The general debate on item 4 which is titled ‘human rights situations that require the Council’s attention’ gives the opportunity to bring up issues relevant to specific country contexts. A number of country specific mandates have been created with the two mandates of immediate relevance to SOGI issues being the mandates on Iran and Syria.
COMMISSION OF INQUIRY ON SYRIA
Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, Chair of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, in his report noted that the Syrian conflict was in its sixth year. Mr Pinheiro’s Report outlined how the actions of all parties had wreaked havoc on the Syrian mosaic. Aerial bombardment had resulted in the destruction of ‘the structures of civilian life-houses, business, schools, parks, markets, and hospitals among them’. There were attacks on medical care, education, and public spaces, cutting of electricity and water and the wanton destruction of cultural heritage. The very conditions responsible for the ‘basic conditions of life’ were being destroyed. Hand in hand with this physical destruction was a destruction of the social fabric of Syria with deliberate and targeted attacks on religious groupings including Sunnis by the government and Alawaites, Yazidis, Shias and Kurds by Daesh and Jabhat Al Nusra.
It is in the middle of this war on the social fabric of Syria that the deliberate and targeted killing of sexual minorities needs to be located.
The Report noted that
Civilians have been deliberately killed in attacks where the belligerents have conflated a community’s ethnic and/or religious backgrounds and its perceived political loyalties. In some cases, there has been intentional targeting of various ethnic, religious and professional communities, as well as sexual minorities. The backing of external actors, including foreign fighters on all sides, has exacerbated ethno-sectarian tensions on the ground.
ISIS continues to target sexual minorities for execution. In August, the terrorist group released a video showing two men being thrown from a building in Tadmur as punishment for allegedly committing homosexual acts.
In September, fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra and anti-government armed groups executed seven men in Rastan city (Homs) on accusations of homosexuality. An unauthorized court, functioning on behalf of all armed groups from the area, ordered the executions.
Mr. Pinheiro in the interactive dialogue noted that five long years had passed since the war in Syria started, with the toll of victims going far beyond anything imagined. There were more than five million Syrian refugees, and hundreds of thousands of children who belonged to a “lost generation”. The ongoing political dialogue must encompass a discussion on transitional justice options. The Commission strongly supported credible proceedings to fight impunity.
The relentless efforts of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria and the International Syria Support Group had resulted in the most comprehensive cessation of hostilities to date as part of the Munich agreement. This had led to a significant decrease of armed violence, and to a return to normalcy in large parts of the country. The cessation of hostilities had also created the conditions to move forward with the next round of the Geneva talks, paving the way for the implementation of Security Council resolutions 2254 and 2258. The Commission also joined its voice to resolution 2268 stressing the urgency for all parties to work constructively and in good faith towards political transition.
The shift (from the time of the previous report of the Commission) which is visible in the statement of Mr. Pinheiro is that the conversation has shifted to the possibility of the ceasefire holding and there being set in motion a process which would make accountable those responsible for these horrific violations.
Czech Republic reiterated the role of the International Criminal Court in holding accountable those responsible for flagrant violations and abuses of human rights.
Netherlands said that the current cessation of hostilities presented a glimmer of hope, adding that all parties had to provide humanitarian access and release detainees, particularly women and children. The Commission was asked how accountability could be enhanced alongside the Geneva process.
Ireland said the work of the Commission had been the principal instrument for recording the multiple atrocities inflicted on the Syrian population for the five years that the conflict had endured. Ireland reiterated its call for the referral of the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court, and urged the Security Council to fulfill its duties to uphold international law under the Charter of the United Nations.
Allied Rainbow Communities International, in a joint statement with MantiQitna, said that the report had demonstrated how extremist groups such as Daesh and the Jabhat al-Nusra systematically aimed to eliminate the very existence of many diverse groups, including lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender, and intersex persons. The atrocities committed by Daesh and al-Nusra or other factions must not divert attention from the multiple discriminations Syrians experience in the countries where they seek refuge or apply for asylum. Many LGBTIQ persons constantly speak of, but cannot properly report, physical and verbal violence as well as more subtle forms of discrimination, be it at workplaces, hospitals, police stations or other venues. The cooperation of the countries where LGBTIQ populations seek asylum as well as the countries of resettlement is thus key to ensuring that the creation of “protection space for asylum-seekers and refugees” goes beyond the resettlement scheme into ensuring that they have access to full rights as guaranteed by international law. The UNHCR as well as states were urged to understand the specificity of the violations that LGBTIQ Syrians refugees face and to address them in a sensitive and timely manner thereby ensuring that their rights are protected.
Alliance Defending Freedom said that religious minorities had been targeted specifically on the grounds of their actual or perceived religion by “ISIS/Daesh” with intent to destroy the groups in whole or in part. Those atrocities amounted to genocide under Article II of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
Since the conversation around Syria has shifted towards the question of accountability for crimes committed, it is vital that the targeted killing of LGBTI persons and violence inflicted on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity be expressly articulated in any mechanism for accountability, which tries the crimes committed by all parties in Syria.
SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON HUMAN RIGHTS IN IRAN
Mr. Ahmed Shaheed in his Report noted that there were a number of positive measures in 2015 that addressed some pressing human rights concerns ‘including the recent adoption of amendments to the country’s Islamic Penal Code (IPC) and Criminal Procedure Code (CPC).’ The new provisions provided for a ‘narrow application of anti-terrorism laws, restricting the use of the death penalty to individuals who have carried out armed activities. Amendments also introduced a statue of limitations for the prosecution of various crimes, stipulate that individuals serve no more than the maximum sentence for charges carrying the heaviest penalty wherever individuals are convicted on multiple charges, and allow judges to exercise their discretion in releasing prisoners on good behavior and in issuing alternative sentences instead of prison sentences.’
However these changes in the law did not touch the laws that criminalized different forms of same sex sexual expression.
The Special Rapporteur also notes that vague and broadly defined hudud provisions in the penal code, loosely defined as “crimes against God,”often criminalise acts that are either not recognised as crimes under international laws and standards or not considered serious enough to warrant capital punishment. These include crimes such as insulting or cursing the Prophet (sabb al-nabi), consensual heterosexual or same-sex relations between adults,corruption on earth (efsad-e-fel-arz)and apostasy.” Individuals convicted of some of these crimes are not generally allowed to seek a pardon or have their sentences commuted, in contravention of international law.
In his comments during the dialogue, Mr. Ahmed Shaheed, reiterated these observations noting that positive steps had been taken by the Government, including steps to amend some provisions of the penal and criminal procedure codes to comply with international standards, as well as a commitment to re-examine laws that had contributed to a staggering execution rate in the country. These steps should be applauded, and every effort had to be made to ensure that they translated into real change on the ground and an end to continuing serious human rights abuses. Indeed, the Special Rapporteur pointed at the alarming surge in the rate of unlawful executions and ongoing arbitrary arrests, detention and prosecution of individuals for the exercise of their fundamental rights. At least 966 persons had been executed in 2015, and at least 73 juvenile offenders were reportedly executed between 2005 and 2015, including 16 in the past two years. Moreover, at least 47 journalists and social media activists were reportedly being detained, and over 272 internet café businesses had been closed in 2015 for their alleged “threat to societal norms and values”.
Allied Rainbow Communities International noted that the Report of the Special Rapporteur draws attention to the fact that reform in the criminal code has left untouched the penalization of all forms of intimacy between people of the same sex. The Report also notes the serious and systematic violation of the rights of women through a web of legislations, which seek to keep women in a subordinate position. Expression of intimacy between two men as well as between two women are severely punishable with the ultimate punishment being the death penalty. Transgender persons who wish to get identity papers in the gender of their choice have no option but to alter their bodies through hormones and surgery and become permanently and irreversibly infertile. ARC noted that there is a connection between the legislations which keep in place the subordination of women and the legislations which target and control LGBT expression. Both series of legislations seek to keep in place a binary gender system, where what it is to be a man and what it is to be a woman is sought to be controlled by law. LGBT people who do not conform to culturally approved models of femininity and masculinity can be subject to persecution, arbitrary arrest and detention. Similarly within this rigid system any attempt by women to break out their legally enforced subordination and assert their equal rights within marriage is punished. Iran must repeal the slew of laws which seek to imprison sexual and gender diversity within the iron cage of a man-made artificially imposed binary two-gender system. Accepting the norm of equality of all people regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression would be in conformity with the promise of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which is a bedrock principle of human rights by which all nations are bound.
OTHER COUNTRY CONTEXTS
International Lesbian and Gay Association drew attention to the catalogue of human rights violations against lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender and intersex persons all over the world. ILGA highlighted the systematic situation of extreme violence and discrimination faced by trans people in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Panama and Costa Rica. In Indonesia the situation was deteriorating as a number of government officials were making openly anti-LGBTIQ statements and the Indonesian parliament was currently legislating a ban on public information with LGBTIQ content. In Russia, a man was brutally attacked for looking like a ‘fag’, in the US a father aimed a gun at his daughter after she came out as lesbian and in India a 15 year old student set himself on fire after suffering harassment and abuse from neighbours who saw him being intimate with another boy. In Malaysia arbitrary arrests of trans women continue to take place under laws criminalizing ‘male person posing as a woman’ and Ireland, Kenya and France received recommendations from the Committee on Rights of the Child to stop unnecessary medical interventions on intersex infants. It is the government’s responsibility to prevent attacks and discrimination against all members of its population.
 Islamic Penal Code, article 262-63.
 Articles 221-41 of the Islamic Penal Code.
Islamic Penal Code, Article 266.
 Apostasy is not specifically codified as a crime in the Islamic Penal Code but is a hudud crime under Shari’a law. Iran’s judiciary can issue sentences based on apostasy pursuant to Article 167 of the constitution and 220 of the CPC.
For further information on HRC31:
Arvind Narrain | Geneva Director
Kim Vance | Executive Director
All documents referenced in this Report can be found here.