“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

Marchers carry a rainbow flag during the annual gay pride parade in Warsaw, Poland, Saturday, June 13, 2015.

Threatening sex educators with jail may seem extreme – but it seems Poland’s ruling Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (PiS) party is willing to go there to cement power by generating fear and misinformation.

Fueling intolerance and targeting rights activists, an independent judiciary, and a free press have become hallmarks of PiS since the party gained power in 2015, including in the run-up to October’s parliamentary elections. A bill on sex education, approved by the lower house of parliament, the Sejm, on Wednesday would take this a dangerous step further. It would amend the penal code to criminalize “anyone who promotes or approves the undertaking by a minor of sexual intercourse or other sexual activity.” In effect, sex educators, teachers, authors, and organizations providing information on reproductive health and sexuality could face a three-year prison sentence.

Last year, sex educators and LGBT and women’s rights activists told me about programs that had already been defunded, and the growing hostility directed against them. Right-wing groups in Poland have run smear campaigns, including accusing sex educators of promoting “depravity.” PiS’s actions and language have embolded them. In March 2019, PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński openly criticized Warsaw’s mayor for supporting teaching on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Educators have expressed fear about teaching. “Several times I’ve met someone and told them I’m a sex educator and they turn cold, keeping me at a distance because they are afraid of being harmed by knowing me,” one sex educator told me.

Work led by sex educators is crucial in a country where official policy means children rarely learn about their own bodies or intimate relationships. Poland’s “Preparation for Family Life” curriculum strays far from international standards on comprehensive sexuality education. Instead, it spreads misinformation, perpetuates harmful stereotypes about gender roles and sexuality, and promotes an anti-choice and anti-LGBT agenda.

A yet-to-be-established parliamentary commission will be tasked to work on the newly approved bill. Its recommendation to the Sejm should be unequivocal: the bill should be scrapped entirely.

As international bodies – including the World Health Organization and Council of Europe have emphasized – accurate, inclusive sexuality education is essential to prevent sexually transmitted infections such as HIV, reduce unwanted pregnancy and maternal mortality, and help children grow up to lead healthy, safe, and productive lives. Parliamentarians should remember that access to health care, including reproductive healthcare information, is a human right.

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

A rainbow flag is carried during a parade as a part of the Seoul Queer Culture Festival in Seoul, South Korea, Saturday, July 14, 2018.

© 2018 AP Photo/Lee Jin-man

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child is urging South Korea to revamp its sexuality education curriculum to cover age-appropriate topics like pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, sexual orientation, and gender identity. These steps are crucial if South Korea is to address the needs of all youth, curb harmful gender stereotypes, and halt rising HIV rates in the country.

Children who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) need comprehensive sex education for the same reasons as other kids – to understand their bodies, form healthy relationships, and keep themselves safe.

But LGBT children in South Korea rarely receive the education necessary to meet those goals. In fact, the Ministry of Education has excluded any mention of LGBT issues from the sexuality education curriculum and reinforced stereotypical gender roles, depriving children of basic knowledge about gender and sexuality.

Even teachers who want to be inclusive can have difficulty bringing these issues into the classroom. In interviews with Human Rights Watch, South Korean sexuality educators have said they fear discipline or parental backlash if they try to raise LGBT issues with students.

The predictable result is that many LGBT children do not learn the basics of sexual health and wellness, and too often lack the information to let them know they’re not alone.

Revamping the sexuality education curriculum should be part of a larger package of reforms to protect LGBT kids in South Korea. After more than a decade of failed attempts, the National Assembly still has not enacted legislation that would prohibit discrimination, including based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The UN children’s rights committee also encouraged the government to address bullying and cyberbullying, of which LGBT and other minority children are often targets.

South Korea has models it can look to for these reforms, including UNESCO’s guidelines on sexuality education. If the government wants to ensure the rights, health, and well-being of children, it can start by giving all kids – regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity – the basic information they need to thrive.

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

Relatives of Brian Wasswa carry his coffin during his funeral on October 6, 2019. 

© HRAPF 2019

Update: On October 12, a government spokesperson, Ofwono Opondo, tweeted that the government "does not intend to introduce any new law with regards to regulation of LGBT activities in Uganda because the current provisions in the penal code are sufficient." Before President Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act in 2014, the government also put out conflicting messages around its support for the bill.


(Kampala) – Ugandan authorities should thoroughly investigate the fatal attack on October 4, 2019 on an activist for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, Human Rights Watch said today. The death of the activist, Brian Wasswa, comes as the Ugandan government calls for reintroducing an anti-homosexuality bill that would provide the death penalty for consensual same-sex acts.

Wasswa, 28, was attacked at his home in Jinja, a city in eastern Uganda. Wasswa had worked since 2017 as a paralegal trained by Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF), a legal aid organization that supports vulnerable communities, including LGBT people. Wasswa also worked as a peer educator with The AIDS Support Organization (TASO), a Ugandan nongovernmental organization dedicated to HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, and care, where he conducted HIV outreach to LGBT people. Justine Balya, a legal officer with HRAPF, said Wasswa was social, well-loved, and committed to counseling young people living with HIV about the importance of adhering to treatment.

Days after Wasswa’s murder, 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. The proposed measure echoes Uganda’s 2014 Anti-Homosexuality Act, which criminalized the undefined “promotion” of homosexuality and early drafts included the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality.” The Constitutional Court nullified the 2014 law on procedural grounds. Nevertheless, its passage contributed to violence, discrimination, evictions, and arbitrary arrests of LGBT people, as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International documented.

Relatives of Brian Wasswa carry his coffin during his funeral on October 6, 2019. 

© HRAPF 2019

“In the wake of the horrific murder of Brian Wasswa, the Ugandan government should be making it crystal clear that violence is never acceptable, regardless of one’s sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Oryem Nyeko, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Instead, a government minister charged with ethics and integrity is threatening to have gay people killed at the hands of the state.”

Uganda has experienced a rise in homophobic rhetoric from the government at high levels in recent weeks. In addition to Minister Lokodo’s threat to revive the anti-homosexuality bill, Security Minister Elly Tumwine claimed in an October 3 television interview that LGBT people were linked to an alleged terrorist group.

Wasswa, who lived alone in a house in a fenced compound containing other houses, was attacked in his home on October 4. Edward Mwebaza, deputy executive director of HRAPF, said that neighborhood children found the door open at around 5 p.m., went into the house, and found Wasswa unconscious, lying in a pool of blood. Neighbors rushed Wasswa to Jinja Hospital, where doctors found that he was still alive but had been struck on the head multiple times by a sharp object. When Wasswa did not respond to treatment, on October 5, his colleagues at HRAPF requested an ambulance to transfer him to Mulago Hospital in Kampala, Uganda’s capital city, one hour away. Wasswa died in the ambulance en route to Kampala.

Police from Jinja’s Central Police Station have opened investigations. They identified the murder instrument, a short-handled hoe found in Wasswa’s home, and interviewed one witness who saw another man in Wasswa’s home several hours before Wasswa was found unconscious, HRAPF reported.

Mwebaza told Human Rights Watch that Wasswa was openly gay and gender non-conforming, sometimes describing himself as transgender. HRAPF urged the police to investigate the possibility that the murder may have been a hate crime.

Mwebaza said that three other gay and transgender people had been killed in Uganda in recent months, amid the climate of increasingly hostile statements by politicians around LGBT rights. On August 1, a group of motorcycle taxi drivers beat a young transgender woman, Fahad Ssemugooma Kawere, to death in Wakiso District, near Kampala, HRAPF and other Ugandan activists reported.

HRAPF itself has also experienced previous violent attacks. In February 2018, two security guards were seriously injured during a violent break-in at the organization’s Kampala offices, and in 2016, a HRAPF security guard was beaten to death. No one was brought to justice for either attack. Other organizations working on sensitive issues, such as land rights and the rights of journalists and women, also have experienced break-ins and in some cases attacks on security guards.

“It is incumbent on the Ugandan authorities to deliver justice for the murder of Brian Wasswa,” Nyeko said. “Police should conduct thorough investigations, and political leaders should refrain from any rhetoric that might encourage violence against LGBT people.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Activists at the opening session of the 2019 NEDWA conference, September 27, 2019.

© 2019 via The Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality (AFE)

Lebanon used to be known as a port in a storm for human rights defenders from the Arabic-speaking world – especially those working on gender and sexuality – to organize freely and without censorship.

A major space for this was the annual NEDWA conference, hosted by the Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality (AFE).

Even as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people faced grave human rights violations over the years ranging from murders in Iraq, to jail time and forced anal examinations in Egypt, to rigid censorship of LGBT content in Qatar, Lebanon was a haven where embattled activists could meet at NEDWA to cultivate their movements’ resilience, tactics, and communal healing in the face of adversity.

That safe haven in the Middle East no longer exists.

Amid a targeted crackdown against free expression and assembly around gender and sexuality in Lebanon, resulting in an unlawful raid by General Security on the 2018 NEDWA conference and a discriminatory entry ban imposed on non-Lebanese participants, AFE was forced to move its conference outside the Middle East and North Africa region for the first time.

The activists adapted. Two hundred human rights defenders, artists, and academics from the region gathered in another country. They discussed health, human rights, and movement building. Queer and trans artists from Palestine, Lebanon, and Egypt inspired the conference attendees with performances that reconfigured the meaning of resistance, embodying creative ways to combat state-sponsored repression.

Instead of safeguarding much-needed platforms such as NEDWA and celebrating these activists, the Lebanese government chose to forego its international obligations by claiming that the conference “disrupts the security and stability of society,” and collectively sanctioning its participants.

Lebanon’s suppression of LGBT activism is part of a larger crackdown on free speech in the country. Hamed Sinno, the lead singer of the indie band Mashrou’ Leila, whom the Lebanese government censored in July, spoke at this year’s NEDWA conference, condemning Lebanon’s decline as a center for art and tolerance, while reassuring activists that the fight continues.

Lebanon should take note: intimidation and threats will not silence the voices of resilient activists who will continue to fight for their right to live and love. By closing its doors on activism, Lebanon is divesting its image as the hub for freedom and diversity in the region.

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

French Health Minister Agnes Buzyn gives a speech to introduce the debate on a bill that would give single women and lesbian couples access to in-vitro fertilization, at the National Assembly, in Paris, September 24, 2019. 

© 2019 AP Photo/Thibault Camus

All women in France are one step closer to achieving equality when it comes to family planning.

Despite criticism from conservative and religious groups, the National Assembly last month approved a bill that will allow single women and lesbian couples to access the same medical help for having children as heterosexual couples, such as in vitro fertilization (IVF).

These procedures are currently only legal for infertile heterosexual couples – meaning that lesbian couples and single women who want children can’t even pay to have the procedures done privately in the country. Many end up traveling abroad to get the costly reproductive procedures.

The bill, which will go to the senate on October 15, is expected to pass next year.

The bill has sparked religious and political opposition, reminiscent of 2013 protests against same-sex marriage, with opponents stoking fears that lesbian parents and single mothers will undermine traditional notions of the family. Supporters say the existing law is unfair because it arbitrarily privileges some families over others, and discriminates against people based on sexual orientation or marital status.

International human rights law protects the rights to privacy, to non-discrimination, and to the highest attainable standard of health. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights provides that “[t]he widest possible protection and assistance should be accorded to the family.”

Same-sex marriage has been legal in France since 2013. Earlier, in 2008, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that a lesbian woman could adopt children.

Within the European Union, 18 out of 28 countries allow for single women, lesbians, or both to pursue medically assisted reproduction. European countries should allow all women the right to have a family and provide a route to parenthood, in addition to adoption.

The proposed law would mean the French healthcare system would cover up to four rounds of IVF for eligible women. For lesbian couples, the birth certificate of the child would read “mother and mother” instead of “mother and father.”

At the end of the day, whether married or single, lesbian or heterosexual, all parents will be taking care of their kids, accompanying them to school, and helping with homework, no matter what route they took to get there. 

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

Rainbow flags symbolizing LGBT rights.

© 2017 Reuters

Today, the US Supreme Court heard three cases that will clarify the scope of federal civil rights laws – and whether workers can be fired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The three cases – brought by a woman who was fired from a funeral home because she is transgender and a skydiver and a social worker who were fired because they are gay – pose the question of whether discrimination against LGBT people is a form of sex discrimination.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on sex, among other grounds.

Advocates point out that transgender people are singled out for discrimination precisely because their identity or expression differs from their sex assigned at birth. They argue that lesbian, gay, and bisexual people face discrimination that they would not face if the single fact of their sex was changed and their attractions or relationships were heterosexual.

Multiple courts have agreed with their position. The appeals courts that cover Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, New York, Vermont, and Wisconsin recently ruled that Title VII protects lesbian, gay, and bisexual workers. An even larger set of federal appeals courts have ruled that discrimination based on gender identity is a form of sex discrimination. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces Title VII, has echoed these conclusions.

The Trump administration has taken a different tack. Over the summer, the Department of Justice filed briefs urging the Supreme Court to rule that Title VII does not protect LGBT workers. The briefs are the latest in a series of moves to weaken protections for LGBT people in education, housing, health care, adoption and foster care, and businesses and services.

As the Trump administration takes aim at LGBT workers, Congress has the power to act. The House of Representatives recently passed the Equality Act, which would explicitly clarify that sexual orientation and gender identity are protected under federal civil rights laws. The Senate should bring the bill to a vote – and should ensure that nobody is fired because of who they are or who they love.

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

LGBT rights activists carry the rainbow flag during a May Day rally in St. Petersburg, Russia, May 1, 2018.

© 2018 AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky

A Saint Petersburg court ruled last week that two lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) social media groups violated Russia’s notorious “gay propaganda” law and ordered the sites shuttered.

The groups – “Russian LGBT Community” and “Russia LGBT Network” – were hosted on VKontakte, a Russian social media platform similar to Facebook.

The court judgments state that the incriminating material was images representing same-sex relationships. The judge deemed this content as responsible for “rejecting family values, promoting non-traditional sexual relations and fostering disrespect for parents and/or other family members.”

Under the “gay propaganda” ban, adopted in 2013, portraying same-sex relations as socially acceptable is illegal. The rationale is that such information supposedly threatens the well-being of children.

The law has been used to target peaceful public protests, individuals’ social media posts, teachers, and Deti-404, a website providing psychosocial support for LGBT youth. It has been used to justify a criminal investigation of social workers who allowed a gay couple to adopt children, forcing the family to flee to the United States. Earlier this year, the European Court of Human Rights fined the government for using the law as the basis for denying registration to two LGBT groups.

Last year, Human Rights Watch wrote to the education ministry highlighting our research findings, which show that the law exacerbates the daily hostilities LGBT youth face and curtails the ability for mental health providers to intervene. The ministry’s response ignored concerns about violence and discrimination, and said the government was responsible for fostering “the spiritual and moral values of the people of the Russian Federation.”

In the new judgments, the court insisted that the law was protective of children’s rights. The decision even made oblique references the Convention on the Rights of the Child, claiming the government is protecting a child “from information and materials harmful to his well-being.”

A warped interpretation to be sure. Not to mention a legally insubstantial justification for its ruling.

In 2014, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child made clear that Russia’s law “encourages the stigmatization of and discrimination” against LGBT people. The committee also affirmed children’s rights to receive and share information about sexual orientation and gender identity.

Far from offering protection, the law endangers LGBT youth. This latest ruling for censorship is just another example of LGBT discrimination.

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

A trans woman living in Akkar, North Lebanon, has been kidnapped and denied police protection, housing, and employment on the basis of her gender identity.

© 2019 Human Rights Watch

When she was 18, Maria escaped from her father’s house after he beat her so violently that she lost consciousness, then restrained her for two weeks with metal chains that stretched from her bed to the bathroom. “He wanted to beat the woman out of me,” Maria said. Six years later, she is still fighting to survive.

Maria is a transgender woman in Lebanon. Her story is one of many heartbreaking accounts that I heard from transgender women in the country.

Over the past year, I interviewed 50 transgender women about what it was like to live and survive in Lebanon. They face structural violence and discrimination in every aspect of their lives—at home, in the street, in seeking jobs, housing, and health care, and at Lebanon’s ubiquitous security checkpoints. All the women I spoke with said it is nearly impossible for them to live a safe and dignified life in Lebanon.

For many of the transgender women I interviewed, coming to terms with their gender identity in a patriarchal society is a tormenting process. They are often forced to make a choice: Being themselves publicly and paying the price for visibility, without any government protection, or suffering through excruciating self-censorship.

Maria said that after she fled her abusive father, she decided to live her truth as a woman, but her ID still said she was male. Following countless rejections from would-be employers due to the ID mismatch, Maria finally found a job at a hair salon that barely allowed her to make ends meet. Soon after, her boss told her that her appearance was becoming “too girly,” and fired her. She hasn’t worked since.

When she tried to find a place to stay, several landlords, after seeing her male ID, told her that her appearance was “too abnormal” and rejected her. Because Lebanon does not have anti-discrimination laws, there was little Maria could do.

Without a job or shelter, Maria told me, she was left on the street, battling verbal abuse, sexual harassment, and physical violence. She could not turn to security forces for protection – she knew they would offer little support to a trans woman. Worse, every time she was stopped at a security checkpoint, police officers harassed her. On one occasion, when officers saw her male ID, they ridiculed her, made her strip down to her bra and underwear in the street, encouraged passers-by to insult her, and detained her overnight—simply for existing as a transgender woman in public.

In Lebanon, transgender people can only change their names and gender markers on official documents through a court ruling, often following a “gender dysphoria” diagnosis and surgery, which is expensive (up to $70,000) and sometimes unwanted. Many transgender women, like Maria, are also deterred from seeking rulings due to high fees, lack of legal assistance, and protracted court proceedings.

“We have to force ourselves to walk and talk and dress according to society just so we don’t get beaten by whoever was in a bad mood that day” Maria told me, “We have to sacrifice our whole being. I’m not trying to provoke them, it’s just who I am.”

Leila, a 34-year-old Lebanese trans woman with a degree in information technology, told me that she suppresses her identity to survive her daily life. She said she doesn’t feel safe being herself in Lebanon, and that she has been “hiding Leila” until she finds a way to leave the country.

The only place Leila feels safe is at the community center of a Lebanese organization that defends LGBT rights. I interviewed her at the center, where she was able to dress and express herself in accordance with her gender identity.

Lebanon has an obligation to end the structural violence and discrimination against transgender women. The Lebanese government should enact legislation protecting against all forms of discrimination, including on the grounds of gender identity, and establish a simple, administrative process allowing transgender people to change their names and gender markers on their identity documents based on self-declaration.

The web of violence spun for transgender women under Lebanon’s social structure haunts them throughout their lives. When they are denied housing, employment, health care, and the ability to report discrimination, they have nowhere to go. When they cannot possess identification documents that reflect their identity, they are systemically marginalized, and their existence is denied.

After my interview with Leila, she went into the bathroom, took off her polka dot dress, and put on a suit and tie. She slicked her hair back, felt the knot return to her throat, and walked out into the streets of Beirut as the man she is not.

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

Thousands of people take part in the Equality March in Lublin city, Poland, September 28, 2019.

© 2019 Attila Husejnow/SOPA Images/Sipa USA via AP Images

Police in Lublin, Poland took action to protect participants in a pride march last Saturday from anti-LGBT protesters, who, according to a media report, tried to stop the march and attack the marchers with eggs. Such action should stand as an example of how Polish authorities need to defend free and assembly rights as anti-LGBT rhetoric reaches a fever pitch ahead of national elections.

Much of the vitriol in recent months has been driven by Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS), which has a history of scapegoating lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, and sexual and reproductive health activists, under the rubric of “gender ideology.” The party made countering “LGBT ideology” part of its platform for the October 13 elections. Senior party members have misrepresented efforts to advance gender equality and end discrimination as attacks on “traditional” family values, and used such arguments to undermine women’s and LGBT rights groups.

But “centering the election campaign on LGBT issues has resulted in the mobilization of both hate and solidarity,” wrote Lukasz Szulc, a lecturer in Digital Media and Society at the University of Sheffield. Indeed hundreds of thousands of #JestemLGBT (#IamLGBT) tweets have been sent out in recent months – many in domestic and international solidarity with queer and trans people in Poland. The police behavior in Lublin over the weekend illustrates a clear message as well: basic rights should triumph over bigotry – and the state is obligated to side with the rule of law.

In a 2016 report, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association specified that governments have “a positive duty to protect those exercising their right to peaceful assembly, even if they are promoting unpopular positions (e.g., rights for LGBTI persons or those of a minority religion).”

The police in Lublin appear to have upheld this duty. And as the election approaches and PiS supporters try to attack LGBT people as a cynical rallying cry, all Polish authorities have an obligation under the country’s constitution, human rights law, and EU law to ensure equality for everyone in society.

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

Map of Kazakhstan.

© 2015 Human Rights Watch

Kazakhstan’s Supreme Court has ruled that two women will receive compensation from a Facebook user who posted a video of them kissing on the social media platform without their permission, and solicited homophobic comments. The ruling is not only an important milestone for privacy rights, but also illuminates how strong safeguards for digital privacy can protect internet users from discrimination.

The court ruled this month that the posting violated the women’s privacy rights, rejecting a lower court’s argument that the intimate embrace violated the “moral foundations of society” and justified the video and public shaming.

The video of the women, which was posted on Facebook and quickly shared on other social media platforms on January 30th, 2018, received derogatory and threatening comments. Though the man who posted the video deleted it within a day, the video had been viewed at least 60,000 times by then.

Fearing for their safety, the women left Kazakhstan for eight months. As the Supreme Court noted, the film, which urged viewers to “shame” the women, “triggered a wave of offensive comments” and “placed the applicants in the focus of public attention, their private life having become public against their will.”

Feminita, a feminist group that works with lesbian, bisexual, and queer women in Kazakhstan and supported the applicants, quoted one of the women anonymously: “Few believed that we would defend our rights in court. Those who did not believe argued that our society was not yet ready for such changes.”

The ruling shows that the enforcement of the right to privacy provides a critical safeguard against online discrimination, particularly discrimination targeted at lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.

As Human Rights Watch has documented, LGBT people in Kazakhstan routinely face harassment, discrimination, and the threat of violence. However, in 2015, the Kazakh Constitutional Chamber ruled that then-pending anti-LGBT legislation violated the country’s constitution, nullifying a Russia-style “gay propaganda” bill before it came into force.

It’s also an important victory for Feminita, which has faced numerous attempts by the government to scuttle is registration as a non-governmental organization ­ significantly limiting the scope of the group’s activities.

Kazakhstan’s government would do right to support the fundamental rights of all citizens, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. As the Supreme Court has demonstrated, a sober assessment free of moralizing establishes everyone as equal before the law.

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

LGBT activists protest the planned revision to Indonesia’s criminal code outside parliament in Jakarta, Indonesia, February 12, 2018.

© 2018 AP Photo
Indonesia’s President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo announced on Friday he wanted parliament to delay its vote on the country’s proposed new criminal code. The pending bill contains dozens of articles that violate the rights of women, religious minorities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people – and ultimately all Indonesians.

Jokowi’s announcement followed large demonstrations in Jakarta’s streets in recent days. Yet it will mean little unless he can persuade his ruling coalition to vote against the draft law.

Jokowi’s opposition is a welcome but belated turnaround. The bill had earlier received support from his administration, allowing it to proceed to a second stage of deliberations where the plenary session in the House of Representatives will decide.

If passed by parliament, the 628-article bill would become law 30 days later, whether Jokowi signs it or not. Jokowi has instructed Minister for Law and Human Rights Yasonna Laoly to encourage parliamentarians to delay the bill, letting the next parliament, to be sworn in on October 1, debate it.

Provisions in the bill that effectively censor the dissemination of information about contraception and criminalize abortions will deprive women and girls of their right under international law to make their own choices about when and whether to have children. Provisions that criminalize sex outside of marriage and unmarried cohabitation violate international law by criminalizing consensual sex between adults. These provisions are likely to disproportionately affect women and criminalize same-sex conduct – something Indonesia has never done.

Six new articles on blasphemy could be used to further discriminate against non-Muslim, non-Sunni, and local believers. Indonesia’s blasphemy law is already used as a “political weapon”; expanding its “elements of crimes” – including defaming religious artifacts – will facilitate Islamist militants’ targeting of minorities.

A new criminal code could be an opportunity to remove toxic and discriminatory laws from the books and build a better, rights-respecting Indonesia. But if Jokowi’s late move to delay debate fails, his vision of a modernizing and open country will be lost.

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

LGBT activists protest the planned revision to Indonesia’s criminal code outside parliament in Jakarta, Indonesia, February 12, 2018.

© 2018 AP Photo

(Jakarta) – The Indonesian parliament should substantially revise the proposed new criminal code to meet international human rights standards, Human Rights Watch said today. The current bill contains articles that will violate the rights of women, religious minorities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, as well as freedom of speech and association.

“Indonesia’s draft criminal code is disastrous not only for women and religious and gender minorities, but for all Indonesians,” said Andreas Harsono, senior Indonesia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Lawmakers should remove all the abusive articles before passing the law.”

Updating Indonesia’s criminal code, which dates back to the Dutch colonial era, has taken more than two decades. On September 15, 2019, a parliamentary task force finalized the 628-article bill. The House of Representatives is expected to vote on the bill later in September.

A coalition of Indonesian civil society organizations has urged President Joko Widodo to delay passing the law because it will discriminate against non-Muslims, non-Sunni Muslims, and local religious minorities, as well as women and LGBT people.

Provisions of the draft criminal code violate free speech and freedom of association. The ability to engage in political speech, even speech espousing a peaceful political ideology that the government does not favor, lies at the heart of the democratic process.

Provisions that effectively censor the dissemination of information about contraception and criminalize some abortions will set back women and girls’ rights under international law to make their own choices about having children. Unintended pregnancies can affect a range of rights, including by ending a girl’s education and contributing to child marriage, as well as putting women and girls’ lives at risk and other health complications.

“The bill’s provisions censoring information about contraception could set back the progress Indonesia has made in recent years to dramatically reduce maternal deaths,” Harsono said.

The bill also expands Indonesia’s 1965 Blasphemy Law, which increases the enumeration of “the elements of crimes” to include defaming religious artifacts. Parliament should remove blasphemy offenses that are inconsistent with Indonesia’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Human Rights Watch said.

“Indonesia’s parliament should be encouraging free speech and association, and limiting – not expanding – the Blasphemy Law,” Harsono said. “The new criminal code is a precious opportunity that shouldn’t be wasted to remove toxic laws from the books and build a better, rights-respecting Indonesia.”

Problematic Provisions in the Draft Criminal Code

Article 2 recognizes “any living law” in Indonesia, which could be interpreted to include hukum adat (customary criminal law) and Sharia (Islamic law) regulations at the local level. Indonesia has hundreds of discriminatory Sharia and other regulations that discriminate against women, religious minorities, and LGBT people. As there is no official list of “living laws” in Indonesia, this article could be used to prosecute people under these discriminatory regulations.

Article 417 punishes extramarital sex by up to one year in jail. (The current code says only that married couples can be prosecuted for extramarital sex based on police complaints by their spouse or children.) While this article does not specifically mention same-sex conduct, since same-sex relationships are not legally recognized in Indonesia, this provision effectively criminalizes all same-sex conduct. It will also subject all sex workers to criminal prosecution.

Article 419 states that couples who live together without being legally married could be sentenced to six months in prison. A village head could report these couples to the police.

Article 421 criminalizes “obscene acts” in public with a penalty of up to six months in prison. This article could be used to target LGBT people.

Articles 417, 419, and 421 violate the right to privacy for consenting adults that is protected under international law. Such provisions can reinforce or exacerbate discriminatory social norms and have heightened impact on women, who may face pressure to enter forced marriages if accused of sex outside of marriage or an increase in societal “policing” of their behavior.

These articles could also be used to target religious minorities and the millions of Indonesians – some estimates suggest as many as half of all Indonesian couples – who do not marry legally because of difficulties in registering the marriage. They include members of hundreds of unrecognized religions including Baha’i, Ahmadi, and local religions, as well as people in remote regencies and islands.

Article 413 criminalizes the production or distribution of pornography, which is poorly defined under existing law. As Human Rights Watch has documented, the 2008 Law on Pornography, which defines portrayals of “deviant sexual intercourse” to include lesbian and male homosexual sex, has been used for discriminatory targeting of LGBT people.

Article 414 states that anyone who is “to show, to offer, to broadcast, to write or to promote a contraception to a minor” – children under age 18 – could face a prison term or fine.

Article 416 specifies some narrow exceptions for health professionals and authorized “competent volunteers” to discuss contraception in the context of family planning, preventing sexually transmitted infections, or providing health education.

While the exceptions are notable, the overall chilling effect of article 414 will diminish free exchange of vital health information, including by teachers, parents, the media, and community members, and will most likely impede even those who are officially exempted from the law.

Sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS can be largely prevented by regularly using condoms, and interfering with people’s ability to get information about condoms impedes their rights to life and health.

Human Rights Watch has documented that restricted access to condoms has particular impacts on marginalized groups – such as men who have sex with men and female sex workers and their clients – who already shoulder most of the burden of Indonesia’s HIV epidemic.

Articles 415, 470, and 471 state that only doctors have the right to decide to perform an abortion. This conflicts with the 2009 Health Law, which says a woman can seek an abortion in “a medical emergency,” which could be interpreted to include health reasons or rape. A woman who aborted her pregnancy could be sentenced to up four years in prison. Anyone who helps a pregnant woman have an abortion could be sentenced up to five years in prison. These articles might also be interpreted to prosecute those selling or consuming so-called morning-after pills as an abortion tool, with up to a six-month jail term.

Human Rights Watch research in several countries has shown that criminalizing abortion impedes rights protected under international law, including to life, health, freedom from torture and degrading treatment, privacy, and to determine the number and spacing of children.

Articles 304 to 309 expand the current Blasphemy Law and maintain the maximum five-year prison term. They will punish deviations from the central tenets of Indonesia’s six officially recognized religions – Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. More than 150 individuals, most of them religious minorities, have been convicted under the Blasphemy Law since it was passed in 1965, including former Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Purnama, a Christian, in 2017.

Article 118 imposes up to a four-year prison sentence on anyone who spreads Marxist-Leninist teachings.

Article 119 authorizes a 10-year sentence for associating with organizations that follow a Marxist-Leninist ideology “with the intent of changing the policy of the government.”

Article 219 criminalizes “insults” to the president or vice president.

Article 220 limits, but not sufficiently, application of the law to cases filed by the president or vice president.

Under international human rights law, restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and association are only permitted to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation and must ensure that any measure taken under the law is strictly proportionate to the aim pursued.

Laws penalizing criticism of public leaders are contrary to international law. Public figures, including those exercising the highest political authority, may be subject to criticism, and the fact that some forms of expression are considered to be insulting is not sufficient to justify restrictions or penalties.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am