People have long suffered because of their sexual orientation, but the increasing frequency and severity of this problem only recently gained the attention of the United Nations. Human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity encompasses violence, cruelty, discrimination, and other acts of hatred based on real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Sexual orientation is defined as ―each person‘s capacity for profound emotional, affectional and sexual attraction to, and intimate and sexual relations with, individuals of a different gender or of the same gender or of more than one gender. Gender identity refers to ―deeply felt internal and individual experience of gender, which may or may not correspond to the sex assigned at birth, including the personal sense of the body (which may involve, if freely chosen, modification of bodily appearance or function by medical, surgical or other means) and other expressions of gender, including dress, speech and mannerisms.
Violations of sexual minorities are manifested in two ways: 1) physical harm resulting from murder, kidnapping, sexual assault or other forms of violence and 2) unfair treatment, deprivation of liberty, and discrimination exercised on personal and institutional levels.
The aspect of physical harm is more frequently noted by the media, but many cases go unreported and without the attention that is needed to curb their prevalence. Special rapporteurs from the UN found previously unnoted examples that show the gravity of these issues. A period of violence specifically targeting members of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender (LGBT) groups in Honduras resulted in the brutal killings of 21 people in 2010. One of these victims was ―found dead in a ditch, her body beaten and burned, showing evidence of rape and blows to her face from stoning so severe as to render the remains virtually unrecognizable. In other parts of the world, transsexual women have been beaten in the breasts and cheekbones to intentionally burst implants and release painful toxins in their bodies. Four people were seriously attacked in Uganda and many were forced to hide when a local paper published the photos of 100 people it said were homosexuals and encouraged people to ―hang them.
There‘s a cultural contribution to the prevalence of this violence, too. More than 5,000 honor killings take place each year to punish people who do not remain true to cultural expectations. An increasing number of these victims are killed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. This is seen in the 2009 Iraq killing campaign that tortured and murdered hundreds of LGBT members on the basis of protecting society from the ―third sex. Killings also take place by victims‘ relatives to preserve their family‘s honor. Cultural myths such as homosexuality being a disease or that lesbian women‘s sexual orientation will change if they are raped by a man are also dangerous elements of this problem.
Though physical violence based on sexual orientation and gender equality is a pressing issue, attention must also be given to the second aspect of this topic. Discrimination and unfair treatment based on sexual orientation date back to the religious laws of the Bible and other holy books. Napoleon temporarily established laws decriminalizing homosexuality as part of his penal code in 1791, but long-term protection did not take place until Denmark repealed its similar laws in 1933. Almost all other countries have followed Denmark‘s example since then except for those in the Middle East (save for Israel), North Africa, and the former British colonies in Africa, the Caribbean, and South Asia. These latter countries are the most common (but not exclusive) context in which LGBT members are deprived of their liberty in areas of ―judicial prosecution and trial, administrative detention, deprivation of liberty on medical grounds and arrest for the purposes of harassment, among others. Even countries that have repealed these laws can foster unfair treatment stemming from sexual orientation because of their inability to better protect victims.
Cases of discrimination based on sexual orientation are vastly underreported, but several examples exist that illustrate its solemn presence in the life of people of all ages. According to a 2007 study, up to 40 percent of homeless youth were turned away from their homes and charitable shelters because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. LGBT students are often the targets of violence, harassment, and other forms of bullying while in high school and college. In addition to the physical harm that results, many victims struggle with emotional consequences such as depression and low self-esteem. A 2010 report on prison conditions in Greece revealed that ―detainees in a lesbian, gay and transgender section of a prison were reportedly denied access to an outside yard for two years, confined to their cells and a corridor at all times.
Striving to address these forms of discrimination and unfair treatment, the Human Rights Committee (HRC) affirmed that its regard to ―equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status‖ in Article 26 of the ICCPR extends to discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. Even so, the lack of response from Honduras, Greece, and other countries in which similar atrocities occur demonstrates that nations have not fully adopted the HRC‘s concern on the issue. Without the creation and observation of standard operating procedures that guide law enforcement to handling these issue seriously and responding properly to violations that occur, these countries are unable to progress toward a greater solution.
There have been several emergences of human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity in recent world events. In March 2012, a gay man died after being attacked by a group of neo-Nazis at a park in Chile. The perpetrators tortured the man for an hour by carving swastikas in his body and otherwise mutilating him. His death brought renewed efforts by the UN and human rights organizations to call attention to the mistreatment of sexual minorities and the need for harsher penalties for hate crimes. Another example was seen that same month in a different arena when Muslim delegates protested legitimizing homosexuality by walking out of the first UN Human Rights Council debate on gay rights. Without these nations‘ support, the problems will persist and further metastasize.
Past UN Action: The UN has made efforts to ensure that the issues of sexual orientation and gender identity are given equal attention to all other areas of human rights violations. In 2007, the International Commission of Jurists‘ discussion on the inclusion of sexual minorities in human rights protection resulted in the ―Yogyakarta Principles on the Application of International Human Rights Law in Relation to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. This document served as the foundation for later work by the OAS (AG/RES. 2435) and the UN‘s first resolution (A/HRC/17/L.9/Rev.1) concerning LGBT rights. The UN‘s resolution affirms that violations based on sexual orientation or gender identity are matters of human rights, and it calls for a report on related cases of violence and discrimination. The report (A/HRC/19/41) was published in November 2011 and accounts for unprecedented levels of violence and injustice shown toward sexual minorities. Most recently, the UN reiterated its deep concern of violence based on sexual orientation and urged member nations to prioritize its reduction and elimination.
Problems and Possible Solutions: Researchers fear that the majority of violations go unreported due to the shame of the victim or the apathy of the law and legal systems in some countries. Real action most often takes place when international attention is drawn by a death caused by hate crimes based on sexual orientation or gender identity. There may be no better solution for this problem than to increase international pressure on countries to curb the rate of crimes committed against LGBT members. If a sense of national pride for reducing the crime rate could be established – and a strong sense of shame if the rate remained the same or deteriorates – then a solution to this issue would be more effective and more sustainable.
Questions to Consider as you Prepare: * Which should efforts for change focus on: law or education? Who should enact these changes and where would funding originate? * Is there one general solution to this problem or is it region-specific? If solutions are region-specific, how could resolutions be tailored to meet the problems of multiple regions? Who would determine what each regional problem requires to be eliminated? * How can the reporting of crimes based on sexual orientation be improved? How can international actors help without posing a risk to nations‘ sovereignty? * With many crimes occurring within prisons, how can LGBT members be better protected? Is there a way to do this without incurring significant expenses?