In a rare move of support for transgender people, this week Pakistan’s National Commission for Human Rights issued a forceful call for an investigation after an unidentified assailant violently attacked a transgender woman in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
This is an important message of support for this marginalized minority. This assault is only the latest in a surge of attacks on transgender and intersex women in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, formerly known as the North-West Frontier Province. When activists have sought police protection and medical treatment following these attacks, hospital staff and police failed to assist victims and pursue justice.
Several transgender women in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa told Human Rights Watch they had received threats, had their property destroyed, and faced physical attacks in recent months. For example, in August, after assailants shot a transgender woman three times in the abdomen when she resisted their abduction and rape, the district hospital refused to admit her, saying they only have male and female wards. Police refused to register this case until transgender activists protested outside the hospital.
Pakistani law includes provisions to protect the rights of transgender people. In 2009, like other courts in South Asia, Pakistan’s Supreme Court called on all provincial governments to recognize the rights of transgender people. The judgment specifically called for improved police response to cases involving transgender people, and to ensure the right of transgender people to basic education, employment, and protection.
That the National Commission for Human Rights has taken notice will hopefully trigger swift action by authorities to finally take these assault cases seriously – starting by conducting prompt, thorough, and respectful police investigations, and providing care to the survivors of such abject violence.