Strengthening Protection for Human Rights Defenders

Session 1: Threats & Defenders Particularly at Risk – LGBTI Defenders

Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders (A/HRC/13/22, para. 49):

“The Special Rapporteur is deeply concerned about the continuing denigration campaigns and the violent threats against defenders of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights. The right to peaceful assembly is also often denied to defenders working on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues or, alternatively, the police does not provide adequate protection for such demonstrations. Complaints related to violence and attacks are often not taken seriously by the police and are not always investigated properly.”

Challenges faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) human rights defenders:

  • Criminalisation: homosexuality is criminalised in approximately 80 countries, with 7 States maintaining the death penalty. Disturbingly, a number of States in recent years have introduced new criminal laws proposing harsher penalties for same-sex conduct.
  • Prohibitions on Advocacy/Freedom of Expression: When homosexuality is criminalised, the work of human rights defenders advocating equality in this area is often suppressed by the State, which equates the “promotion of homosexuality” with advocacy of criminal behaviour.  NGOs working in this field are at risk of being shut down, their offices raided, their activities prohibited, their leaders arrested.
  • Lack of recognition: Many States do not even recognise those working on LGBTI issues as human rights defenders.  NGOs advocating in this area have been denied ECOSOC accreditation. LGBTI NGOs regularly face deregistration. States during recent negotiations of the human rights defenders resolution sought to limit protection to defenders working on issues that are “universally recognised”.
  • Denials of Freedom of Assembly and Failure of Police Protection: LGBTI Pride marches have been banned, and conferences to address these issues shut down in the face of threats from extremists. In some cases, police have protected violent extremists at the expense of peaceful LGBTI participants.
  • Active targeting by media: Media regularly promote negative stereotypes, in some cases denouncing LGBTI human rights defenders, while publishing names and photos of suspected homosexuals.
  • Invisibility and pressure to remain hidden: So long as LGBTI people stay hidden, they may be unmolested; once they begin to advocate more visibly for their rights, they become targets.
  • Cultural relativism: Many States continue to see LGBTI issues as “Western impositions”, overlooking their own histories and the realities and needs of those within their own countries working on these issues.

Suggestions & Next Steps:

  • States must recognise their responsibility to address human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and accept these issues within the international human rights framework;
  • Repeal of criminal provisions, and an enabling legislative environment including nondiscrimination laws;
  • Police need to be trained in their obligation to protect all people, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity;
  • Protection programmes and focal points need to be set up within governments and other institutions with specific awareness and education programmes on the specific needs of LGBTI defenders;
  • Diplomats, Mission staff and OHCHRField Presences need training in LGBTI issues particular to the countries in which they are posted, and be encouraged to identify concrete support that can be provided;
  • Media standards are needed to avoid negative stereotypes and targeting of LGBTI defenders;
  • National human rights institutions and mainstream human rights organisations need to better integrate LGBTI issues within their mandates and activities;
  • Emergency response mechanisms and funding need to be available to those facing urgent risk.