Protecting the rights of sexual minorities as national values

May 31, 2012

Posted by Enrique Restoy

Coordinator: Human Rights Advocacy and Campaigns

“There is a need to establish legal and other forms of protection and redress in the event of violence against sexual minorities, in full consultation with them (…) relevant laws should be reviewed to prevent discrimination of persons based on gender identity and sexual orientation” – SUHAKAM, the Malaysian Human Rights Commission, March 2012.

A few weeks ago we wrote about important recent developments for the protection of the rights of LGBTI people at the global level. But we also highlighted the difficulties in getting consensus across countries on rights based on sexual orientation and gender identity. There are still voices of criticism of the human rights system who see it as an imposition of Western values.

The Alliance’s Linking Organisations work with key populations that are most affected by HIV, and they do so using a human rights-based approach to our programmes. This means ensuring that the most marginalized communities play an active role in the community response to HIV as well as challenging stigma, attitudes, policies and laws that discriminate and often criminalise the communities we work with. The Pehchan programme in India, or our support to the Latin American Network of Transgender People (REDLACTRANS) are good examples among much great work in this regard across the Alliance.

This work provides ample evidence that the violation of the human rights of those most vulnerable to HIV undermines the effectiveness of the HIV response. Promoting and protecting the rights of citizens and communities is a core component of an effective response to HIV, and this is becoming better understood.

But we realise that human rights for all are of utmost value in themselves, with our without HIV.

National human rights commissions and institutions are independent national institutions officialised by the state and reporting to their parliaments. Many promote human rights based on orientation and gender identity as valuable national values. The opening quote by SUHAKAN shows us that human rights principles themselves are truly universal and are not incompatible with national, religious or cultural values.

SUHAKAN is not at all alone. Kenya, like Malaysia, criminalises same-sex relationships. Yet, just a couple of weeks ago, the Kenyan Human Rights Commission published a report, ‘Realising sexual and reproductive health rights in Kenya: A myth or a reality?’. The report states that the Constitution should safeguard the rights of all Kenyans, “including sexual minorities” and calls for decriminalisation of same sex relationships.

And just a few weeks ago, the Uganda Human Rights Commission presented its Annual Report to Parliament, urging the Ugandan government to guarantee the right to health for all, without discrimination. The commission also stated before the UN Human Rights Council that some of the provisions of the so-called ‘Anti-homosexuality Bill’, which is being debated in Parliament, were “unnecessary” and “breached international human rights standards.”

When the Alliance’s Linking Organisations engage with governments and other key stakeholders, we find perhaps a surprising amount of consensus around fundamental human rights principles like the right to dignity, to health, and to non-discrimination when it comes to people with diverse sexual orientations or gender identities.

We witnessed that consensus in 2011 and early 2012 , when we engaged with over 40 National AIDS Commission coordinators from Asia, Southern and Eastern Africa and the Middle East  providing technical support on human rights-based programming for the HIV response as part of a joint project with UNAIDS.

Principles such as dignity, non-discrimination, tolerance, compassion, are ingrained in most religions, cultures and traditions which actually underpin the universality of human rights. National human rights institutions do an outstanding job reminding us all of that and can be key allies of the Alliance’s in promoting rights based approaches to the HIV response among men who have sex with men, transgender women and other key populations.

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