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The president of Poland, the leader of Uganda, and the UK Home Office are making prejudicial policies and public statements that deny people’s dignity and endanger their lives, Human Rights Watch said today in its annual “Hall of Shame” to mark the International Day Against Homophobia.

On May 17, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) groups in dozens of countries will commemorate the International Day Against Homophobia, an initiative launched in 2005 that commemorates the day in 1990 when the World Health Organization removed homosexuality from its roster of disorders.

“Homophobia allows political leaders to smear loving relationships, smash the doors of houses, and slam the doors of a safe haven that should welcome refugees,” said Scott Long, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. “Where prejudice trumps privacy and intolerance stifles intimacy, no one’s rights are safe and no one’s place is secure.”

Inductees to the "Hall of Shame"

Human Rights Watch named three leaders to the “Hall of Shame” for their actions in the past year in endangering LGBT people’s dignity, families, and safety:

President Lech Kaczynski of Poland: for denying people respect for their family. Kaczynski and his allies – including his brother, the former prime minister – have campaigned for years to deny basic rights to Poland’s LGBT people. In March 2008, in a nationally televised speech, Kaczynski railed against ratifying the European Union Reform Treaty, which would adopt the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. He claimed that provisions in the charter prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation would force legal recognition of same-sex relationships. He used film clips of the Canadian marriage ceremony of the US couple Brendan Fay and Thomas Moulton to warn of the “dangers” of legalizing same-sex marriage.

Fay and Moulton spoke out against how the president exploited their relationship. Eventually, they visited Poland to send a message that their marriage was a promise and affirmation, not a threat to others. Kaczynski is only one among many public figures worldwide who attack LGBT people’s families for political ends. In Guatemala in 2007, Congress debated a bill to eliminate single-parent or other non-nuclear families from the definition of “family,” and bar same-sex couples from any form of legal recognition. A proposed measure in Romania would define heterosexual marriage as the basis of the family, depriving many Romanian families of basic civil rights. In the name of protecting a particular model of the family, such measures deny innumerable families desperately needed protections.

President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda: for denying people privacy and security. In August 2007, after a coalition of LGBT organizations in Uganda launched a campaign called “Let Us Live in Peace,” the government showed it had no intention of doing so. Ethics and Integrity Minister James Nsaba Buturo publicly called homosexuality “unnatural”; while dismissing claims that police harassed LGBT people, he warned, “We know them, we have details of who they are.” The deputy attorney general called for the arrest of gays and lesbians, “because homosexuality is an offense under the laws of Uganda.”

LGBT Ugandans have faced official harassment for years. In 2005, authorities raided the home of human rights defender Juliet Victor Mukasa and forced her into hiding. Government officials have censored media discussions of homosexuality and threatened to respond to any advocacy for LGBT rights with prison terms.

A colonial-era sodomy law in Uganda punishes homosexual conduct with life imprisonment. Worldwide, over 85 countries criminalize consensual homosexual conduct. Such laws give governments like Uganda’s a pretext to invade people’s private lives and deny them an essential right: to live in peace.

Home Office, United Kingdom: for denying people protection. People fleeing countries where they face abuses based on sexual orientation and gender identity often face asylum systems that fail to recognize the reality of their persecution, despite clear legal obligations not to deport individuals to countries where they are at risk of torture and abuse. The recent ordeal of the Iranian asylum-seeker Mehdi Kazemi, who in 2007 faced deportation from the United Kingdom to Iran – despite laws imposing torture and the death penalty for homosexual conduct in Iran – points to how the UK Home Office is failing to implement its human rights responsibilities. In 2008, Lord West of Spithead, Home Office minister in the UK House of Lords, said: “We are not aware of any individual who has been executed in Iran in recent years solely on the grounds of homosexuality, and we do not consider that there is systematic persecution of gay men in Iran.”

“An asylum system where only the dead are found deserving is an asylum system that does not work,” said Long. “Human rights law demands that those who face persecution be given protection, but persecution does not require corpses to prove it.”

Human rights law forbids deporting people – including LGBT people – to places where they risk torture and serious abuse.

Recent Progress in LGBT Rights

Human Rights Watch has also pointed to three areas where advances in human rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people have given reason for hope.

  • In Colombia, the nation’s Constitutional Court has handed down landmark decisions protecting LGBT people’s rights in the sphere of relationship and family. It extended health care benefits and pension benefits to same-sex partners on a basis equal to those enjoyed in heterosexual relationships, and condemned the lack of legal protection for same-sex relationships. The decisions cited human dignity, personal autonomy, and equality as the core principles behind these decisions. The court has shown leadership to the country’s Congress, which has debated at least six legislative initiatives to protect LGBT people’s families in the last decade, without enacting any of them into law.
  • In Ireland, the High Court finally ended a transgender woman’s 10-year legal struggle for state recognition, by ruling that the government had to grant her identity papers corresponding to the gender she lived in. The decision marked the first time that the High Court had ever found an Irish law incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. The “Yogyakarta Principles on the Application of International Law in Relation to Issues of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity,” which spell out international legal standards for protecting against violence and discrimination, state that: “Each person’s self-defined sexual orientation and gender identity is integral to their personality and is one of the most basic aspects of self-determination, dignity and freedom.”
  • In Nepal, after years of civil war accompanied by violence targeting lesbians, gays, and transgender people, the Supreme Court on December 17, 2007, mandated legal and constitutional protections for sexual orientation and gender identity. The landmark decision requires that LGBT people’s human rights be addressed in the process of reconciliation and reform, and may make Nepal a regional leader in addressing discrimination.

“In each of these cases, dedicated judges have upheld rights and the rule of law in the face of prejudice,” said Long. “Their commitment to principle should be an example to political leaders.”

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