The following are excerpts from the Human Rights Watch 2017 World Report that relate to the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people. The report, released in January 2017, documented events of 2016. In some cases, we have added updates from the first half of 2017.
The countries are all listed below in alphabetical order. This compilation is not comprehensive. If a country is not listed, that means there was no mention of LGBTI/SOGI issues for that country in the 2017 World Report. For example, many of the smaller Caribbean countries and some African countries are omitted due to research limitations, but most have anti-LGBT laws on the books and pervasive homophobia and transphobia. On the other hand, several countries that are not included here made progress in the 2016-2017 period: Belize, Nauru and the Seychelles all decriminalized consensual same-sex conduct, for example. Human Rights Watch has only recently begun investigating the rights of intersex people, so there are few references to intersex rights.
This is a living document which will be updated regularly to reflect new events and further Human Rights Watch research.
Last updated: June 23, 2017
In 2010, Argentina became the first Latin American country to legalize same-sex marriage. The Civil Marriage Law allows same-sex couples to enter into civil marriages and affords them the legal protections of marriage enjoyed by opposite sex couples, including adoption rights and pension benefits. Since 2010, nearly 15,000 same-sex couples have married nationwide. In 2012, the landmark Gender Identity Law established the right of individuals over the age of 18 to choose their gender identity, undergo gender reassignment, and revise official documents without any prior judicial or medical approval.
Activists reported that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LBGTI) people face discrimination, harassment, and violence. The government has not addressed hate speech or discrimination against LGBTI people. Gender identity and sexual orientation are not included as protected grounds in anti-discrimination or hate speech laws, limiting legal recourse for many crimes against LGBTI people. Following the October 2015 Rainbow forum, organized by Armenian LGBTI-friendly groups to discuss protection and promotion of minority rights, anonymous people targeted some participants with intimidation and threats, mostly on social media, including to burn and kill them. Authorities refused to launch a criminal investigation into the threats, citing lack of evidence. In June 2016, the LGBT rights group, PINK Armenia, published a survey revealing that 90 percent of the population is hostile to LGBTI people and support limits on their rights. In July 2016, PINK Armenia released a report documenting 46 cases of violence and discrimination against LGBTI people in 2015. The government has not taken meaningful steps to combat stereotypes and discrimination against LGBTI people.
Australia does not recognize the right of same-sex couples to marry. The Australian government announced a plebiscite on the right of same-sex couples to marry, but political opponents blocked it, arguing a plebiscite is expensive and wasteful and that the issue should be determined by a parliamentary free vote.
Australia continued its policy of intercepting asylum seekers and forcibly transferring them to Nauru and, until 2016, to Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. Asylum seekers or refugees perceived to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex (LGBTI) face harassment and abuse despite the recent decriminalization of same-sex conduct in Nauru. In Papua New Guinea, such conduct remains criminalized.
Bangladesh witnessed a spate of violent attacks against secular bloggers, academics, gay rights activists, foreigners, and members of religious minorities in 2016. Prominent gay activists Xulhaz Mannan, the founder of Roopbaan, Bangladesh’s first lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) magazine, and Mahbub Rabby Tonoy, the general secretary of the group, were murdered in April. Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) claimed responsibility for the killings. Fearing for their lives, many LGBT activists sought temporary refuge outside the country.
“Carnal intercourse against the order of nature” carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. In May 2017, police raided a private gathering of gay and bisexual men, and allegedly paraded them in front of media, exposing them to their families and the public. Authorities said they declined to press charges under the colonial-era sodomy law because they did not catch the men in the act of sexual intercourse. The government has twice rejected recommendations to repeal the colonial-era law during its Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council. The Bangladesh cabinet in 2014 declared legal recognition of a third gender category for hijras—a traditional cultural identity for transgender people who, assigned male at birth, do not identify as men—but the absence of a definition of the term or procedure for gaining recognition of third gender status led to abuses in implementation of the legal change. In June and July 2015, a group of hijras were subjected to harassment and invasive and abusive physical examinations at a government hospital as a requirement to join a government employment program. The Bangladesh National Human Rights Commission in 2017 agreed with LGBT civil society groups to establish a desk at the commission for reporting SOGI-related issues.
Parliament adopted a vaguely worded bill in May 2016 on “protecting children from information harmful for their health and development.” These provisions may be used to restrict dissemination of neutral or positive information about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people as “discrediting the institution of the family.”
In May 2016, the Plurinational Assembly passed a bill that allows people to revise the gender noted on their identification documents without prior judicial approval. Same-sex couples in Bolivia are not allowed to marry or engage in civil unions. The 2009 constitution defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Sarajevo Open Centre, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights organization, documented 23 cases of hate speech and incitement of violence and hate and two crimes and incidents motivated by prejudice on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity in the first three months of 2016. The reaction of authorities to these incidents is generally inadequate. There was no progress in police investigations into the 2014 attack on a film festival that Sarajevo Open Centre organized.
In its annual progress on Bosnia and Herzegovina published in November, the European Commission highlighted the failure of authorities to amend the constitution, in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights and to implement rulings by the Constitutional Court. The report also identified inadequate legal protection for LGBTI persons and the failure of authorities to protect adequately the rights of minorities and to ensure media freedom.
Brazil’s Supreme Court approved same-sex marriage in 2011 and it upheld the right of same-sex couples to adopt children in 2015. But the Chamber of Deputies was, at time of writing, debating a bill that would define a family as a union between a man and a woman. The national Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office received 1,983 complaints of violence, discrimination, and other abuses experienced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons in 2015. In the first half of 2016 the ombudsman received 879 such complaints.
Burma’s national penal code criminalizes consensual same-sex behavior between adult men. In recent years police have arrested gay men and transgender women assembling in public places, and politicians have called for the “education” of gay people.
Cameroon’s penal code punishes “sexual relations between persons of the same sex” with up to five years in prison. The law is regularly enforced, and in previous years, the Cameroonian authorities have subjected men arrested under this law to forced anal examinations. Although the number of arrests appeared to decrease for several years, activists reported a new uptick in arrests and prosecutions in 2016.
A “civil union” bill presented by former President Sebastián Piñera in 2011 that provides legal recognition and protection for same-sex couples became law in April 2015 and went into effect in October 2015. In September 2016, the Senate Human Rights Commission approved a bill to recognize the gender identity of transgender people, with a Senate vote expected in December.
China has no law protecting people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, and there is no legal recognition of same-sex partnership. Possibly because their activism is not considered threatening to the state, LGBT individuals enjoyed some success advancing legal cases in 2016. In January, a Hunan court heard a case filed by Sun Wenlin against the local Bureau of Civil Affairs, which had refused to marry Sun and his male partner. Though the court ruled against Sun in April, his case—the first gay marriage lawsuit accepted by Chinese courts—attracted wide media attention. In June, a Henan court accepted a case filed by Yu Hu against a mental health hospital that had subjected him to 19 days of involuntary “therapy” to “cure” his homosexuality. Also in June, a Guangdong university student, Qiu Bai, sued the provincial education department over textbooks that depict homosexuality as an illness. Qiu filed a similar suit in 2015, though she withdrew it later because the department had promised to look into the matter. She decided to sue again after the authorities’ pledge failed to materialize. In June, China voted against a UN resolution creating an expert post dedicated to addressing violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
In September 2016, the Council of the State—one of Colombia’s high courts—annulled the 2012 re-election of Alejandro Ordoñez as the country’s inspector general and dismissed him from office. Under Colombian law, the inspector general is charged with protecting human rights, but during his seven years in office, Ordoñez repeatedly sought to undermine the rights of women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.
In recent years, authorities in Colombia have taken several steps to recognize the rights of LGBT people. In June 2015, the Justice Ministry issued a decree allowing people to revise the gender noted on their identification documents without prior judicial approval. In November 2015, the Constitutional Court ruled that sexual orientation could not be used to prohibit someone from adopting a child, although a legislative proposal to hold a referendum on this issue remained pending at time of writing. In April 2016, the Constitutional Court upheld the right of same-sex couples to marry. In October 2016, FARC leaders met with conservative politicians and agreed to promote a definition of the family as formed by a man and a woman. The FARC backtracked after meeting with LGBT representatives days later. Conservative politicians and evangelist leaders had attacked the peace agreement claiming that it would “destroy families.” Between January and June 2016, the Ombudsman’s Office received 89 reports of cases of violence against LGBTI people.
No law prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity, or intersex status. Côte d’Ivoire does not criminalize same-sex conduct, but the criminal code establishes higher penalties for same-sex couples convicted of public acts of indecency. Two men were in November convicted of public indecency and sentenced to three-month prison terms after being accused of same-sex sexual acts. Two gay men were assaulted in June 2016 after a photo was published of them signing a book of condolences to the victims of a shooting at a gay nightclub in Florida, US.
In February, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled that Croatia discriminated on grounds of sexual orientation against a woman from Bosnia and Herzegovina, by denying her the right to a residence permit in Croatia to join her female partner.
In 2016, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled against Ecuador in a case determining that it is discriminatory to punish officers who allegedly have homosexual sex on military installations.
Sexual relations outside marriage are criminalized. Since 2013, authorities have pursued a campaign to intimidate, track, and arrest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, including entrapment using social media applications. Police regularly used forced anal examinations in prosecutions of those suspected of homosexual sex. Solidarity With Egypt LGBTQ+, an advocacy group, said it had recorded 114 criminal investigations involving 274 LGBT individuals launched between the end of 2013 and November 2016, 66 of which involved the authorities’ use of social media.
The government failed to adopt amendments that would allow the Co-Habitation Act to fully enter into force in 2016. The act is progressive legislation that extends the rights of marriage to unmarried—including same-sex—couples, encompassing, among other things, child adoption and property rights.
The government continued to resist calls to repeal laws that criminalize homosexuality, including an October 2014 law that introduced a series of new “aggravated homosexuality” offenses that impose sentences of up to life in prison. The criminalization of same-sex conduct leaves lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Gambians at risk of arbitrary arrest and detention, although fewer arrests and physical abuse of LGBT Gambians were reported in 2016.
In August, President Giorgi Margvelashvili blocked a referendum bid on defining marriage as a union of a man and a woman, saying that the issue is already covered in the civil code. Kvirikashvili vowed to pursue a constitutional definition of marriage after the October elections, arguing that this would help counter alleged Western efforts to spread same-sex marriage “propaganda” in Georgia. Local rights groups feared this effort would further marginalize the LGBT community and intensify anti-LGBT prejudice. Authorities declined a request by LGBT activists to hold an event to mark International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO) on Tbilisi’s main thoroughfare, stating it was already booked for a procession by Orthodox groups to mark Family Day, an annual event established by the Orthodox Church in 2014. Activists refused to celebrate IDAHO in the alternative venue offered. The Women’s Initiatives Supporting Group (WISG), a local LGBTI rights group, said it documented almost 20 cases of attacks against transgender people in 2016. In October, a transgender woman was beaten and stabbed in what rights groups suspected was a hate crime. Police arrested a suspect on attempted murder charges, and the public defender urged authorities to examine a possible hate motive.
Rampant crime and impunity for human rights abuses remain the norm in Honduras. Despite a downward trend in recent years, the murder rate is among the highest in the world. Journalists, peasant activists, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals are among those most vulnerable to violence.
In June 2016, several United Nations agencies working in Honduras urged the government to investigate killings of LGBTI activists and noted that sexual violence against LGBTI individuals forces them into “internal displacement” or to flee the country in search of international protection.
In August 2016, a lower court sentenced a right-wing extremist to 10 years’ imprisonment for violent attacks between 2007 and 2009, including throwing Molotov cocktails at the homes of socialist MPs and an attack on a gay bar in Budapest.
In July, the ECtHR ruled that Hungary had arbitrarily detained an Iranian gay man and failed to take into account his vulnerability in detention arising from his sexual orientation.
In February 2016, the Supreme Court of India allowed a challenge to section 377 of the penal code to proceed, referring the case to a five-judge bench. The colonial-era provision, which the court had upheld in 2013, criminalizes same-sex relations between adults. In June, several well-known LGBT professionals filed a petition in Supreme Court arguing that section 377 violates the right to life and personal liberty, but the Supreme Court deferred the petition to the Chief Justice. In August, the government introduced a new bill in parliament on the rights of transgender persons. The bill was flawed, however, by provisions that were inconsistent with the 2014 Supreme Court ruling that recognized transgender individuals as a third gender and found them eligible for quotas in jobs and education.
India’s voting record on rights issues at the UN was disappointing. In July, the government abstained on a resolution that created a UN expert post to address discrimination against LGBT persons and voted in favor of amendments to weaken the mandate, saying India’s Supreme Court was still to decide on the issue of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights.
Starting in January 2016, high-ranking Indonesian officials made a series of vitriolic anti-LGBT statements and policy pronouncements, fueling increased threats and at times violent attacks on LGBT activists and individuals. In some cases, the threats and violence occurred in the presence, and with the tacit support, of government officials or security forces. State institutions, including the National Broadcasting Commission and the National Child Protection Commission, issued censorship directives banning information and broadcasts that portrayed the lives of LGBT people as “normal” as well as so-called propaganda about LGBT lives. Ministries proposed discriminatory and regressive anti-LGBT laws. An ongoing case in the Constitutional Court is considering a petition that proposed amending the criminal code to criminalize sex outside of marriage and same-sex sexual relations. During the initial hearings, the petitioners—led by a group called the Family Love Alliance—put forward ill-informed and bigoted testimony similar to the anti-LGBT rhetoric espoused by Indonesian officials and politicians earlier that year. The government, the respondent in the case, said criminalizing sex out of wedlock would make “the sinner a criminal, and the government authoritarian,” a view echoed in testimony by the National Commission on Violence Against Women and other groups opposed to the petition. At time of writing the court had not yet ruled on the petition. While president Joko Widodo, or “Jokowi” in October 2016 declared that police must protect LGBT people and not discriminate against them, he failed to uphold that principle in action. In 2017, police raided at least two private gatherings of gay and bisexual men on the pretense of the discriminatory anti-pornography law, which construes gay sex as “deviant” and prescribes increased punishments for it, and Sharia police publicly flogged two gay men for private, consensual sex in Aceh province.
Under Iranian law, many nonviolent crimes, such as “insulting the Prophet,” apostasy, same-sex relations, adultery, and drug-related offenses, are punishable by death.
In March, the United Nations Children’s Rights Committee noted that flogging was still a lawful punishment for boys and girls convicted of certain crimes. The committee noted reports that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) children had been subjected to electric shocks to “cure” them.
ISIS’s Diwan al-Hisba (Moral Policing Administration) and online media apparatuses have publicly announced 27 executions of allegedly gay men, at least nine of them in Iraq. The main method ISIS used to execute these men has been to throw them off the roofs of high-rise buildings.
Iraq’s penal code does not prohibit same-sex intimacy, although article 394 makes it illegal to engage in extra-marital sexual relations. Due to the fact that the law does not expressly allow same-sex marriage, it effectively prohibits all same-sex relations. In July 2016 Moqtada al-Sadr, the prominent Shia opposition cleric, stated that although same-sex relationships are not acceptable, individuals who do not conform to gender norms suffer from “psychological problems,” and should not be attacked.
There are different legal systems in occupied Palestinian Territory. The British Mandate Criminal Code Ordinance, No. 74 of 1936 is in force in Gaza. In the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, the Jordanian Penal Code of 1960 applies, and does not contain provisions prohibiting adult consensual same-sex conduct. In Gaza, having “unnatural intercourse” of a sexual nature, understood to include same-sex relationships, is a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison. In February 2016, Hamas’s armed wing executed one of its fighters ostensibly for “behavioral and moral violations,” which Hamas officials acknowledged meant same-sex relations.
As of May 2016, same-sex couples may have their relationships legally recognized as civil unions, though they do not have the right to adopt.
A bipartisan parliamentary group established in March 2015 continued to discuss legislation to address discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, but at time of writing it had yet to come up with an agreed draft bill. Japanese law treats those requesting legal recognition as transgender as having a “Gender Identity Disorder” and requires obtaining such medical diagnosis. It also requires forced sterilization, compulsory single status, not having any underage children, and being 20 years or older. While same-sex marriage is not legally recognized in Japan, Tokyo’s Shibuya ward in April 2015 became the first municipality to pass a regulation recognizing same-sex partnerships, with more municipalities recognizing such partnerships in 2016 and 2017. Bullying is a problem in Japanese schools generally, and particularly so against LGBT students. In April 2016, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) for the first time released a guidebook for teachers regarding sexual orientation and gender identity. And in 2017, MEXT announced amendments to the national bullying prevention policy to include specific mention of LGBT students for the first time.
Jamaica is moving toward a revision of its rape law, which currently defines rape as the penetration of the vagina with the penis without consent. A proposal has been floated for a new law that is gender neutral. The absence of a gender-neutral rape law has been put forth in the past by politicians as justification for retaining Jamaica’s colonial-era “buggery” law, which criminalizes both consensual and non-consensual sex between men. The possible promulgation of a gender-neutral law on rape or sexual assault may therefore be a first step toward decriminalization of consensual same-sex conduct.
Surveys of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people reveal that many hide their sexual orientation or gender identity—including to healthcare providers—out of fear of reprisals or discrimination. When LGBT people report abuse, they often face indifference and hostility from authorities. Transgender people must undergo humiliating and invasive procedures—including coerced sterilization—to change gender on official documents. Without identity documents, transgender people struggle to access employment, healthcare, and education. The UN Human Rights Committee called on the government to end discrimination and violence against LGBT people and review gender-reassignment surgery procedures.
Kenya’s penal code prohibits “carnal knowledge against the order of nature,” generally understood as consensual sex between men, and “indecent practices between males.” Civil society organizations and activists filed two landmark constitutional petitions against these sections in April and June 2016, arguing that the laws violate constitutional rights, including the rights to equality and nondiscrimination, human dignity, freedom and security of the person, privacy, and health. Kenya continued the prosecution of two men on charges of “carnal knowledge” after police arbitrarily arrested them in Kwale County in February 2015. The case remained open but was suspended pending the ruling of a constitutional petition filed by the two men, asserting that state officials had violated their rights by subjecting them to a forced anal examination. The High Court rejected the petition on the grounds that the men consented to the examination, ignoring that the men were in police custody and not able to provide free and informed consent. The men have appealed the ruling. The government appealed a 2015 High Court decision ordering the Non-Governmental Organizations Board to register the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (NGLHRC), a civil society group. Parties were awaiting a hearing date at time of writing. The Kenya Film Classification Board overstepped its jurisdiction in asking YouTube to remove a locally produced video addressing same-sex relationships, prohibiting an alleged lesbian speed-dating event, and attempting to ban a podcast with alleged lesbian content.
In May 2017, the Attorney General established a “Taskforce on Policy, Legal, Institutional and Administrative Reforms Regarding Intersex Persons in Kenya.” Its mandate includes to “recommend comprehensive reforms to safeguard the interests of intersex persons.” The secretariat of the task force is based at the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights. The task force will be open to receiving submissions on best practices from around the world, and there is a strong possibility that it will result in the establishment of policies that protect the rights of intersex people. While it will not directly address SOGI related rights, the task force may produce a rights-based framework around intersex people with aspects that will be transferrable to the advancement of LGBT rights.
LGBT people in Kyrgyzstan experience ill-treatment, extortion, and discrimination by both state and non-state actors. There is widespread impunity for these abuses. On May 24, 2016, the law, order and fighting crime parliamentary committee returned Kyrgyzstan’s anti-LGBT bill, which would ban “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations,” for a repeat second reading, where it then stalled. The bill appears aimed at silencing anyone seeking to openly share information about same-sex relations in Kyrgyzstan. Following a live debate on LGBT rights on national television, Kyrgyzstan’s State Committee on National Security on June 14 summoned the editor-in-chief of Kloop.kg, an online media portal, for questioning about its coverage of the show. The television’s supervisory board also formally reprimanded its general director for airing the content. Also in June, Kyrgyzstan voted against a resolution at the UN Human Rights Council establishing the mandate of an independent expert to address violence and discrimination against LGBT people.
According to Latvian LGBT activists, the authorities used a 2015 law on “constitutional morality education” to censor discussion about LGBT people in at least two schools in 2016.
Sexual relations outside of marriage—adultery and fornication—are criminalized under Lebanon’s penal code. Furthermore, article 534 of the penal code punishes “any sexual intercourse contrary to the order of nature” with up to one year in prison. In recent years, authorities conducted raids to arrest persons allegedly involved in same-sex conduct, some of whom were subjected to torture including forced anal examinations. In February 2016, a Syrian refugee, arrested by Lebanese Military Intelligence officers apparently on suspicion he was gay, was allegedly tortured while detained at Military Intelligence, Ministry of Defense, Military Police, and Jounieh police centers. In January 2017, a judge in Metn challenged the legal basis of the arrest of men for same-sex conduct, declaring that homosexuality is “not a criminal offence,” although under Lebanon’s legal system, the ruling does not create a binding precedent.
Discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people is pervasive in Malaysia. Article 377A of the penal code criminalizes same-sex activity between men with punishments of up to 20 years in prison and whipping. Numerous Sharia-based laws and regulations prohibiting a “man posing as a woman,” sexual relations between women, and sexual relations between men effectively criminalize LGBT people.
Both government and private actors attempted to limit expression in support of LGBT rights. In February 2017, JAKIM (the Ministry for Islamic Development) endorsed so-called “conversion therapy,” claiming that gays should seek guidance from God, “repent,” and enter into heterosexual marriages. In March, the Film Censorship Board demanded that Disney edit out four minutes of the children’s film “Beauty and the Beast” because of a “gay moment.” Disney refused to make any cuts to the film, and the board eventually backed down and allowed the unedited film to be screened in Malaysia. In May, Taylor’s University in Subang Jaya canceled a three-day Pride celebration organized by Pelangi, an LGBT rights organization. In June, the Ministry of Health, in response to strident criticism from activists and the general public, reframed the terms of a youth video competition on sexual and reproductive health, removing language and criteria that stigmatized LGBT identities in favor of language that appears to affirm them.
In February 2017 Sameera, a transgender woman, was murdered in Kuantan. In June, an 18-year-old in Penang, T. Nhaveen, died after a group of teenagers allegedly beat and raped him while taunting him with insults such as “pondan,” a derogatory Malay term for an effeminate male, a gay male, or a transgender woman.
Same-sex marriage has been legal in Mexico City since 2010. Since then, nine states have legalized it; in 2015, the Supreme Court opened the door to recognition in all states by ruling that the definition of marriage as a union only between a man and a woman constitutes discrimination and thus violates Mexico’s Constitution. In May 2016, President Peña Nieto introduced a bill to legalize same-sex marriage, to remove sexual orientation and gender identity as barriers to adoption, and to recognize gender identity through the reissuance of birth notices, without a doctor’s involvement. Two committees in the Chamber of Deputies voted against the initiative in November.
Moroccan courts continued to jail persons for same-sex conduct under article 489 of the penal code, which prohibits “lewd or unnatural acts with an individual of the same sex.” A Beni Mellal court convicted two men of homosexuality after a group of youths on March 9 burst into the home of one and pushed the two men naked into the street, filming the assault and later posting the clip online. The two men were freed after spending one month in prison; in April, a court imposed prison terms on two of their attackers. On October 27, police in Marrakesh arrested two girls aged 16 and 17 who were reported for cuddling in a private home. They were jailed for one week and charged under article 489, then provisionally released. In December, they were acquitted.
Authorities require but often refuse to issue permits for foreign broadcast media to film in Morocco. On April 3, police detained and then expelled a crew of the French news program “Le Petit Journal” as it tried to film in a neighborhood of Beni Mellal where the abovementioned gay-bashing assault had taken place.
In line with a 2007 Supreme Court decision and a subsequent court order, the government in 2015 began issuing passports in three genders: “male,” “female,” and “other.” Some with “other” passports have successfully traveled abroad with their travel documents recognized by foreign governments. The new constitution recognizes that citizenship is available in three genders, and protects “gender and sexual minorities” in clauses related to equality before the law and social justice. Activists remain frustrated with the lack of implementation of a Supreme Court-mandated committee recommendation that the government recognize same-sex relationships.
At the start of 2016, NGOs reported threats and discrimination against LGBT asylum seekers at asylum facilities, and a Dutch independent monitoring body, the Dutch Board for Protection of Human Rights, found in February that LGBT asylum seekers at a large facility face discrimination.
The passage of the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act, SSMPA in January 2014, has far reaching effects on members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. The law is used to legitimize abuses against LGBT people, including mob violence, sexual abuse, unlawful arrests, torture and extortion by police. On February 13, the police arrested a homosexual couple in the federal capital for allegedly attempting to conduct a wedding. The wedding sponsors and the hotel venue owner were also arrested. The penalty for entering into a gay marriage under the SSMPA is 14 years. Ironically, former President Jonathan who defied global pressure before signing the bill into law, said belatedly in June 2016 that “with the clear knowledge that the issue of sexual orientation is still evolving, the nation may, at the appropriate time, revisit the law.”
In November 2015, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights urged the Nigerian government to review the SSMPA in order to prohibit violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and ensure access to HIV prevention, treatment, and care services for LGBT individuals.
In 2009, Pakistan’s Supreme Court called for improved police response to cases involving transgender people, and to ensure the rights of transgender people to basic education, employment, and protection. However, despite the court order, violent attacks on transgender and intersex women in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province surged in 2016, with unknown assailants frequently targeting those involved in activism. Official responses have been inadequate. Human rights groups in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have recorded dozens of threats to, and attacks on, people and property, including abuses while in police custody. In September 2016, the National Commission for Human Rights called on the government to investigate the attacks, and in 2016 and 2017 local governments and parliament hearings reflected an increased amount of attention to the plight of transgender women—including a unanimous resolution in the Khyber Pakhdunkhwa assembly calling for voting rights for transgender people.
Papua New Guinea
The PNG criminal code outlaws sex “against the order of nature,” which has been interpreted to apply to consensual same-sex acts, and is punishable by up to 14 years’ imprisonment. Gay asylum seekers on Manus Island have reported being shunned, sexually abused, or assaulted by other asylum seekers.
In May, during the periodic review of PNG’s human rights record at the UN Human Rights Council, countries made more than 150 recommendations on sues including ratification of international treaties, establishing a national human rights commission, promoting gender equality, addressing domestic violence and sorcery-related violence, decriminalizing consensual same-sex relations, and abolishing or placing a moratorium on the death penalty. In September, PNG responded that it would ratify all core human rights treaties “on the basis of priorities” and that, while there are challenges to implementing reforms, it is committed to establishing a human rights commission, improving gender equality, and addressing domestic violence and sorcery-related violence. It also noted, however, that “LGBT is currently not a priority of the Government” and that the “death penalty is in our national law, however despite this, the current government directive is not to implement until further directions are issued.”
In March 2015, Congress rejected a bill to recognize civil unions for same-sex couples. In September 2016, a Congressional supporter of President Kuczynski announced that he would introduce a new legislative proposal to recognize same-sex civil unions.
People in Peru are required to appear before a judge in order to revise the gender noted on their identification documents. In an August 2016 report, the human rights ombudsman noted that courts had rejected most of these requests, often applying inconsistent criteria.
The House of Representatives began consideration of House Bill 267, the “Anti SOGI (Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity) Discrimination Act” in June 2016. If approved, it will criminalize discrimination in the employment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals, and prohibit schools from refusing to register or expelling students on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The Senate has introduced companion legislation, Senate Bill No. 935, otherwise known as the Anti-Discrimination Bill (ADB), which had its first hearing in August. House Bill 267 will also sensitize police and law enforcement officers on LGBT issues and train them to attend to complaints. These initiatives are essential given that LGBT rights advocacy groups have warned that hate crimes against LGBT people are on the rise and that the Philippines has recorded the highest number of murders of transgender individuals in Southeast Asia since 2008. The bill would also prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination in access to health care.
Authorities continued to implement discriminatory policies and laws against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. In March, police found journalist and theater critic Dmitry Tsilikin dead in his St. Petersburg apartment from stab wounds. The perpetrator, arrested a week later, confessed that he planned to blackmail Tsilikin about his homosexuality, but killed him during a confrontation. The police did not categorize the killing as a hate crime. In January, a court in Murmansk, northwestern Russia, found LGBT activist Sergei Alekseenko guilty of violating the discriminatory “gay propaganda” law which prohibits allowing children access to positive information about LGBT relationships. The court called several publications on the website of an LGBT organization formerly run by Alekseenko “gay propaganda” and fined him 100,000 rubles (US$1,300). Authorities continued legal action against Deti-404, an online support group for LGBT children. In April, a court in the Siberian town of Barnaul ruled to ban the website. As of November, Deti 404’s website remained blocked. In September, a court in Siberia ruled to block BlueSystem.ru, a highly popular LGBT news site. As of November, the site was blocked.
In February 2017 and stretching through at least the first week in April, law enforcement and security officials in Russia’s Chechen Republic launched an unprecedented anti-gay purge. They rounded up dozens of men on suspicion of being gay, held them in unofficial detention facilities for days, humiliated, starved, and tortured them. They forcibly disappeared some of the men. Others were returned to their families barely alive from beatings. Their captors exposed them to their families as gay and encouraged their relatives to carry out so-called “honor killings.” Although Chechnya’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov has denied the round-ups, there is evidence that high-level officials in Chechnya sanctioned them. Russia’s federal government pledged to investigate, but intense and well-founded fear of official retaliation and honor killings, and overwhelming stigma will prevent many victims from coming forward.
Saudi Arabia has no written laws concerning sexual orientation or gender identity, but judges use principles of uncodified Islamic law to sanction people suspected of committing sexual relations outside marriage, including adultery, extramarital and homosexual sex, or other “immoral” acts. If such activity occurs online, judges and prosecutors utilize vague provisions of the country’s anti-cybercrime law that criminalize online activity impinging on “public order, religious values, public morals, and privacy.” In February 2016, the Saudi Gazette reported that the Bureau of Investigation and Public Prosecution is considering requesting the death penalty for anyone “using social media to solicit homosexual acts.”
In February 2017, Saudi police arrested 35 Pakistani citizens, some of whom were transgender women. One of them died in detention. Her family said her body bore signs of torture, while the Saudi authorities said she had died of a heart attack.
Attacks and harassment of human rights defenders continued. According to local LGBT and human rights organizations, the majority of attacks and threats against members of the LGBT community go unreported with only known LGBT activists filing complaints. In June, in Vojvodina in Northeast Serbia, an LGBT activist was attacked and kicked in the head by four unidentified perpetrators. No one had been prosecuted at time of writing. In August, LGBT activist Boban Stojanovic, one of the Belgrade Pride organizers, was punched and called a “fag” in downtown Belgrade by two unidentified men. Police were investigating at time of writing. Hundreds of police officers deployed in Belgrade to protect the LGBT Pride march in September, which occurred without violence. This was a marked improvement from previous years when protesters attacked the parade, or the government had cancelled the event citing security concerns instead of providing adequate security.
The Kosovo Constitution protects against sexual orientation-based discrimination and a 2015 anti-discrimination law enumerates protections for both sexual orientation and gender identity; however, implementation remains weak.
The rights of Singapore’s LGBT community are severely restricted. Sexual relations between two male persons remains a criminal offense, and there are no legal protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The Media Development Authority effectively prohibits all positive depictions of LGBT lives on television or radio. The annual Pink Dot Festival in support of LGBT rights celebrated its eighth year in Hong Lim Park in June 2016, supported by the sponsorship of corporations including Google, Barclays, J.P. Morgan, Goldman Sachs, BP, Bloomberg, Twitter, Apple, and Facebook. A few days after the event, the Ministry of Home Affairs warned multinational companies to stop funding the event, saying such support constitutes “foreign interference” with domestic affairs. In October, the Ministry of Home Affairs announced that, under newly promulgated rules, any entity that is not incorporated in Singapore and does not have a majority of Singapore citizens on its board is now required to apply for a permit to sponsor an event in Hong Lim Park.
Associations of more than 10 people are required to register with the government, and the Registrar of Societies has broad authority to deny registration if he determines the group could be “prejudicial to public peace, welfare or good order.” The Registrar of Societies has refused to allow any lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transsexual (LGBT) organization to register as a society on the ground that “it is contrary to the public interest to grant legitimacy to the promotion of homosexual activities or viewpoints.”
All films and videos shown in Singapore must be pre-approved by the Board of Film Censors. Theater productions must also obtain a license under the Public Entertainment and Meetings Act, and to do so must submit their scripts for approval. In June 2016, a production of “Les Miserables” was forced to delete a scene containing a same-sex kiss.
South Africa has a progressive constitution that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and protects the human rights of LGBTI people. The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development has taken significant steps to improve coordination between government and civil society in combatting violence (including rape and murder) against lesbians and transgender men. On September 6, Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba announced that due to widespread homophobic attitudes within South African society, and to protect the rights of LGBTI people, homophobic US pastor Steven Anderson and members of his church were banned from entering the country because they promote hate speech and advocate social violence. He said constitutional and legislative guarantees, including the rights of LGBTI persons, must be respected by all. Domestic LGBTI groups lauded the decision. In June 2017, at the 8th South African AIDS Conference, the South African National AIDS Council (SANAC) launched the national HIV framework for LGBTI people. South Africa is the first country in the world to launch an HIV framework specifically for LGBT people as part of its national strategic plan. The objective is to “reverse the burden of disease from HIV, STIs and TB and to promote a rights and evidence-based environment for LGBTI people in South Africa.”
Some of South Africa’s votes at the United Nations were contrary to the country’s stated human rights principles. For example, in July, South Africa voted against a UN Human Rights Council resolution on the protection of human rights on the internet and abstained on a key HRC vote to appoint an independent expert on sexual orientation and gender identity. The abstention went against the country’s strong constitutional protections and domestic laws around sexual orientation and gender identity. But on November 21, in the UN General Assembly committee, South Africa voted to allow Vitit Muntabhorn, the newly appointed UN expert on sexual orientation and gender identity, to continue his work. The vote was taken after the African Group put forward a resolution to stop the operations of the UN expert who was appointed in September by the Human Rights Council.
State and non-state discrimination and abuses against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) population persist. Sections 365 and 365A of the Sri Lankan Penal Code prohibit “carnal knowledge against the order of nature” and “gross indecency,” commonly understood in Sri Lanka to criminalize all same-sex relations between consenting adults. Sri Lankan law does not specifically criminalize transgender or intersex people. But no laws ensure that their rights are protected, and police have used several criminal offenses and regulations to target LGBTI people, particularly transgender women and men who have sex with men (MSM) involved in sex work. These include a law against “cheat[ing] by personation,” and the vaguely worded Vagrants’ Ordinance, which prohibits soliciting or committing acts of “gross indecency,” or being “incorrigible rogues” procuring “illicit or unnatural intercourse.” Some trans women and MSM said that repeated harassment by police, including instances of arbitrary detention and mistreatment, had eroded their trust in Sri Lankan authorities, and made it unlikely that they would report a crime. Several people also reported discriminatory treatment at the hands of medical authorities, leading many transgender people to self-medicate rather than seeking professional assistance.
News reports in 2016 indicate that ISIS continues to execute men accused of homosexuality. In one reported case from Deir al-Zour governorate, a 15-year-old boy was thrown from a building in January 2016 after he was accused of being gay. At least 25 men have been murdered by ISIS in Syria on suspicion of homosexuality or for sodomy, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Tanzanian law criminalizes consensual sexual conduct between adult males, with a penalty of 30 years to life in prison, one of the most severe punishments for same-sex intimacy in the world. Zanzibar has slightly different laws but criminalizes both male homosexual conduct and lesbianism. The laws are rarely applied, but police and other authorities use them as a pretext to extort, abuse and marginalize LGBTI people.
Under the government of John Magufuli, Tanzania has seen an unprecedented crackdown on LGBT people. The government has shut down HIV outreach services and drop-in centers targeting men who have sex with men (MSM); banned the import of water-based lubricants, an important HIV prevention tool; and threatened to shut down LGBT organizations. Police in Zanzibar arrested nine young men, charged them with homosexual conduct, and subjected them to forced anal examinations at a government hospital in December 2016. They were released on bail, but the cases remain open. Another young man was arrested in Dar es Salaam in March 2017, and was also subjected to a forced anal exam. In June 2017, President Magufuli publicly condemned same-sex relationships.
The penal code punishes consensual same-sex conduct with up to three years in prison. Anal testing is used as the main evidence in order to convict men for homosexuality. In two high-profile cases in 2015, at least seven young men were arrested and subjected to anal examinations by forensic doctors, whose reports were used as evidence to convict them of sodomy and imprison them, even though it is well-documented that such exams lack medical value. On appeal, their sentences were reduced to two months in the first case, and one month in the second.
Tunisia has thus far been unwilling to consider decriminalization of consensual same-sex conduct but, in its 2017 UPR review, accepted a recommendation to end forced anal examinations. This positive development followed months of advocacy from Tunisian and international human rights groups. The United Nations Committee against Torture, in its 2016 evaluation of Tunisia, condemned the use of anal examinations as to prove homosexual conduct. Shortly before the UPR review, the national medical council issued a circular calling on medical personnel to stop conducting anal examinations without consent.
Authorities frequently impose arbitrary bans on public assemblies and violently disperse peaceful demonstrations. For the second year running, the Istanbul governor’s office banned the annual Istanbul Gay and Trans Pride marches in June 2016, citing concerns about security threats and public order.
Under Turkmen law homosexual conduct is punishable by up to two years in prison. Widespread prejudice leads to homosexuality being treated as a disease, including by medical institutions and judicial authorities. Law enforcement officials and medical personnel subject persons detained and charged with sodomy to forced anal examinations, with the purported objective of finding “proof” of homosexual conduct.
After nine years, the Constitutional Court finally ruled in November on a challenge to a limitation on the mandate of the Equal Opportunities Commission, which barred it from investigating any matter involving behavior “considered to be immoral and socially harmful, or unacceptable by the majority of the cultural and social communities in Uganda.” The judges determined the limitation was unconstitutional and violated the right to a fair hearing. Perversely, this provision had meant that the very mechanism designed to protect people from discrimination could blatantly discriminate against women, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people, sex workers, and anyone else who might not have been perceived to reflect the views of the majority.
Same-sex conduct remains criminalized under Uganda’s colonial-era law, which prohibits “carnal knowledge” among people of the same sex. The new NGO law raises concerns about the criminalization of legitimate advocacy on the rights of LGBTI people. In August, police unlawfully raided a peaceful pageant that was part of Gay Pride celebrations in Kampala. Police locked the venue’s gates, arrested activists, and beat and humiliated hundreds of people, violating rights to association and assembly. Police continue to carry out forced anal examinations on men and transgender women accused of consensual same-sex conduct. These examinations lack evidentiary value and are a form of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment that may amount to torture.
Since 2014, the government has introduced several progressive policies supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, but anti-LGBT sentiment remains strong among high-level government officials and the public. In March 2016, about 200 anti-gay, far-right supporters attacked a venue in Lviv hosting a LGBT equality festival, eventually causing the event to be cancelled. The Kyiv LGBT Pride march held in June took place without the violence against participants that had marred it in previous years. Ultra-nationalist groups had threatened to make the march a “bloody mess.” Around 6,000 police officers protected the 1,500 march participants. The first LGBT Pride march took place in Odesa in August. Local authorities initially attempted to ban it, but relented when organizers changed the route. Police arrested four ultra-nationalists who attempted to disrupt the event. A new draft of the amended labor code does not include an anti-discrimination provision that would protect LGBT people in the workplace.
United Arab Emirates
The UAE’s penal code does not explicitly prohibit homosexuality. However, article 356 of the penal code criminalizes (but does not define) “indecency,” and provides for a minimum sentence of one year in prison. In practice, UAE courts use this article to convict and sentence people for zina offenses, which include consensual sexual relations outside heterosexual marriage and other “moral” offenses, including same-sex relations. Different emirates within the UAE have laws that criminalize same-sex sexual relations, including Abu Dhabi where “unnatural sex with another person” can be punished with up to 14 years in prison, and Dubai which imposes 10 years of imprisonment for sodomy.
In 2016, state legislatures introduced a record number of bills seeking to restrict the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. North Carolina eliminated local non-discrimination protections for sexual orientation and gender identity and required transgender people to use public facilities that correspond to the sex assigned to them at birth. Mississippi passed a law permitting religious believers to discriminate against LGBT people and unmarried couples. Tennessee passed legislation allowing counselors and therapists to refuse to serve LGBT clients.
In May 2016, the Departments of Education and Labor jointly issued guidance indicating that discrimination on the basis of gender identity constitutes sex discrimination prohibited under federal law. After 22 states and several state and local officials sued to challenge the guidance, a federal court temporarily enjoined the departments from enforcing their interpretation. In February 2017, the Trump Administration withdrew the guidance.
In March 2017, lawmakers in Utah repealed a law that prohibited the “advocacy of homosexuality” in public schools. In the spring of 2017, South Dakota and Alabama passed bills that shield adoption and foster care agencies from facing repercussions if they discriminate against LGBT people and others on the basis of their religious beliefs.
Transgender women in immigration detention have been subjected to sexual assault and mistreatment including indefinite solitary confinement imposed on some purely because authorities lacked appropriate facilities in which to house them. In June 2016, an apparent politically motivated mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida that left 49 people dead once again opened up public debate about gun control and the high frequency of mass shootings in the US.
Consensual sexual relations between men are criminalized, with a maximum prison sentence of three years. Activists report that police use blackmail and extortion against gay men, threatening to out or imprison them. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people face deep-rooted homophobia and discrimination.
In November 2015, the National Assembly approved a bill to legalize sex reassignment surgery and to introduce the right to legal gender recognition for transgender people who have undergone such surgery. The law allows people who wish to undergo gender affirming surgeries to do so in Vietnam rather than abroad, and to change the gender marker on official documents—a small, but significant step toward recognizing transgender people’s rights. A UNESCO study highlighted bullying—usually in the form of verbal insults from peers and teachers—of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students in Vietnam’s schools.
In 2005, Zambia amended its penal code, replacing a British colonial-era law that had penalized same-sex conduct with up to 14 years in prison with a new law that provides for 15 years to life in prison for “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature.” Neither the old law nor its revision have been enforced regularly. However, in April 2013, an anti-gay moral panic spread throughout Zambia after local media outlets reported that four same-sex couples had attempted to register marriages, a claim that Zambian activists believe was falsified to intentionally provoke hostility toward LGBT people. Since this incident, several people have been prosecuted on homosexuality-related charges. Some of them have been subjected to forced anal examinations.