characters in Indonesian movies and television. But in February 2016, the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission banned the broadcast on television and radio of information related to LGBT people, calling the ban a “protection for children and adolescents that are vulnerable to duplicating deviant LGBT behavior.” The statement contradicted the commission’s own 2012 Guidelines for Broadcast Practice and Standard for Broadcast Programs, which prohibit programs that stigmatize “people of certain sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Local governments in Indonesia are obliged to respect national laws and institutions, which includes supporting local artists and promoting artistic development. The government is required under international law to protect the right to freedom of expression for artists like Rianto and Garin. It’s sad that an accomplished dancer like Rianto openly and proudly represents Javanese traditions in Tokyo when his own story is censored at home in Pontianak, Palembang and Balikpapan.

By censoring a beautiful film like “Memories of My Body,” these local governments are discriminating sexual minorities and denying all Indonesians an opportunity to enjoy their rich culture. Indonesian culture and art will suffer a great setback with the restrictions on this film — putting the rights to security, privacy and free expression for LGBT Indonesians once again under threat.

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

Brunei will appear before the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on May 10 as part of its Universal Periodic Review, slated every four years. The review comes shortly after Brunei put into effect a new Sharia penal code that contains punishments including death by stoning, amputation, and whipping. It’s a timely opportunity for countries to ask Brunei some tough human rights questions – and demand answers.

The Sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah listens during the first executive session of the CHOGM summit at Lancaster House in London, Thursday, April 19, 2018. 

© 2019 AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth

With Brunei, where does one start? The penal code is essentially a roadmap for violating rights. It requires death by stoning for sex outside marriage and anal sex; amputation of limbs for stealing; and 40 lashes with a whip for lesbian sex. It punishes transgender people, women seeking abortions, and anyone who criticizes Islam. Children who have reached puberty face the same punishments as adults, including the death penalty, and even younger children may be whipped. The penal code runs rampant over Brunei’s international human rights obligations including the rights to life, expression, religion, privacy, and individual autonomy, and freedom from torture and other ill-treatment.

When the new law sparked an international outcry, Brunei’s ruler, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, announced that the country’s de facto moratorium on the death penalty – which has been in effect for two decades – would remain in place. But this will bring little solace to those facing arrest under this abominable law. The sultan could reverse his decision on a whim, and the punishments of amputation and whipping could still be used. Even if its harshest provisions are not enforced, the law will serve its evident purpose: to terrorize and silence people, and cement discrimination against LGBT people and women.

No one should accept Brunei’s cynical attempt to reassure critics that the government “strongly upholds the fundamental principles of human rights,” as its report to the UN claims. The Sharia penal code is a shocking affront to rights, and governments around the world should call for its immediate repeal.

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

Illustration based on a detainee's testimony about abuse inflicted on him in detention in the Grozny Internal Affairs Department compound, in Chechnya because of his presumed sexual orientation.

© 2019 John Holmes for Human Rights Watch

(Moscow) – Police in Chechnya have carried out a new round of unlawful detentions, beatings, and humiliation of men they presume to be gay or bisexual, Human Rights Watch said today. The new abuses come against a backdrop of absolute impunity for the vicious large-scale anti-gay purge in spring 2017. The Russian authorities should carry out an effective investigation into the anti-gay abuses and hold those responsible to account.

Human Rights Watch interviewed four men who were detained for between three and 20 days, between December 2018 and February 2019, at the Grozny Internal Affairs Department compound. Police officials there kicked them with booted feet, beat them sticks and polypropylene pipes, and tortured three of the four with electric shocks. One was raped with a stick. The men’s accounts are consistent with a crime report filed on January 29 with Russia’s chief investigative agency by the Russian LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) Network, a prominent LGBT rights group, which stated that in December and January, police in Grozny, Chechnya’s capital, rounded up and abused 14 men. The report suggested that the true scope of detentions was broader.

“There wasn’t anything remotely resembling an effective investigation into the anti-gay purge of 2017, when Chechen police rounded up and tortured dozens of men they suspected of being gay,” said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Impunity for the 2017 anti-gay purge has sanctioned a new wave of torture and humiliation in Chechnya.”

The four men Human Rights Watch interviewed said that the police interrogated them under torture, demanding that they identify other gay men in their social circles, in some cases showing them photographs. Police seized the detainees’ cell phones for the same purpose.

One man said the police handed him over to his family, exposing his sexual orientation and indirectly encouraging his family members to kill him. Some of those interviewed said this happened in at least two other cases. In at least three cases, police demanded large sums of money for the men’s release.

Two of the men whose time in unlawful detention overlapped gave closely matching descriptions of the detention facility, the other inmates, the daily routine, the police officials, and the abuse inflicted on presumably gay captives. The other two were held in other parts of the police department and described similar treatment and gave similar descriptions of some of the same officials involved in the abuse.

All four said they were denied food and had only limited access to water. Three said the police shaved off their beards and hair or forced inmates to shave each other’s heads. The same happened to other detainees police presumed to be gay.

Police officers also humiliated them by probing into the details of their lives, using homophobic slurs, exposing them as gay to other inmates, and forcing them to undress. Police also forced several of the presumed gay inmates to clean the toilet and wash floors and doors along a corridor, making it clear to them and the other inmates that the gay detainees were given “women’s work” as a form of humiliation.

Two of the interviewees said they were held mostly in a large cell with some 40 other inmates on the fourth floor of a building on the police department compound. During their time in confinement, they encountered five other inmates detained and subjected to cruel and degrading treatment because of their presumed sexual orientation.

Another interviewee was held in a garage on the compound and then in a lock-up cell with another 8 to 10 men, one of whom was an acquaintance and was detained because of his presumed sexual orientation. The fourth interviewee was held in a basement by himself.

Activists of the Russian LGBT Network told Human Rights Watch that based on the information the network received from various sources and cross-checked, Chechen police detained at least 23 men between December and April because of their presumed homosexuality. At least 18 of them were held at the Grozny Internal Affairs Department. Human Rights Watch is not in a position to determine the full scope of this new wave of persecution.

Human Rights Watch did not find indications that top Chechen authorities sanctioned the new wave of detentions, as they had with the anti-gay purge of spring 2017. However, researchers determined that the police involved felt at liberty to hold people in unlawful, incommunicado detention, and to humiliate and torture them for days because of their presumed sexual orientation.

Chechen authorities have denied reports of the new wave of persecution. Speaking to Interfax in January, Alvi Karimov, a spokesman for Ramzan Kadyrov, the Chechnya governor, said: “This is an absolute lie. . . There were no detentions on grounds of sexual orientation in the indicated periods in the Chechen Republic.”

Russian federal authorities have not commented on the allegations. There has been no effective investigation in response to the crime report Kochetkov filed in January. Kochetkov told Human Rights Watch that Russia’s chief investigative agency merely forwarded the report to the investigative authorities in Chechnya, who sent him a letter in March seeking “additional information.” Kochetkov said the Russian LGBT Network did not engage with Chechen officials, and had said in its report that due to Chechnya’s climate of lawlessness and impunity, the investigation should be carried out by federal authorities.

Despite a sharp international outcry and Russian authorities’ repeated promises to investigate the 2017 crackdown, the government has taken no action. No criminal case has been opened into an October 2017 complaint by a survivor of the purge, and the Russian authorities did not provide him with the protection he repeatedly requested. In May 2018, Russia’s justice minister, Aleksander Konovalov, told the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC): “The investigations that we carried out ... did not confirm evidence of rights’ violations, nor were we even able to find representatives of the LGBT community in Chechnya.”

In November 2018, 16 participating states of the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE) invoked the organization’s “Moscow Mechanism” and appointed a rapporteur to look into allegations of abuses in Chechnya, including the anti-gay purge. In his report presented to the OSCE Permanent Council in December, he concluded that Chechen authorities persecute LGBT people, attack human rights defenders, and carry out torture and other blatant abuses, while the Russian government “appears to support the perpetrators rather than the victims.”

In March, 30 countries supported a joint statement at the UNHRC expressing deep concern about reports of persecution of LGBT people in Chechnya and called for a thorough and impartial investigation.

Russia’s international partners, including the European Union (EU), its member states, Canada, and the United States should press the Russian authorities to thoroughly investigate accounts of torture and hold those responsible to account. They should also urgently provide safe sanctuary to victims or people at risk of persecution.

“Russian authorities should immediately investigate the new wave of torture and humiliation by the Chechen police of men they believe to be gay and, finally, carry out an effective investigation into the purge of 2017,” Denber said. “The investigations should be conducted at the federal level with security guarantees provided to victims and witnesses who come forward, and their families. Otherwise, we can expect further episodes of this depraved abuse.”

For detailed findings, please see below.

Human Rights Watch interviewed the four survivors of the police round-ups separately, after they fled Chechnya. The interviews took place in a safe setting, in February and March. Human Rights Watch has not used their real names and has withheld some details to protect them and their families.

Chechnya is a highly conservative majority-Muslim society and homosexuality is generally viewed as severely tainting family honor. High-level Chechen officials fuel that attitude by publicly condoning “honor killings” of gay and bisexual men.

A mass rally in support of the Chechen leadership, organized in Grozny in January 2016.

© 2016 Marsur Iskhanov

“Anzor,” 29

In January, Anzor spent seven days in unlawful detention at the Grozny Internal Affairs Department, during which time police officials beat and tortured him with electric shocks, humiliated him, forced him to do work, and subjected him to other forms of cruel and degrading treatment. He told Human Rights Watch that at least six other men were held and tortured there at the time because of their presumed homosexuality.

Chechen police came to his home, claiming they wanted to question him about an alleged crime. Anzor managed to wipe his cell phone clean before the police took him away. In the car, one of the police officers took his phone. On the compound of the Grozny Internal Affairs Department, they took Anzor to the fourth-floor office of a higher-ranking police official, where a group of police questioned, beat, and tortured him with electric shocks.

They screamed at me. One of them started kicking me, I dropped to the floor, flat on my stomach… Another one then beat me with a stick, from the waist down, he was hitting me very hard for some five minutes. Then they made me kneel on the floor and put metal clips on my thumbs [the wires were hooked to a device delivering electric shocks], he turned the knob [of the device], first slowly and then faster and faster… With every turn, my hands bounced up and excruciating pain went through them… He stopped when I screamed my heart was about to burst. They took the clips off and my hands were heavy and felt dead.

The interrogators wanted Anzor to confess to being gay and to implicate his partner. Police seemed to have information about Anzor’s relationship, including the circumstances of their last meeting. The police officers also showed him photos of other men they believed to be gay and asked whether he knew them, and other questions.

They shaved off Anzor’s beard in the toilet and took him to a large cell behind an iron door at the end of the corridor. The cell held about 40 inmates. One, “Vakha,” sat in a corner apart from the rest:

When they brought me there, one of the officers said, “They brought in another pansy, and another one said, “So, that other one won’t be lonely,” and they all laughed. That [other] guy was huddled in a corner… The others were all [suspected] drug users and [jihadi sympathizers].

Police brought in Anzor’s acquaintance, Aslanbek, later that day:

I knew they had him before they brought him to the cell. I recognized his voice as they tortured him – I heard his screams. When they threw him into the cell… he was in very bad shape. He was holding his side... He sat next to me. When they questioned him, like with me, they showed him photos of other gays and asked whether he knew them…

Anzor described how police beat and humiliated him and Aslanbek in front of the other inmates:

They were three or five [police], I don’t quite recall but one of them, Maga, had a stick with a black handle. They yelled, “Where are the pansies?” They ordered [Aslanbek and me] to get up. They began to humiliate us, verbally, using obscene words, calling us fags, asking which one of us is active, which one passive, whether we derived pleasure [from having sex with a man]. And all the inmates were watching… They hit [us] on the head with their sticks… Then, they left but another three officers walked in. They were coming in groups for a long time – smaller groups and bigger groups...[T]hey entertained themselves by mocking us, beating us.

The next day, police officers had Anzor, Aslanbek, and Vakha clean the corridor, wash the toilet, the floor, and the doors leading to various rooms, some of which were sealed. The police mocked the three inmates and shaved their heads, and again questioned Anzor and Aslanbek, kicking them and beating them with sticks.

On the third day, police brought in a gay man, “Khussein,” whom Anzor knew personally, and then yet another presumably gay man, “Rustem,” whom he did not know. Police forced Anzor to stand up, lower his pants, and show the bruises on his buttocks and upper legs. They told Khussein, “If you don’t fess up, that’s what’ll happen to you” and then made Anzor shave off Khussein’s hair. Toward the end of the day, Vakha was led out of the cell and did not return. Anzor heard police officers say he was released to his family.

On day four, police brought in two more presumably gay men and forced Anzor to shave off their beards and hair. Policemen put the two new inmates in another room on the same floor and Anzor did not see them again.

For the first four days, Anzor and the other presumably gay inmates in the large cell were not allowed to pray with the other inmates, and police would not let them eat or drink. They had access to water only when forced to clean the floor and the toilet daily.

On day five, police moved all the presumably gay inmates to a small separate cell. Just before they changed cells, three police officers took Anzor and Aslanbek to a garage across from the main building. They ordered both to strip, forced them to crouch by the wall, beat them on the head and buttocks, and subjected them to further torture and abuse. Then, the two captives were dragged back to the building. That evening, police released Aslanbek to his father.

On the seventh day, police officials gathered Anzor’s relatives and a religious cleric at the police department. Police exposed Anzor as gay, shamed him in their presence, and shamed his father for allowing this “stain” on their family honor. Finally, they allowed Anzor to leave with his father. Several days later, Anzor fled Chechnya.

“Khussein,” 24

Khussein, whose stay in detention partially overlapped with Anzor’s, independently described to Human Rights Watch the torture and humiliation he experienced. Khussein’s description of the detention cell and other details very closely matched Anzor’s. He also said he saw the bruises on another inmate’s body.

Khussein said police officials physically abused him and other inmates presumed to be gay and wanted him to name other presumably gay men. He said officials beat him on the buttocks, cut and beat the backs of his hands, and beat him on the head with a polypropylene pipe. “They wanted information about other gays, they wanted addresses,” he said.

Police officials forced other inmates to shave Khussein’s head. Khussein said: “I had bruises all over my head, in the front, in the back.”

“Movsar,” 20

Police seized Movsar in December, held him for 20 days and tortured him repeatedly with beatings, including while suspending him upside down, and electric shocks.

Movsar, who had lived outside Chechnya for several years, said that he went to Grozny to attend a family wedding. That evening, he got together at a relative’s apartment with a man he had just met on a dating app. About 30 minutes after his date left, someone claiming he was the neighborhood duty officer knocked at the door. Movsar said: “So I opened the door. I saw three big guys. Then I understood… that I had been set up.”

The men drove Movsar to a garage on the compound of the Grozny Internal Affairs Department. They sat him on a chair, and one said, “If you don’t want to be tortured, tell me [which gay men] you know.” When Movsar said he did not know anyone, the men taped his arms and legs to the chair and brought over what Movsar described as a shock device. They attached wires to Movsar’s index and middle finger, using butterfly clips, and turned the crank.

To muffle Movsar’s screams, the men at one point put a rag in his mouth. After torturing him for 10 to 15 minutes, the men stopped, telling Movsar to “think it over.” They put him in a room in the garage, where they handcuffed him to a radiator. In the same room, a man who seemed to Movsar to be in his 30s lay on the floor, also handcuffed to a radiator. Movsar could see bruises on the man’s lower legs. The man did not say why they were holding him but said that he had been there for a week.

After what seemed to be the first night (because both windows were darkened, Movsar lost track of time), two of his captors took Movsar back to the garage’s main room. “They started to insult me, [saying] ‘Did you have sex last night? Do you want us to torture you again?’” Then the men used electric shocks on Movsar’s earlobes, causing him to fall off the chair several times. “I couldn’t hold myself up,” Movsar said.

On one side of the car repair pit in the center of the garage, a chain was attached to a pole, with a button on it. The men attached Movsar’s feet to the chain, pressed the button, and suspended him upside down. Then they beat his calves with a crowbar. “I got a nosebleed. I was screaming. I passed out and woke up on the concrete floor,” Movsar said.

Two days later, the men took him to an office on the second floor of the main police building on the compound. The office belonged to the chief of the criminal investigation unit. In the presence of four other police, the chief said: “Why aren’t you telling us who you know, you faggot?”

Police then took Movsar to one of the three lock-up cells on the first floor, which held eight to10 people. Later, the police put in the same cell one of Movsar’s acquaintances, who had been also rounded up because of his presumed sexual orientation. They were the only presumably gay detainees in the cell. Police did not take Movsar for further interrogations or torture sessions and released him towards the end of December, threatening to kill him if he told anyone what had happened.

Movsar said that he recovered from his ordeal at the home of relatives outside Chechnya. “I was like a slab of meat,” he said. “I still have three-four scars across the back of my left leg.”

“Albert,” 25

In early February 2019, Albert’s colleagues told him that “people in black uniforms” had come looking for him at work in Grozny. Fearing for his safety, Albert left Chechnya for several days, changed his SIM card, and upon returning to Grozny stayed with a friend for a while, but eventually went back to work and to his own apartment.

At the end of February, four men came to his apartment. “I knew right away who they were. They started saying, ‘You’re gays, you’re faggots’... I started denying it. They started beating me, asking questions, telling me to name other [gay people].”

The men took Albert’s phone, put him in a van with police license plates, and drove him to the Grozny Internal Affairs Department, where they took him to an office on the second floor. A man whom Albert could identify only as “someone who seemed to be in charge” said: “You know why you’re here!... One way or the other, you’ll tell us the truth.”

The police official instructed the others to take Albert to the basement, where the same two men who had detained him beat him with a pipe:

They insulted me, asked me to “give up others like you, we know you’re gay, tell us. Sooner or later we’ll find out, we break everyone.” [Eventually,] I fell, they left me there. About an hour later, they brought in a thing, it looked like an old phone. They put me on a chair… and started to turn the knob, and from this your hands clench… I can’t describe the pain. This went on for some 15 minutes, with breaks.

Albert stayed alone for three days in the basement, sleeping on a piece of cardboard on the floor. Police brought him water but no food. On March 2, they took him to an office on the second floor, photographed and fingerprinted him, asked a few questions about where he studied and lived, then put him in a civilian car and took him home. Albert attributed his release to connections his friends have among authorities, who interceded on his behalf.

Albert “couldn’t move” the first day after his release and recovered slowly. He said he had bruises on his arms, back, and the backs of his thighs, which faded fast, but even a month after his ordeal, he had difficulty moving his arms.

Threats Against a Leading LGBT Rights Activist

On January 29, the day Igor Kochetkov of Russian LGBT Network filed the crime report with Russia’s chief investigative agency, a YouTube video with explicit threats against him began circulating on social media. In the video, which YouTube later removed, Ali Baskhanov, a leader of a pro-government group in Chechnya, calls Kochetkov a “son of the devil” and a “beast,” tells him to stay away from Chechnya, and warns him that Chechnya could become his “final stop.”

On January 30, Kochetkov filed an online complaint with the Interior Ministry about the threats. A week later, a department official called him to confirm his place of residence and “the place where the alleged violation occurred.” “I told him I live in St. Petersburg and the video is on the internet, though that should be obvious from the complaint,” Kochetkov said. “And that was the end of the conversation.”

Kochetkov sued the police authorities because of their lack of effective reaction to his complaint. On March 25, a court in St. Petersburg upheld his suit but the court ruling was appealed to a higher instance court, and the appeal is pending.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

People demonstrate in front of St. Mary's Basilica, Krakow, Poland, with posters 'Free Ela' to support Elzbieta Podlesna who is accused of profanation for displaying a poster of Virgin Mary with a rainbow halo. May 6, 2019.

© 2019 Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images
(Berlin) – The arrest of a woman over a picture of a religious icon with a rainbow halo on May 6, 2019 is the latest attempt by Polish authorities to target LGBT and gender equality activists. Government officials allege the work is blasphemous and object to its presumed link to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights and gender equality.

Amnesty International reported that police searched the home of Elżbieta Podlesna and arrested her following her return from a trip to Belgium and the Netherlands with the human rights organization. Police seized her laptop, mobile phone, and memory cards during the search and reportedly asked for CCTV camera footage from her building. Podlesna was held and questioned by police for several hours. No charges have been filed but police are continuing the investigation, an Amnesty International representative confirmed on May 7, and Podlesna had not regained access to her telephone or computer.

“Targeting an activist over an artwork is one more ruthless tactic by the Law and Justice party to demonize LGBT rights and gender equality,” said Hillary Margolis, a women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Interior and Administration Minister Joachim Brudziński, a member of the ruling Law and Justice Party, announced on Twitter that police had arrested Podlesna on grounds of “profaning the image of the #Czestochowa Mother of God.” Images of the painting with a rainbow halo, often associated with LGBT activism, first appeared in late April around the town of Płock. Brudzinski referred to the act as “cultural barbarism” on Twitter.

Under Article 196 of Poland’s criminal code, a person who “offends the religious feelings of others by publicly insulting a religious object or place of worship” may face up to two years in prison.

The image of the Virgin Mary in the artwork is known as the Black Madonna of Częstochowa. Housed in Jasna Góra Monastery in southern Poland, the painting is considered a religious icon by many Catholics. Following public criticism, Brudzinski defended Podlesna’s arrest on Twitter, saying: “No fantasy about freedom and ‘tolerance’ gives ANYONE [original emphasis] the right to offend the feelings of believers.”

In July 2018, Brudzinski publicly thanked police for preventing an Equality March in Czestochowa from reaching the shrine at Jasna Góra, calling the march “an obvious cultural and religious provocation by LGBT communities.”

Podlesna is an independent activist and was one of 14 women attacked by far-right protesters after the women held  up a banner reading “Stop Fascism” at an Independence Day March in Warsaw in 2017. Far-right protesters were marching with racist and fascist symbols and slogans such as “white Poland.”

A February 2019 Human Rights Watch report documented attempts by Poland’s government to roll back women’s rights since Law and Justice came to power in 2015, including through smear campaigns, public rhetoric, systematic defunding, and other forms of attack on women’s rights organizations and activists, some of whom also advocate for LGBT rights.

The government and the Catholic Church in Poland have been outspoken in censuring the concepts of “gender” and “genderism” and labeling promotion of equality as “gender ideology,” which they demonize as driving hypersexuality, homosexuality, feminism, transgenderism, and an assault on traditional marriage and families.

Under the Law and Justice Party, the anti-gender crusade has gained traction, with activists and politicians using it to galvanize support for measures that curb reproductive rights, undermine initiatives to address violence against women, hinder sexual and reproductive health education, and smear women’s rights and LGBT rights activists. In speeches and in the media, government leaders, politicians, and “anti-gender” activists propagate extremist misinformation vilifying women’s rights groups and associating them with a deterioration in “morality.”

The Law and Justice government has also fought against sexual and reproductive health education in schools, and refused environmental activists entry to Poland to attend United Nations climate talks. The party has put forward changes in the laws to undermine the independence of the judiciary and interfere with media freedom. In 2016, parliament rejected a bill that would have included gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, and age as potential grounds for the crime of “hate speech.”

Overly vague laws on blasphemy, such as Poland’s, threaten freedom of speech and religion, rights protected under international human rights law, Human Rights Watch said. International rights bodies, including the United Nations Human Rights Committee and, jointly, the United Nations, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Organization of American States (OAS), and African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) have said that use of blasphemy or defamation laws should be limited to protection of individual rights and should not discriminate against one group over another.

Polish authorities should return Podlesna’s property, end any investigation against her under Article 196, and cease attacks on activists who support LGBT or women’s rights, Human Rights Watch said.

“The government claims to be protecting religion and Polish values, but in reality, it is targeting its own citizens and denying their basic rights,” Margolis said. “Perpetuating the notion that gender equality and LGBT rights threaten Polish society doesn’t protect anyone – it only feeds dangerous intolerance, homophobia, and misogyny."

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

The United Nations Security Council formally recognized for the first time that men and boys are targets of sexual violence both in wartime and in post-conflict settings. Resolution 2467, approved on April 23, calls upon UN member countries to strengthen policies to provide help for victims.

As a human-rights lawyer, during the last nine months, I have been documenting cases of conflict-related sexual violence that took place against men and boys in Syria.

As I listened to the open debate at the Security Council recently, I thought about the male survivors who shared their stories with me. These men and boys, who have endured such traumatic experiences, deserve recognition. Their stories need to be heard.

Incidents of genital beating and electrocution, forced nudity, rape with objects, forced witnessing of rape of other detainees are some of the egregious cases that I have documented during my research, echoing previous Human Rights Watch work on torture in Syrian detention facilities.

The specific mention of men and boys in Resolution 2467 reflects growing international attention to sexual violence directed against men and boys in conflict and postconflict settings, including those in detention and actions by nonstate armed groups. Recognition of sexual violence against men and boys by the Security Council is an important step in challenging the shame and stigma surrounding this issue.

In addition to Resolution 2467, the annual report of the UN Secretary-General António Guterres on conflict-related sexual violence has a standalone paragraph recognizing conflict related sexual violence against men and boys in its recommendations section for the first time.

When we talk about conflict-related sexual violence, people immediately think of violence against women and girls, who are disproportionately affected. But this leaves men out of the equation. The fact that men are also targets of sexual violence is hidden because of shame and stigma around masculine vulnerability. The essence of sexual violence against men and boys is to humiliate and degrade them.

The same harmful gender norms that drive this form of violence against women and girls drive it against men and boys, but because of the scale of the problem facing women and girls and the pervasive stereotypes in some countries about masculine invulnerability, male victims of sexual violence have been largely ignored and their needs unmet.

Sexual violence against males has mostly been framed and reported as torture. Sexual violence against men or women can amount to torture, of course. But approaching wartime sexual violence against men and boys only through the lens of torture may obscure the nature of the violence. So this resolution is an important step in challenging taboos that keep men from reporting their experiences and that deny the survivors the assistance they need.

Resolution 2467 says that UN member countries should have policies that provide an appropriate response to male survivors and that challenge cultural assumptions about male invulnerability to sexual violence. It also says that gender should be considered when monitoring and reporting, an important step in addressing underreported cases of violence directed against men and boys.

One of the most significant aspects of the resolution is its survivor-centered approach— regardless of gender. It acknowledges the need for enhanced medical and mental health support and calls on UN member countries to ensure that survivors of sexual violence receive nondiscriminatory access to medical and psychological care based on their needs. Access to services tailored to the needs of survivors is crucial for their reintegration into society.

The resolution also encourages national and local-level leaders to help prevent marginalization and stigmatization of survivors or their families, essential elements for the survivors’ reintegration into society.

At the same time, notwithstanding progress for men and boys, the resolution is a huge setback on sexual and reproductive health. While the draft resolution proposed by Germany included references to sexual and reproductive health care for survivors of sexual violence in conflict, a US threat to veto the resolution unless all references to sexual and reproductive health were removed meant the document was adopted with that language excised. In this fundamental respect, the resolution has failed to uphold a survivor-centered approach.

It is such a disappointment that a resolution that promises progress on a long-neglected area — sexual violence against men and boys in conflict — is tarnished by US insistence on removing even the most basic language on women’s sexual and reproductive health.

Men and boys are understandably reluctant to talk about sexual violence — not only because it means revisiting trauma, but also because of intense stigma around male vulnerability. Yet, sexual violence against men and boys is widespread and recognizing that is a first step toward addressing this scourge.

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

Caster Semenya of South Africa, Charlene Lipsey of the United States and Lynsey Sharp of Great Britain compete in the Women's 800 metres semi finals during day eight of the 16th IAAF World Athletics Championships London 2017 at the London Stadium on August 11, 2017 in London, United Kingdom. 

© 2017 Getty Images/ Andy Lyons
(New York) The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has dismissed South African athlete Caster Semenya’s challenge to international athletics regulations which would see her compelled to undergo medical treatment or be forced out of competition. The regulations, issued by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), require women athletes, like Semenya, with higher than typical natural testosterone levels to have unnecessary medical interventions if they wish to compete. The three-judge panel, by a 2-1 vote in the case brought by Semenya and Athletics South Africa, found that while the new regulations discriminate against Semenya, they are not “invalid.”

“Women with intersex variations have the same right to dignity and control over their bodies as other women, and it’s deeply disappointing to see CAS uphold regulations that run afoul of international human rights standards,” said Liesl Gerntholtz, deputy executive director for program at Human Rights Watch. “In scrutinizing and excluding women competitors based on their natural hormone levels, the IAAF regulations stigmatize, stereotype, and discriminate against all women.”

The April 2018 regulations target women athletes with some intersex variations, sometimes called “differences of sex development” (or “DSD”), that cause higher than typical natural testosterone levels. The regulations deny these women the right to participate in the female category for running events between 400 meters and the mile unless they submit to invasive testing and medical intervention to reduce their testosterone levels. There is no clear scientific consensus that women with intersex variations who have higher than typical natural testosterone have a performance advantage in athletics.

The regulations, the Eligibility Regulations for the Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development), require women who have a naturally occurring blood testosterone level higher than five nmol/L to undergo medically unnecessary hormone therapy to reduce their testosterone levels if they want to qualify to compete in the female category. If women refuse to be tested or to undergo hormone therapy, the regulations state that they may only compete in the male category or in a hypothetical, not-yet-created intersex category – both of which would expose women’s private characteristics to the global public.

Intersex traits or variations are naturally occurring sex characteristics that vary from social norms of what is considered “female” or “male.” They appear in up to 1.7 percent of the population. The vast majority of people born with intersex variations are healthy and do not need to undergo medical treatment unless they wish to alter their bodies.

In dismissing Semenya’s case, the CAS judges recognized that the regulations are discriminatory but, failing to apply international human rights standards, deemed them a “proportionate” response to IAAF’s concerns about eligibility for female categories. Nevertheless, they expressed “serious concerns as to the future practical application” of the regulations, regarding how IAAF would assess individual athlete’s compliance with the regulations, recognizing the questionable evidence of actual significant athletic advantage for women athletes with higher than typical natural testosterone in certain events, and flagging the issue of possible side effects of hormonal treatment on these athletes. The judges noted that further assessment of these concerns may result in these regulations being deemed invalid in the future.

On March 22, 2019, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution noting that the IAAF regulations “are not compatible with international human rights norms and standards, including the rights of women with differences of sex development” and expressing concern at “the absence of legitimate and justifiable evidence for the regulations.” The Human Rights Council also found “no clear relationship of proportionality between the aim of the regulations and the proposed measures and their impact.”

In October 2018, United Nations experts on health, torture, and women’s rights wrote to the IAAF about the regulations:

The regulations reinforce negative stereotypes and stigma that women in the targeted category are not women—and that they either need to be ‘fixed’ through medically unnecessary treatment with negative health impacts—or compete with men, or compete in ‘any applicable intersex or similar classification’, which can call into question their very definition of self.

The IAAF had issued earlier regulations in 2011 that were very similar to the 2018 regulations. The Indian runner Dutee Chand successfully challenged the regulations at the Court of Arbitration, leading to a 2014 judgment that the 2011 regulations “discriminate against women and discriminate based on a natural physical trait.” The court rightly noted that, “such discrimination is, unless justified, contrary to the Olympic Charter, the IAAF Constitution and the laws of Monaco” and stated that “if the [testosterone] regulations cannot be justified, specifically as a reasonable and necessary response to a legitimate need, then they should be declared invalid.”

In issuing new guidelines in response to the 2014 judgment, the IAAF included an explanatory note saying that “persecution or campaigns against athletes simply on the basis that their experience does not conform to gender stereotypes are unacceptable” and that the regulations are not “intended as any kind of judgement on or questioning of the sex or the gender identity of any athlete.”

The 2011 IAAF regulations relied on deeply problematic stereotypes such as having a “deep voice” to identify athletes with intersex variations. The 2018 regulations that Caster Semenya has unsuccessfully challenged omit such stereotypes but make no mention at all of the criteria for identifying these athletes – leaving the system open for abuse, Human Rights Watch said.

Following an earlier examination of her eligibility based on a suspected intersex variation, Semenya stated: “I have been subjected to unwarranted and invasive scrutiny of the most intimate and private details of my being.”

“For women athletes with atypical testosterone levels, being compelled to undergo a medical examination can be as humiliating as it is medically unnecessary,” Gerntholtz said. “Identifying relevant athletes through observation and suspicion means women athletes’ bodies are open to public scrutiny, while no such inspection is applied to men.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A court in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu has ordered the local government to prohibit medically unnecessary “normalizing” surgeries on children born with intersex variations until the patients themselves can consent.

“Intersex” refers to the estimated 1.7% of the population born with bodily traits that do not fit conventional expectations of female or male. Their sex characteristics – such as chromosomes, gonads, or genitals – differ from social expectations. Except in very rare cases when the child cannot urinate or internal organs are exposed, these variations are medically benign, natural variations of human anatomy.

Yet in the 1960s surgeons in the United States popularized “normalizing” cosmetic operations, such as procedures to reduce the size of the clitoris. This approach has been effectively exported globally.

These procedures are not designed to treat a medical problem and there is no evidence that such operations help children “fit in” or “function in society,” which some surgeons say is their aim. The operations do, however, carry high risks of scarring, loss of sexual sensation, incontinence, sterilization, and psychological trauma

For decades, intersex patients and their advocates have asked governments and the medical community to develop standards to defer elective procedures until patients can decide for themselves – exactly what Justice GR Swaminathan delivered in his judgment on April 22.

The judgment cites India’s landmark 2014 Supreme Court decision upholding the rights of transgender and gender-diverse people. It also refers to Malta’s 2015 gender identity and sex characteristics law, which enshrined rights-based legal recognition for transgender people and banned unnecessary surgery on intersex children, the World Health Organization, which has urged an end to these operations, and the Indian intersex advocate Gopi Shankar.

Shankar wrote to India’s National Human Rights Commission and received a response from the Ministry of Health in 2017, which the judgment cites in full.

The ministry’s response features a subtle but important obfuscation. Officials deny Shankar’s claim that non-consensual medically unnecessary surgeries are being carried out, claiming that “any kind of invasive medical procedure, including sex reassignment surgeries, are done only after thorough assessment of the patient,” and “only after taking a written consent of the patient/guardian.”

But as I documented in my research for Human Rights Watch on the issue in the US, parents sometimes give their consent based on only limited or biased information from doctors. And a parent’s consent to medically unnecessary major surgery on a child too young to speak is hardly sufficient for protecting children from the risks of these surgeries. Scholarly research on the issue has found, similarly, that medical teams often coerce consent from parents by presenting “normalizing” surgeries as the preferred option, or using scare tactics such as suicide fears based on irrelevant data.

In recent years, national, regional, and international health and human rights bodies have increasingly called for the protection of intersex children’s informed consent rights. “The consent of the parent cannot be considered as the consent of the child,” Justice Swaminathan’s ruling stated plainly.

In recent years, national, regional, and international health and human rights bodies have increasingly called for the protection of intersex children’s informed consent rights. In 2015, 12 United Nations agencies released a joint statement referencing “unnecessary surgery and treatment on intersex children without their consent.” In 2017 the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe passed a resolution calling for protecting intersex children from unnecessary and irreversible surgery without their consent, and in 2019 the European Parliament complemented that call with its own resolution.

Physicians for Human RightsAmnesty International, and intersex-led organizations worldwide have called for legal protections to ensure that such surgery is conducted only when the patients themselves consent. UN human rights committees, which oversee international treaties, have condemned the practice of non-consensual “normalizing” operations on intersex children 40 times since 2011.

Justice Swaminathan’s words will ring true for intersex activists, patient advocate physicians, and parents around the world who have shown through their own experience that peer support and honest conversations are the best form of care. And as he said, “The parents must be encouraged to feel that the birth of an intersex child is not a matter of embarrassment or shame.”

The Health and Family Welfare Department of Tamil Nadu has eight weeks to respond with its policy protecting the informed consent rights of children born with intersex traits. They would do right to consult with intersex advocacy groups and follow international human rights standards in crafting their policy and set an example the rest of India should follow. Everyone has the right to informed consent – even those who were born with bodies that are slightly different.

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

Honorable Justice Hernán Salgado Pesantes
Ecuadorian Constitutional Court
Quito – Ecuador

Case: 0011-18-CN

José Miguel Vivanco, on behalf of Human Rights Watch, located at 350 Fifth Avenue, 34th floor, New York, United States, presents this amicus brief to the Honorable Constitutional Court of Ecuador in the case 0011-18-CN concerning same-sex marriage. For that purpose, we respectfully state:

  1. Purpose and Summary of this Submission

Human Rights Watch respectfully requests that the Ecuadorian Constitutional Court accept this submission for its consideration of the international legal arguments regarding same-sex marriage.  

The issue presented before the court is whether Ecuadorian courts should allow same-sex couples to marry, in accordance with the Interamerican Court of Human Rights’ Advisory Opinion 24 which called on states to take measures to allow same-sex couples to marry.[1] This brief is structured as follows: Section II of this brief provides background on Human Rights Watch and our interest in the case. Section III provides an overview of international human rights standards regarding same-sex marriage, including on the right to marry and form a family, the right to privacy, and the rights to non-discrimination and equality before the law. It also summarizes the legal value of these standards under international and Ecuadorian law. Section IV suggests that the Ecuadorian court should protect the rights of same-sex couples, as opposed to leaving the decision to recognize same-sex marriage in hands of the legislature.  

  1. Background on Human Rights Watch and Our Interest in the Case

Human Rights Watch is a nongovernmental organization that has been dedicated to protecting human rights since 1978 (www.hrw.org). It is independent and non-partisan. It accepts no money, either directly or indirectly, from any government. It is headquartered in New York and has offices in several other cities on different continents. Human Rights Watch enjoys consultative status with the Organization of American States, the United Nations Economic and Social Council, and the Council of Europe, and maintains a working relationship with the Organization of African Unity.

Human Rights Watch regularly monitors the human rights situation in Ecuador, and has repeatedly exposed and expressed concern regarding violations of fundamental rights recognized in international treaties ratified by Ecuador.

As part of its mandate, Human Rights Watch uses judicial and quasi-judicial tools of domestic and international law to contribute to protecting and promoting human rights. That commitment has motivated this specific Human Rights Watch petition.

  1. Applicable law

     i. Preliminary Considerations

The Constitution of Ecuador states that international human rights treaties ratified by Ecuador are directly applicable by courts and government authorities, and that treaties that provide greater protections must be given precedence over Ecuadorian laws and the Constitution itself.[2]

As explained in more detail below, the rights to marry, to form a family, to privacy, and to equality and non-discrimination, are codified in human rights treaties ratified by Ecuador. These include the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR), and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).[3]

Decisions by bodies charged with interpreting these human rights treaties provide authoritative guidance on the extent of the rights they enshrine. Furthermore, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the court charged with interpreting the ACHR, has repeatedly held that party states have a duty to take its case-law into consideration when interpreting their legal obligations under the ACHR. In particular, the Court has held that:

“[T]e Judiciary must exercise a sort of “conventionality control” between the domestic legal provisions which are applied to specific cases and the American Convention on Human Rights. To perform this task, the Judiciary has to take into account not only the treaty, but also the interpretation thereof made by the Inter-American Court, which is the ultimate interpreter of the American Convention.”[4]

  1. The Fundamental Rights to Marry and to Form a Family

The rights to marry and to form a family are fundamental rights recognized in art. 23 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and art. 17 of the American Convention on Human Rights.[5]

International law does not limit the recognition of such rights to heterosexual couples. Furthermore, various international human rights bodies, such as the UN Human Rights Committee, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, and the CEDAW Committee have rejected the idea that a “family,” as understood under international human rights law, must conform to any single model.[6]

Moreover, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) have specifically stated that same-sex couples have the right to form a family.[7] In Advisory Opinion 24, the Court held that:

“None of the provisions cited contain a limited definition of what should be understood as a “family.” On this issue, the Court has stated that the American Convention does not include a specific narrow definition of family and that the convention does not protect a particular model of family.”[8]  

  1. The Right to Privacy

The rights to marry and to form a family are closely linked to the right to privacy, which requires States to adopt positive measures to protect same-sex couples, including their legal recognition.[9] The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has also repeatedly held that these rights, taken together, require States to adopt positive measures to protect families.[10] For instance, in “Atala Riffo v. Chile” the Court held that:

“…the Court reiterates that Article 11(2) of the American Convention is closely linked to the right to protection of the family and to live in a family, recognized in Article 17 of the Convention, which requires the State not only to provide and directly implement measures of protection for children, but also to favor, in the broadest possible terms, the development and strength of the family unit.”[11]

Similarly, the European Court of Human Rights has argued that the right to privacy under the European Convention on Human Rights requires that states parties recognize a “specific legal framework providing for the recognition and protection of their same-sex unions.”[12]

    iv. The Rights to Non-discrimination and Equality Before the Law

International human rights law provides a clear elaboration definition of discrimination.[13] According to the UN Human Rights Committee, discrimination is:

“any distinction, exclusion, restriction, or preference based on certain motives, such as race, color, gender, language, religion, a political or any other opinion, the national or social origin, property, birth or any other social condition, that seeks to annul or diminish the acknowledgment, enjoyment, or exercise, in conditions of equality, of the human rights and fundamental freedoms to which every person is entitled.”[14]

Even if this Court determines that same-sex couples do not have a fundamental right to marry, denying them the possibility to marry, which exists for heterosexual couples, violates the right to equal protection of the law. For example, the Inter-American Court held in “Atala Riffo v. Chile” that:

“Article 24 of the American Convention prohibits discrimination, by law or de facto, not only with regard to the rights enshrined in said treaty, but also in regard to all laws approved by the State and their application. In other words, if a State discriminates in the respect for or guarantee of a right contained in the Convention, it will be failing to comply with its obligation under in Article 1(1) and the substantive right in question. If, on the contrary, the discrimination refers to unequal protection by domestic laws, the fact must be analyzed in light of Article 24 of the American Convention.”[15]

Various human rights bodies and courts, including the Inter-American Court, the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, and the UN Human Rights Committee, have stated that discrimination based on sexual orientation is prohibited by international human rights treaties.[16] 

According to authoritative interpretations by human rights bodies, the State must provide particularly convincing arguments to discriminate against LGBT people. Both the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights and the Inter-American Court have held that any distinctions based on sexual orientation must be closely scrutinized to ensure that they are not discriminatory.[17] In the “Atala Riffo” case, the Court held that:

“As regards the prohibition of discrimination based on sexual orientation, any restriction of a right would need to be based on rigorous and weighty reasons. Furthermore, the burden of proof is inverted, which means that it is up to the authority to prove that its decision does not have a discriminatory purpose or effect.” [18]

The Commission has also noted that:

“[T]he IACHR already established that sexual orientation is a suspect category of discrimination under the criteria of non-discrimination contained in Article 1(1) of the American Convention and as such any distinction based on it should be examined with strict scrutiny.”[19]

And therefore:

“It is not enough for the measure to be suitable or for there to be a logical relationship of causality between it and the objective pursued, but rather it should be strictly necessary to achieve that aim, in that there is no other less harmful alternative. Finally, to meet the requirement of proportionality one must argue the existence of an adequate balance of interests in terms of the degree of sacrifice and the degree of benefit.”[20]

In its Advisory Opinion 24, the Inter-American Court concluded that legislation that allows heterosexual couples to marry while denying that right to same-sex couples would not surpass this test. The Court noted that there was “no objective that would be admissible under the Convention and could be used to argue that such distinction can be considered necessary or proportionate.”[21]

The Court also noted that:

“Creating a legal figure that produces the same effects and allows for the same rights than to of marriage but has another name lacks any sense other than that of using a name for same-sex couples that, if not stigmatizing, it at least shows that they are not valued as much as heterosexual couples. Therefore, there would be a marriage for those considered, according to the heteronormative stereotype, to be ‘normal’ and another legal figure with identical effects but a different name for those considered to be ‘abnormal,’ according to that stereotype.  Based on that, for this court, it would not be admissible to have two types of legal figures to consolidate heterosexual and homosexual couples, since that would be a distinction based on sexual orientation, which would be discriminatory and, therefore, inconsistent with the American Convention.”[22]

  1. The Role of Courts in Protecting the Rights of LGBT People

It is the Courts’ role to intervene to ensure that fundamental rights are upheld, and not overridden or trampled on by laws or other acts of government. For instance, in “Atala Riffo v. Chile”, the Inter-American Court held that:

“(…) [W]hen a State is Party to an international agreement such as the American Convention, all its organs, including its judges and all other entities linked to the administration of justice, are also subject to it. This obliges them to remain vigilant and to ensure that the effects of the Convention’s provisions are not impaired by the application of other laws contrary to its purpose and aim.”[23]


“In conclusion, based on the treaty control mechanism, legal and administrative interpretations and proper judicial guarantees should be applied in accordance with the principles established in the jurisprudence of this Court in the present case 293. This is of particular importance in relation to sexual orientation as one of the prohibited categories of discrimination pursuant to Article 1(1) of the American Convention.”[24]

This is consistent with what other domestic courts—including in Argentina, South Africa, and the United States—have held in similar situations. [25] For example, the Supreme Court of the United States held that:

“Of course, the Constitution contemplates that democ­racy is the appropriate process for change, so long as that process does not abridge fundamental rights… Indeed, it is most often through democracy that liberty is preserved and protected in our lives. But as Schuette also said, ‘[t]he freedom secured by the Constitution consists, in one of its essential dimensions, of the right of the individual not to be injured by the unlawful exercise of governmental power.’ Thus, when the rights of persons are violated, ‘the Constitution requires redress by the courts,’ notwithstanding the more general value of democratic decision making (…)

The dynamic of our constitutional system is that indi­viduals need not await legislative action before asserting a fundamental right. The Nation’s courts are open to in­jured individuals who come to them to vindicate their own direct, personal stake in our basic charter. An individual can invoke a right to constitutional protection when he or she is harmed, even if the broader public disagrees and even if the legislature refuses to act.”[26]

Similarly, an Argentine court held in a decision about marriage for same-sex couples that:

“An interpretation that prevented courts from addressing decisions by the Congress would, on the hand, annul the dialogue of powers that the Constitution supports…and could, on the other hand, leave those belonging to minorities unprotected as they would be subject to the decision of circumstantial majorities.”[27]

  1. Petition

For the abovementioned reasons, we ask this Honorable Court to:

  1. Accept Human Rights Watch as a Friend of the Court in this case, and
  2. Uphold the right of same-sex couples’ to marry, in light of the international standards outline in this brief.

José Miguel Vivanco
Human Rights Watch


[1] Inter-American Court, Advisory Opinion 24, November 24, 2017, Inter-Am Ct.H.R., Series A. No. 24, para. 228.

[2] Ecuadorian Constitution, arts. 11(3), 417, 424 párr. 2, and 426.

[3] American Convention on Human Rights (“Pact of San José, Costa Rica”), adopted November 22, 1969, O.A.S. Treaty Series No. 36, 1144 U.N.T.S. 123, entered into force July 18, 1978, ratified by Ecuador on December 27, 1977, reprinted in Basic Documents Pertaining to Human Rights in the Inter-American System, OEA/Ser.L.V/II.82 doc.6 rev.1 at 25 (1992), arts. 1(1), 11, 17, 24; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), adopted December 16, 1966, G.A. Res. 2200A(XXI), 21 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 16) at 52, U.N. Doc. A/6316 (1996), 999 U.N.T.T.S. 302, ratified by Ecuador on March 6, 1969 entered into force March 23, 1976, arts. 1(1), 17, 23, 26.

[4] Inter-American Court, Almonacid Arellano case, Judgement of September 26, 2006, Inter-Am Ct.H.R., Series C. No. 154, para. 124.  

[5] American Convention on Human Rights, art. 17; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), art. 23.

[6] CEDAW Committee, General Recommendation No. 21 (13th session, 1994), para. 13; UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Report on the Fifth Session, January 1994, CDC/C/24, Annex V, p. 63; UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment 7: Implementing child rights in early childhood, September 2006, para. 15; UN Human Rights Committee, General Comment 19, HRI/GEN/1/Rev.2, p. 29. 

[7] European Court of Human Rights, Schalk and Kopf v. Austria, 24 June 2010, para. 94; Inter-American Court, Atala Riffo and Daughters, February 24, 2012, Inter-Am Ct.H.R., Series C. No. 329, paras. 145, 177.

[8] Advisory Opinion 24/2017, para. 174 (translation by Human Rights Watch). See also, Inter-American Court, Atala Riffo and Daughters Case, para. 145.

[9] Inter-American Court, Atala Riffo, para. 169. See also Artavia Murillo Case, Judgment of November 28, 2012, Inter-Am Ct.H.R., Series C. No. 310, para. 145.  

[10] Inter-American Court, Chitay Nech Case, Judgment of May 25, 2010, Inter-Am Ct.H.R., Series C. No. 212, para. 158.

[11] Inter-American Court, Atala Riffo and Daughters Case, para. 169.

[12] European Court of Human Rights, “Oliari and others v. Italy”, July 21, 2015, Applications nos. 18766/11 and 36030/11, 185.

[13] UN Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 18, Non-discrimination, November 10, 1989, CCPR/C/37, para. 6; UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment 20: Non-discrimination in economic, social and cultural rights, July 2, 2009, para. 7. 

[14] UN Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 18, Non-discrimination, November 10, 1989, CCPR/C/37, para. 6.

[15] Inter-American Court, Atala Riffo and Daughters Case, para. 82. See also Inter-American Court, Duque case, Judgment of February 26, 2016, Inter-Am Ct.H.R., Series C. No. 310, para. 106.

[16] Inter-American Court, Atala Riffo and Daughters Case, para. 91; UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment 20: Non-discrimination in economic, social and cultural rights, July 2, 2009, para. 32 UN Human Rights Committee, Toonen v. Australia, Communication No. 488/1992, CCPR/C/50/D/488/1992, April 4, 1992, para. 8.7; X v. Colombia, Communication No. 1361/2005, CCPR/C/89/D/1361/2005, May 14, 2007, para. 7.2. See also European Court of Human Rights, Salgueiro Da Silva Mouta v. Portugal, December 21, 1999, para. 28.

[17] Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Homero Flor Freire v. Ecuador, November 4, 2013, Report No. 81/13, paras. 99, 100; IACHR, Angel Alberto Duque v. Colombia, April 2, 2014, Report 5/14, para. 63; Inter-American Court, Atala Riffo and Daughters Case, para. 124.

[18] Inter-American Court, Atala Riffo and Daughters Case, para. 124.

[19] Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Homero Flor Freire v. Ecuador, November 4, 2013, Report No. 81/13, paras. 99, 100. See also Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Angel Alberto Duque v. Colombia, April 2, 2014, Report 5/14, para. 63.  

[20] Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Homero Flor Freire v. Ecuador, November 4, 2013, Report No. 81/13, para 100.

[21] Inter-American Court, Advisory Opinion 24, para. 223 (translation by Human Rights Watch).

[22] Inter-American Court, Advisory Opinion 24, para. 224 (translation by Human Rights Watch).

[23] Inter-American Court, Atala Riffo and Daughters Case, para. 281.

[24] Inter-American Court, Atala Riffo and Daughters Case, para. 284.

[25] Constitutional Court of South Africa, Case CCT 60/40, December 1, 2005.

[26] Supreme Court of the United States, Obergerfell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. (2015), p. 24.

[27] Federal Court of Administrative and Tax Affairs No. 15 of Buenos Aires, June 26, 2009.


Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Middle East Technical University’s LGBTI+ Solidarity fly a rainbow flag from a campus dormitory to celebrate the lifting of a ban on LGBTI events in Ankara, April 19, 2019.

© 2019 Middle East Technical University LGBTI+ Solidarity

An Ankara court has finally ended a ban on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) events in Turkey’s capital.

The court ruled that the ban, in force since November 2017, was unlawful and restricted rights and freedoms in unconditional, vague, and disproportionate ways. The court emphasized that authorities have a duty to take security measures to protect peaceful assemblies and events – even if there are concerns that they may provoke a reaction – rather than simply ban the events.

The Ankara governor had introduced the ban under Turkey’s prolonged state of emergency that began in July 2016, following an attempted military coup. But while the state of emergency ended in July 2018, the LGBTI ban remained. In fact, the court ruled that the ban was not justified under the state of emergency either.

While the court reached its verdict in February, it was only announced on April 19 to Kaos Gay and Lesbian Cultural Research and Solidarity Association (Kaos GL), the group which appealed an earlier court decision refusing to annul the ban. “The state of emergency was actually continuing for us with the ban and now we’re able to breathe once again,” Kaos GL’s lawyer Kerem Dikmen told Human Rights Watch.

Such human rights victories in Turkey, especially for the LGBTI movement, are rare. “It is tragic to be thrilled that a human rights violation ended,” said Yıldız Tar of Kaos GL.

This important ruling was a long time coming and Ankara’s LGBTI movement faces challenges to repair the damage caused to it after 16 months of being outlawed. Human Rights Watch’s research documented how the ban created a climate of fear that hamstrung activism, and stigmatized LGBTI individuals in Turkey’s society.

The Middle East Technical University’s LGBTI+ Solidarity have announced their 9th Pride March will go ahead on May 10 at the university campus. The march should take place without restrictions and should send a positive message to other LGBTI organizations in the city that it is now safe to resume public events.

Ankara’s governor and other authorities should respect the court’s verdict and protect LGBTI events if necessary, and demonstrate to the LGBTI community that their rights will be respected.

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

Prior to joining Human Rights Watch, Pinar was an LL.M. student at UCLA School of Law, where she worked on conflict related sexual violence against men and boys in Turkey and Syria for All Survivors Project's report "Destroyed From Within". Pinar was a member of the International Human Rights Clinic at UCLA, where she conducted research on juvenile justice issues in the US and worked with youth in B.J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall. Pinar previously worked as an attorney at Baker Mckenzie Istanbul office for three years, where she represented business clients in international transactions. Meanwhile, Pinar founded Yenikoy Rotaract, a non-governmental organization in Turkey, which mainly works on projects related to children’s rights, women’s rights and disability rights. She was also the President of Yenikoy Rotaract in 2016. Pinar holds an LL.M. from UCLA School of Law with a dual concentration in International and Comparative Law and Law and Sexuality and a law degree (LL.B.) from KOC University in Istanbul. She is a native speaker of Turkish and fluent in English and French.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am