LGBTI people in Asia continue to face stigma and discrimination

18 Dec 2013

Bangkok – Across Asia, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people continue to face rights violations because of their sexual orientation and gender identity and weak knowledge of local legal systems impact on their ability to file formal complaints, or seek justice or legal redress.

A new report released by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the International Development Law Organization (IDLO) and the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions (APF), Regional Report: The Capacity of National Human Rights Institutions to Address Human Rights in Relation to Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and HIV, documents progressive initiatives and good practices of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Nepal, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Timor-Leste to protect and promote the rights of these highly marginalized individuals. The report includes a comparative analysis of rights reporting mechanisms available to LGBTI individuals in Pakistan, where legislation establishing a NHRI was not passed until 2012.

“Strengthening legal mechanisms available to LGBTI people is essential not only for the purposes of safeguarding equality and human rights, but for ensuring equitable access to public health and social services,” said Clifton Cortez, Regional Practice Leader on HIV, Health and Development for the UNDP Asia-Pacific Regional Centre in Bangkok. “The protection of human rights is a key component of an enabling legal environment, which in turn is considered critical to the response to HIV.”

South Asia and Southeast Asia have concentrated HIV epidemics which impact disproportionately on men who have sex with men and transgender people. There is a public health need to address punitive and discriminatory legal frameworks and the criminalization of same-sex sexual relations.

As independent institutions positioned between civil society and state institutions, NHRIs are well placed to advocate for action to address the rights violations, stigma and discrimination faced by LGBTI people. This independence also means NHRIs have the capacity to facilitate dialogue and collaboration between state and non-state actors, while emphasizing international human rights obligations.

“Ensuring that people of diverse sexual orientation and gender identity have the same rights as heterosexual citizens, represents the front line of this century’s struggle for equality,” said Judit Arenas, Director of External Relations for IDLO. “Stigma and discrimination on the basis of diverse sexual orientation and/or gender identity strips people of their rights and excludes them from mainstream health programs impeding their access to health care services (prevention, treatment, care and support) and the adoption of responsible behavior to prevent HIV transmission.”

The report provides examples of progressive initiatives undertaken by involved NHRIs to protect and promote LGBTI rights:

  • In 2012, the Indonesian NHRI (Komnas HAM) effectively mediated a dispute involving Indonesian Idol, a popular reality TV show, related to accusations that the judges were harassing and humiliating gay contestants to boost ratings.
  • In 2012, for the first time the National Human Rights Commission of Bangladesh, made a strong statement supporting the rights of LGBTI people in its report to the UN Human Rights Council, under the Universal Periodic Review Process.
  • In 2012, recognizing that elections were forthcoming, the NHRC Nepal addressed a letter
to the Electoral Commission noting the security issues and harassment that transgender people experience when voting. The NHRC Nepal further expressed its concern that the Electoral Commission provides a safe and secure environment for all voters.
  • In 2010, The Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights supported LGBTI political party Ang Ladlad through a court case which successfully challenged the decision of the Commission on Elections’ refusal to register the party.

Notes to editors

The full regional report and national reports are available at http://asia-pacific.undp.org/content/rbap/en/home/library/hiv_aids/regional-report--the-capacity-of-national-human-rights-instituti/

The report is based on a series of national dialogues between NHRIs and LGBTI communities to boost cooperation and understanding. Equally important, this initiative supported NHRIs to document their efforts and achievements in advocating for the rights of people of diverse sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI).

The International Law and Development Organization (IDLO) enables governments and empowers people to reform laws and strengthen institutions to promote peace, justice, sustainable development and economic opportunity. IDLO works along the spectrum from nation and peace building to economic recovery in countries emerging from conflict or striving towards democracy. http://www.idlo.int

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) partners with people at all levels of society to help build nations that can withstand crisis, and drive and sustain the kind of growth that improves the quality of life for everyone. On the ground in 177 countries and territories, UNDP offers global perspective and local insight to help empower lives and build resilient nations. http://asia-pacific.undp.org

The APF is a member-based organisation made up of national human rights institutions in the region. Established in 1996, it currently comprises 19 members from countries throughout the Asia Pacific. It seeks to protect and promote the human rights of the people of the Asia Pacific by providing training and advice and promoting mutual support, cooperation and joint activity among member institutions. In addition, it provides support to governments in the region seeking to establish and strengthen national human rights institutions. http://www.asiapacificforum.net  

For more information on the report, or to arrange an interview, please contact:

IDLO: Rebecca Holland, Communications Consultant, rholland@idlo.int

UNDP: Edmund Settle, Policy Advisor, Bangkok, Thailand, edmund.settle@undp.org

APF: Pip Dargan, Deputy Director, Sydney, Australia, PipDargan@asiapacificforum.net   

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  • Regional Report: The Capacity of National Human Rights Institutions to Address Human Rights in Relation to Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and HIV English