The High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), a United Nations office housed at organization headquarters in Geneva, released yesterday the world body’s first ever report on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. The report affirms that, around the world, people endure hate-motivated violence, torture, detention, criminalization and discrimination in jobs, health care and education because of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, and are sometimes even killed for it.
The report outlines “a pattern of human rights violations… that demands a response,” and says governments have too often overlooked violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
In the report, OHCHR head, Ms. Navi Pillay, calls on countries to repeal laws that criminalize homosexuality, abolish the death penalty for offences involving consensual sexual relations, and enact comprehensive anti-discrimination laws. Ms. Pillay recommends that Member States promptly investigate violent incidents and set up systems to record them, and calls on countries to ensure that no one fleeing persecution because of their sexual orientation or gender identity is forced to return to a territory where their life or freedom is at threat. Asylum laws should recognize that sexual orientation or gender identity is a legitimate basis to claim persecution.
Public information campaigns should be introduced, especially in schools, to counter homophobia, and police and law enforcement officials should also receive training to ensure LGBT people are treated fairly. No religious belief or popular cultural values should justify denying people their basic rights.
OHCHR prepared the report responding to a request from the hotly contested UN Human Rights Council earlier this year, and draws from information from past UN reporting, official statistics on hate crimes, and reporting by non-governmental organizations.
VIOLENCE AGAINST LGBT PEOPLE
Violence against LGBT persons tends to be especially vicious compared to other hate crimes, and are often especially cruel and brutal.
Homophobic and transphobic violence has been recorded in every region of the world, the report finds, and ranges from murder, kidnappings, assaults and rapes to psychological threats.
LGBT people are often targets of organized abuse from religious extremists, paramilitary groups, neo-Nazis, extreme nationalists and others, as well as family and community violence. Lesbians and transgender women are at particular risk.
Violent incidents or acts of discrimination often go unreported because victims do not trust police, are afraid of reprisals or are unwilling to identify themselves as LGBT.
HOMOPHOBIA AS THE LAW
In 76 countries it remains illegal to engage in same-sex conduct, and in at least five countries – Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen – people are sentenced to death for their “crimes”.
According to Charles Radcliffe, the chief of OHCHR’s global issues section, if the law reflects homophobic sentiment, then it legitimizes homophobia in society. If the State treats people as second class or as criminals, then it invites society to do the same.
“I think we have seen the balance of opinion amongst States really shifting significantly in recent years. Some 30 countries have decriminalized homosexuality in the last two decades or so,” says Radcliffe.