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20 May 2006

'hall of shame' shows reach of homophobia

On International Day Against Homophobia, the Human Rights Watch named to a "hall of shame" five public officials who have actively promoted prejudice against LGBT people in their countries.

As people in more than 50 countries marked the International Day against Homophobia on May 17, Human Rights Watch named to a "hall of shame" five public officials who have actively promoted prejudice LGBT people in their countries. Human Rights Watch also pointed to five recent advances that give hope for a future free of hatred and homophobia.

"This 'hall of shame' does not claim to include the worst offenders, but it highlights public officials who have failed in their basic duty to respect human rights for all," said Scott Long, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. "The abuses these officials have caused or countenanced symbolize the daily, invidious forms of homophobia that countless people face around the world."

The public officials named to the "Hall of Shame" for their actions in 2005-2006 were:

Senior Superintendent of Police Ashutosh Pandey of Lucknow, India, whose agents used the Internet to entrap four men and jailed them under his country's colonial-era sodomy law;

Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk of the Netherlands, who sought to deny asylum to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Iranians, threatening to deport them back to a country that imposes the death penalty on homosexual conduct;
President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, who supports a law imposing five years of imprisonment on anyone who is involved in a lesbian and gay organization or publication, publicly supports lesbian and gay people's rights, or even publicly displays a "same-sex amorous relationship";

Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, who vowed to ban Russia's first-ever lesbian and gay pride parade, claiming he had to protect the rights of "the majority"; and,
Alabama State Representative Gerald Allen, in the United States, who moved to strip public libraries of books by lesbian or gay authors, promising to "dig a big hole and dump them in and bury them."

"Sodomy laws and surveillance, censorship and silencing, inequality and official discrimination, arrest and torture, are realities for many LGBT people on every continent," said Long. "Homophobia has a global reach."

Human Rights Watch also pointed to five countries that have made exemplary progress in combating rights abuses based on sexual orientation or gender identity:

Brazil, where a landmark government campaign for a "Brazil without Homophobia" supports LGBT groups in the struggle for equality;

Fiji, where in August the High Court ruled that the country's sodomy law was unconstitutional holding that, "What the constitution requires is that the law acknowledges difference, affirms dignity and allows equal respect to every citizen as they are";

Romania, where a decade of domestic and international pressure led to the repeal of a sodomy law and to the passage of broad antidiscrimination protections;
South Africa, where a Constitutional Court ruling in December opened equality in civil marriage for gay and lesbian couples for the first time on the African continent; and

Spain, where in the wake of marriage equality, parliament is debating a bill to give transgender people expansive rights to legal recognition of their gender identity, based on a psychological evaluation and without making surgery a prerequisite for those rights.

LGBT groups in more than 50 countries are marking the International Day against Homophobia, an initiative launched in 2005 ( www.idahomophobia.org). Held on May 17, it commemorates the date on which the World Health Organization removed homosexuality from its roster of disorders in 1990. This year, it has been endorsed by a resolution of the European Parliament.

The Hall of Shame
For showing what sodomy laws are for: Senior Superintendent of Police Ashutosh Pandey, Lucknow, India.

In January 2005, Lucknow police arrested four men on charges of operating a "gay racket" on the Internet, as well as of engaging in "unnatural" sex. Undercover agents, posing as gay men on an Internet website, entrapped one man, then forced him to call others and arrange a meeting where they were arrested.

Ashutosh Pandey, senior superintendent of police, said the men "had formed some kind of a gay club whose members would meet in both private and public places to indulge in unnatural acts The group had established online internet links with gay groups outside the country too and strictly speaking, these groups too could be liable.

Charges against the men are still pending. Five years earlier, Lucknow police had arrested four HIV/AIDS outreach workers on charges of homosexuality, and tried to close down two organizations in the city providing support services to people living with HIV. The latest case illustrates an increasing phenomenon: fears around sexuality intersecting with fears of the Internet and the open spread of information. In a massive crackdown in Egypt between 2001 and 2004, undercover police arranged meetings with men through gay websites and chatrooms, arresting and torturing many. Both regular and religious police also practice Internet entrapment in Iran.

The Lucknow case also pointed to the continuing prevalence of sodomy laws around the world. Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, titled "Of Unnatural Offences," punishes "carnal intercourse against the order of nature" with penalties of up to ten years' imprisonment. The law was originally introduced by British authorities under colonial rule in the nineteenth century. A challenge to the law, pending in the Delhi High Court, asserts that it violates constitutional protections on equality and personal liberty. In countries from Jamaica to Zambia, similar provisions regularly lead to arrests, imprisonment, and often torture of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.

For closing borders and closet doors: Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk, The Netherlands
In February 2006, Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk announced a plan to end a six-month moratorium on the deportation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) asylum-seekers back to Iran. Minister Verdonk said that in Iran, "For homosexual men and women it is not totally impossible to function in society, although they should be wary of coming out of the closet too openly." Iran imposes the death penalty on men and women convicted of homosexual conduct.

The freeze on deportations had initially been imposed in 2005, after reports of executions in Iran for homosexual conduct. Iran's criminal code states that lavat - sexual intercourse between men - "is punishable by death." The punishment for sexual intercourse between women is 100 lashes; if the offence is repeated three times, the punishment is execution. Human Rights Watch has documented brutal floggings imposed by courts as punishment for homosexual acts, and torture and ill-treatment, including sexual abuse, in police custody. International human rights law, including treaties by which the Netherlands is legally bound, prohibits the deportation of anyone to a destination where they may be at risk of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Under parliamentary pressure, Verdonk reinstated a freeze on deportations for a further six months, pending an investigation into conditions in Iran. Verdonk's statement that staying in the closet is an acceptable price for staying alive was deeply ominous. Silencing an essential part of the human personality is not a way of avoiding persecution: it is the essence of persecution.

For denying freedom of assembly: Mayor Yuri Luzhkov of Moscow, Russia
In February 2006, Mayor Luzhkov's office announced that he would ban Moscow's first ever lesbian and gay pride parade, planned for May 25. "Some say that the ban on the gay parade does not comply with human rights," Lubov Sliska, the first vice-speaker of the State Duma, said. "There are several million people in Moscow who do not want homosexuals to have this procession. Who is going to protect their rights?" The mayor's position remains unchanged although the lesbian and gay community is proceeding with plans for the parade. Mayor Luzhkov's ban is unfortunately not unique.

In 2004 and 2005 in Poland, Lech Kaczynski, then Warsaw's mayor and now the country's president, took steps to prohibit lesbian and gay pride marches in Warsaw. In 2005 a similar ban on a March for Equality and Tolerance was imposed in Krakow, Poland. In the same year, Latvia's prime minister attempted to have pride celebrations in Riga banned. In 2006, city authorities in Chisinau, Moldova prohibited a march supporting legislation to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Moves to prohibit public rallies of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people are becoming common in new democracies of eastern Europe. Aimed at denying people their rights to be visible and to assemble peacefully, they threaten not just public celebrations, but democratic freedoms.

For playing politics with human rights: President Olusegun Obsanjo, Nigeria
In January 2006, Nigeria's government brought forward a bill "for the Prohibition of Relationship Between Persons of the Same Sex, Celebration of Marriage by Them, and for Other Matters Connected Therewith." Information Minister Frank Nweke said the "pre-emptive step" was necessary because of developments elsewhere in the world, including South Africa's recognition of lesbian and gay marriages. "In most cultures in
Nigeria," he said, "same-sex relationships, sodomy and the likes of that, is regarded as abominable."

The bill, which is now before parliament, goes far beyond banning gay marriage. It provides a penalty of five years imprisonment for anyone who "performs, witnesses, aids or abets the ceremony of same sex marriage," or "is involved in the registration of gay clubs, societies and organizations, sustenance, procession or meetings, publicity and public show of same sex amorous relationship directly or indirectly in public and in private." The bill also would criminalize the registration of gay organizations or any public display of a "same sex amorous relationship." Advocacy for lesbian or gay people's human rights, or any public evidence of homosexuality, would be made a criminal offence.

The bill would be one of the most draconian laws against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people anywhere in the world.

For censorship: Alabama State Representative Gerald Allen, United States
In April 2005, Representative Allen introduced a bill in the state legislature to bar libraries and schools from buying books by lesbian or gay authors; books with lesbian or gay characters; or any materials which showed homosexuality in a positive light. "I don't look at it as censorship," he said. "I look at it as protecting the hearts and souls and minds of our children." He said offending books would have to be taken from library shelves: "I guess we dig a big hole and dump them in and bury them."

Allen's proposal died in the state legislature. Yet lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people's freedom of expression is under attack in many countries. Authorities censor articles and ban books and broadcasts. Lifesaving information on preventing HIV/AIDS is removed from outreach materials if the material targets men who have sex with men or women who have sex with women.

In Uganda, for instance, under a state policysupported by the Bush administrationthat promotes "abstinence-only" HIV/AIDS education, references to homosexuality have been purged from pamphlets and textbooks, or it has been called "immoral behavior." A radio station that aired a program on homosexuality in 2004 was subject to a heavy fine. In 2005, state censors banned a staging of the play The Vagina Monologues, by the U.S. author Eve Ensler. The country's Information Minister explained, "The author of the film [sic] in question is a known lesbian who lives with another woman. She worships the female sexual organ, seeing it as her god."
Five Reasons for Pride
Human Rights Watch also pointed to five human rights milestones in 2005-2006, which--among many others--show that equality is making progress. From overturning sodomy laws to protecting gender identity and expression, these victories give lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people reasons for hope and pride.

Brazil: May 2006 marks the second year of the nationwide "Brazil without Homophobia" (Brasil sem Homofobia) campaign. The government initiative--described as a "National Program for Combating Violence and Discrimination against Gays, Lesbians, Transgender People and Bisexuals, and for the Promotion of the Citizenship of Homosexuals"is virtually unique in the world. It aims to strengthen both public and non-governmental institutions that promote equality for LGBT people. It does this through education on human rights, both of the general public and within LGBT communities; by capacity-building for sexual-rights organizations; and by encouraging LGBT people to complain to public institutions about violations of their rights. Violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity continue in Brazil, but the groundbreaking program shows that governments can work with activists to mark pathways toward change.

Fiji: In August 2005, Fiji's High Court overturned the conviction of two men for homosexual conduct, voiding the country's colonial-era sodomy law as a violation of its constitution. Judge Gerald Winter stated, "What the constitution requires is that the law acknowledges difference, affirms dignity and allows equal respect to every citizen as they are. The State that embraces difference, dignity and equality does not encourage citizens without a sense of good or evil but rather creates a strong society built on tolerant relationships with a healthy regard for the rule of law."

Romania: In June 2006, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Romanians will celebrate the tenth anniversary of the founding of the LGBT rights group ACCEPT. In 1996, Romania still had a Communist-era sodomy law criminalizing all homosexual conduct. Lesbians and gay men were routinely arrested, prosecuted and could be sentenced to up to five years' imprisonment. Some were subjected to violence or other inhuman and degrading treatment potentially amounting to torture, while in detention. In 2001, after years of domestic advocacy and pressure to comply with European human rights standards, the law was finally repealed. In 2002, Romania passed a broad anti-discrimination bill including protection from discrimination on grounds of for sexual orientation. In 2005, almost a thousand people in Bucharest took part in Romania's first lesbian and gay pride parade.

South Africa: As it emerged from apartheid ten years ago in 1996, South Africa became the first country in the world to enshrine sexual orientation in its constitution as a status on which discrimination was explicitly prohibited. A series of landmark court decisions followed, securing lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people's right to equal treatment. Finally, in December 2005, the country's Constitutional Court ruled that civil marriage had to be extended to lesbian and gay relationships. The court stated, "A democratic, universalistic, caring and aspirationally egalitarian society embraces everyone and accepts people for who they are. . . .What is at stake is not simply a question of removing an injustice experienced by a particular section of the community. At issue is a need to affirm the very character of our society as one based on tolerance and mutual respect."

Spain: In July 2005 a bill opening civil marriage to gay and lesbian couples became law in Spain. In May 2006, after strong pressure from Spanish transgender advocates, the Minister for Justice announced he would bring a new "Gender Identity Law" before parliament. The bill will allow transgender people to change their legal identity papers to conform to the gender they themselves experience, based on a psychological evaluation rather than proof of sex-reassignment surgery. The change of identity would be a straightforward administrative procedure rather than requiring a court judgment. In many countries, transgender people suffer the loss of many legal rightsto marry, to rent housing, to vote, even to drivebecause their identity documents do not reflect the gender which they actually experience. If passed, the bill would be one of the most sweeping legal affirmations anywhere in the world of transgender people's rights to control over their own identities.

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