Skip to main content

United Nations: Landmark Report by High Commissioner for Human Rights on Discriminatory Laws and Practices and Acts of Violence Against Individuals Based on Their Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

(Buenos Aires) – “This is a historic report on grave human rights violations against lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people. This is the first time that the United Nations has addressed these violations in an official and comprehensive document,” said Boris Dittrich, advocacy director in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch.

The report was commissioned on the basis of a landmark resolution, presented by South Africa to the United Nations Human Rights Council in June 2011.

In the report the High Commissioner demonstrates that since 1994, the Human Rights Committee has held that laws used to criminalize private, adult, consensual same-sex sexual relations violate rights to privacy and to non-discrimination. Seventy-six countries retain laws that are used to criminalize people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity and in at least five countries the death penalty may be applied to those found guilty of offences relating to consensual, adult homosexual conduct.

“It is clear from the findings of the High Commissioner that homophobic and transphobic violence occurs in all regions of the world,” Dittrich said. The violence includes murder, beatings, kidnappings, rape and sexual assault, threats, coercion and arbitrary deprivations of liberty. Young LGBT people and those of all ages who are seen to be transgressing social norms are at risk of family and community violence. Lesbians and transgender women are at particular risk because of gender inequality and power relations within families and wider society.

LGBT persons are also among the victims of so-called “honor” killings, carried out against those seen by family or community members to have brought shame or dishonor on a family, often for transgressing gender norms or for sexual behavior, including actual or assumed same-sex sexual activity. While women are generally the targets of this sort of punishment, these attacks can be directed at individuals of any sex.

The High Commissioner makes reference to the Trans Murder Monitoring project, which collects reports of murders of transgender persons in all regions. It lists 680 murders in 50 countries during the period from 2008 to 2011.

The report documents allegations of lesbians being attacked, raped, forcibly impregnated, and otherwise punished in many regions of the world.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights acknowledges that the present report summarizes only some of the information gathered by United Nations treaty bodies and special procedures, regional and non-governmental organizations on violence and discrimination based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. “A more comprehensive analysis of the human rights challenges facing LGBT and intersex persons would require a more extensive study and, in future, regular reporting,” according to the High Commissioner.

“Human Rights Watch could not agree more that regularly reporting on patterns of abuses against LGBTI people and identifying policies to protect them is dramatically required,” Dittrich said. “For years we have been documenting grave human rights violations against LGBTI people. Our reports offer a wealth of information which can be used by governments to stop these violations immediately.”

The High Commissioner recommends that Member States:

  1. Investigate promptly all reported killings and other serious incidents of violence perpetrated against individuals because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, whether carried out in public or in private by State or non-State actors, and hold perpetrators accountable, and establish systems for the recording and reporting of such incidents;
  2. Take measures to prevent torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity, to investigate thoroughly all reported incidents of torture and ill-treatment, and to prosecute and hold accountable those responsible;
  3. Ensure that no one fleeing persecution on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity is returned to a territory where his or her life or freedom would be threatened, and that asylum laws and policies recognize that persecution on account of one’s sexual orientation or gender identity may be a valid basis for an asylum claim;
  4. Repeal laws used to criminalize individuals on grounds of homosexuality for engaging in consensual same-sex sexual conduct, and harmonize the age of consent for heterosexual and homosexual conduct; ensure that other criminal laws are not used to harass or detain people based on their sexuality or gender identity and expression, and abolish the death penalty for offences involving consensual sexual relations;
  5. Enact comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation that includes discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity among prohibited grounds and recognizes intersecting forms of discrimination; ensure that combating discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity is included in the mandates of national human rights institutions;
  6. Ensure that individuals can exercise their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly in safety without discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity;
  7. Implement appropriate sensitization and training programs for police, prison officers, border guards, immigration officers and other law enforcement personnel, and support public information campaigns to counter homophobia and transphobia among the general public and targeted anti-homophobia campaigns in schools;
  8. Facilitate legal recognition of the preferred gender of transgender persons and establish arrangements to permit relevant identity documents to be reissued reflecting preferred gender and name, without infringements of other human rights.

“These recommendations should be implemented immediately. It is a matter of life and death. LGBTI people face terrible human rights abuses. Every day counts,” Dittrich said.

To the Human Rights Council the High Commissioner recommends that it should be regularly informed and updated on incidents of violence and discrimination linked to sexual orientation and gender identity and that it should encourage existing special procedures to continue to investigate and report on human rights violations affecting individuals on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity within the context of their specific mandates.

“Human Rights Watch urges the Human Rights Council to immediately create a new broad mandate for a Special Rapporteur which would address the issues of violence and discrimination against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity,” Dittrich said. “Protection of LGBTI people against such intolerable abuses should be at the heart of the Human Rights Council’s action.”

Your tax deductible gift can help stop human rights violations and save lives around the world.