Thursday, March 22, 2012



That's the number of countries that criminalize homosexuality.  76 accounts for about 40% of the 193 states we have in the world today.  Together they have a population of well over a billion.  One seventh of the world's people live in these countries.  Crucially, these are places where for tens of millions of gay people, loving is illegal.

Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belize, Bhutan, Botswana, Brunei, Burundi, Cameroon, Comoros, Dominica, Egypt...

All human beings have the right to live a private life free from arbitrary outside interference.  That private life includes our home, our family and the one we love.  Twenty years ago, the United Nations Human Rights Committee found that criminalization of private consensual homosexual acts violates this human right.  It affirmed that consensual sexual acts between persons of the same sex in private over the age of consent are not the business of a government.  Arguments that criminalization may be justified as “reasonable” on grounds of protection of public health (for example to prevent the spread of AIDS/HIV) or morals were not sufficient to displace this.  Today, there continue to be calls from the highest levels for the decriminalization of homosexuality across the world.

...Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Grenada, Guinea, Guyana, Iran, Jamaica, Kenya, Kiribati, Kuwait, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia...

Many of these anti-homosexuality laws are left-over from colonial history.  A good portion of the 76 countries were once British colonies, an anti-sodomy law from Victorian England being imported wholesale into local penal codes.  Human Rights Watch has traced this into the current laws of more than 35 of these countries.  In an ironic twist, the laws are now frequently defended as protecting local and traditional society, culture and values.   French colonial law, Islamic Sharia law and South African Roman Dutch law have also all had influences in shaping these discriminatory rules.  Although different in origin, these laws share a common characteristic.  They all make homosexuality a crime, and this criminalization is used to harass and prosecute individuals because of their sexuality, in violation of their human rights.

...Libya, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Mauritius, Morocco, Myanmar, Namibia, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Palau, Papua New Guinea...

Five of the 76 - Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen - execute people for being gay.  Two more have regions within their countries that have the death penalty.  Mauritania's penal code is graphic: "Any adult Muslim man who commits an impudent act against nature with an individual of his sex will face the penalty of death by public stoning."  Iran's gets straight to the point: "Punishment for sodomy is killing", though there is more nuance to the execution of lesbians: "If the act of lesbianism is repeated three lashes and punishment is enforced each time, death sentence will be issued the fourth time."   Reading these provisions of legislated hate is at once horrifying and chilling.  In her recent report, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called for the abolition of the death penalty for offences involving consensual sexual relations, though any such repeal is unlikely in the near future.

...Qatar, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Sao Tome and Principe, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Somalia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka...
Criminalization of homosexuality is not something confined to one region of the world.  It is illegal to be gay on a Caribbean island, in the savannah of East Africa, in the mountains of Central Asia, in the city-state of Singapore.  Further, criminalization is not something that is restricted to countries aligned to one religion.  Christian countries in Southern Africa and across the Pacific arrest and imprison lesbians.  Muslim countries in North Africa and West Asia convict and punish gay men. Buddhist countries in South Asia continue to prohibit same-sex relationships.  All these countries make it legal to love your neighbor, but not your partner.
...Sudan, Swaziland, Syria, Tanzania, Togo, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Yemen, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Thankfully there are places where being gay is not criminalized. North America, Europe, Latin America and Australia are all obvious and good examples.  But so too are the 24 countries in the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation who show that being a Muslim country does not mean automatically making it illegal to be a homosexual.  India and Nepal - countries with large Hindu populations - have also both recently decriminalized homosexuality, showing that change can be global.  Ten years ago the list was much longer.  About a dozen countries - including China and the United States - have since decriminalized homosexual acts between consenting adults.  Looking to the future, five more (Mauritius, Nauru, Palau, Sao Tome and Principe, and the Seychelles) have publicly stated at the United Nations that they intend to follow suit.  For the sake of the human rights of tens of millions of people, we can only hope that more follow their lead.


Thursday, March 8, 2012

Business as Usual

Yesterday, the United Nations Human Rights Council held its first Panel on "Ending Violence and Discrimination based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity".

As expected, some Member States - many of those from the OIC and some from Africa - walked out in protest, leaving a few of their representatives to explain why.  Although seats were empty in the Council Chamber, many who remained noted that walking-out does not relieve those States of their obligations to protect Human Rights.

But after their departure, the lights dimmed and an inspiring video message from Secretary General Ban Ki Moon was shown before panellists and governments made statements.  The whole three hour panel can be viewed here.

There are already summaries available of yesterday's proceedings.  Highlights included a moving statement by Germany on the persecution of homosexuals under the Nazi regime (found at 01:19:13) and a statement by a Dutch organization on the human rights violations suffered by transgender people.

A large number of countries wanted to speak, so many that there wasn't enough time for them all.  What was heartening was that the overwhelming majority were affirming of the importance of protecting the human rights of LGBT people.  Many of their statements are being posted on the United Nations website.  They can be also easily be found at the end of this blog or here.  Find your own country, or one that interests you, and see what they had to say.

The closing remarks by the Brazilian Ambassador struck a chord with many.   She declared, somewhat surprisingly, that the Panel should not be seen as an historic moment, but rather 'business as usual' for the Council, at the core of its ongoing work to protect the human rights of all people.

That statement was significant.  It affirmed what has always been the case: LGBT people are not looking for special consideration, nor are they trying to create new rights.  Rather, they want to remind the world that human rights exist for all people, and that all people need to be protected from violations.  That gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.