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UN Rights Chief Urges Indonesia to End LGBT Discrimination

Criminalizing LGBT People Born of Same Bigotry as Islamophobia, Says Zeid

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein talks to reporters in Jakarta, Indonesia February 7, 2018.  © 2018 Reuters

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein is urging Indonesia’s government to scrap clauses in a new draft criminal code that would discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. “[If] Muslim societies expect others to fight against Islamophobia, we should be prepared to end discrimination at home too,” he said at the conclusion of a three-day visit to the world’s largest Muslim country. “Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or any other status is wrong.”

Since 2016, Indonesia’s sexual and gender minorities have been under siege, including hateful rhetoric from government officials, attacks on LGBT human rights defenders, raids on lesbian-owned houses and private gay clubs, and arrests under a vague and discriminatory anti-pornography law. In 2017, police and public order officials arbitrarily arrested more than 300 LGBT people in raids. Zeid observed that the anti-LGBT moral panic was, “being cultivated seemingly for cynical political purposes.”

In December 2016, Indonesia’s Constitutional Court dismissed a petition seeking to criminalize all consensual sex outside of marriage, as well as adult consensual same-sex conduct – something the country has never done, except in Aceh province where Sharia (Islamic law) applies. In May, two men were publicly flogged in Aceh after neighbors caught them naked together.

The court’s decision protected the basic privacy rights of all Indonesians, not only LGBT people. With some estimates that as many as half of Indonesian couples do not get legally married because of difficulties registering, criminalizing their sex lives could embolden vigilantes and overwhelm police and prison systems. After the court’s ruling, the petitioners pledged to redouble efforts to amend the Criminal Code in parliament, where it is currently under debate.

Zeid urged Indonesia to, “resist attempts to introduce new forms of discrimination in law.” And in its December ruling, the Constitutional Court issued a similar warning: “If one builds an argument that to maintain societal order is to force members of the society who acts in a manner considered deviant to change their behaviors through threats of criminal punishment, he or she basically believes that societal order can be created under repressive measures only.”

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