April 21, 2016 – Last week, the State Department released its accounting of human rights abuses committed in 2015. As usual, this year’s human rights report offers disturbing pictures of violence being committed against LGBT people worldwide, from Afghanistan to Honduras to Kenya.
Recognizing the magnitude of such violence, the White House last June convened a “Conversation on Combatting Bias-Motivated Violence Against LGBT Persons Around the World.” At that meeting, Obama Administration officials highlighted initiatives by the U.S. government and private sector actors to address bias-motivated violence targeting the LGBT community, recognizing in particular the need for law enforcement, judges, legislatures, governments, and civil society to work together to respond comprehensively and decisively to such violence. Unfortunately, this year’s human rights report reminds us that there is much more work to do. It also provides a glimmer of hope, recognizing some of the unique steps that a handful of governments are taking to acknowledge, document and respond to extremely high levels of bias-motivated violence targeting LGBT individuals.
In this year’s report, targeted LGBT killings are cited in countries ranging from Germany to Honduras and Russia to Pakistan. Attacks are commonly identified as occurring in both public and private spaces. The Mali report explains that “family members, neighbors, and groups of strangers in public places committed the majority of violent acts, and police frequently refused to intervene.” But even in the home, the report recognizes that LGBT individuals are targeted for abuse and sexual violence by family members, including in countries ranging from Belize to Romania and Cambodia to Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwe report notes that “some families reportedly subjected their LGBTI members to ‘corrective’ rape and forced marriages to encourage heterosexual conduct.” In Ecuador, “LGBTI organizations and the government continued to report that private treatment centers confined LGBTI persons against their will to ‘cure’ or ‘dehomosexualize’ them.” Although illegal, the clinics also reportedly used extreme treatments, including rape.
The vast majority of the country reports cite a reluctance on the part of victims – characterized as outright fear – to report such abuse to authorities in the belief that they would be ignored at best but also potentially targeted by the police for filing the complaint. The South Africa report discusses the “secondary victimization” of individuals, particularly lesbian and transgender women, including cases in which police harassed, ridiculed, and assaulted victims of sexual- and gender-based violence who reported abuse.
In many other cases, from Azerbaijan to Kenya and from Guatemala to Turkey and Indonesia to Sri Lanka, the report notes patterns of abuse of LGBTI citizens by police or other security forces, or other inappropriate police action. The Bolivia report cites a study that found that 82 percent of those surveyed “knew of at least one person whom police had arbitrarily detained due to sexual orientation or gender identity.” Police in all regions regularly extorted money from presumed LGBT individuals by threatening to arrest or expose them, including when LGBT individuals attempted to report violence or seek protection. In Mexico and Venezuela, cases of violence are often recorded by the police as “crimes of passion” that are then ignored in the belief that they are little more than domestic squabbles between jilted lovers.
In some countries, such as Cameroon and Lebanon, LGBTI persons were subject to gang violence. In others, such as the Dominican Republic, Latvia and Japan there were reported instances of school bullying. Bullying and violence directed at transgender students was particularly severe. The report cites a Bolivian study finding “72 percent of transgender individuals abandoned their secondary school studies due to intense discrimination.”
In Iran, security forces specifically targeted LGBT individuals for raids, rectal examinations, and beatings during incarceration. In Ghana, the report emphasizes sexual violence committed against gay men in prison. In Morocco, even after arresting the perpetrator of a violent bias-motivated crime, police made the victim undress, and then blackmailed him to his family. In Syria, gay men faced horrifying consequences from two angles: those suspected of being gay were thrown from rooftops by ISIS, while security forces often based arrests and even torture on accusations of homosexuality.
Apart from underscoring an urgent need for greater police training, this year’s reports also make clear that, in far too many countries, clearer and stronger laws are needed to lay the groundwork for action against LGBT-related hate crimes. From Egypt to Iraq and from the Bahamas to Mongolia laws to protect LGBT people either do not exist or are too weakly construed to offer any real protections. Even in countries such as Brazil that have taken important steps to protect their LGBT citizens, the report cites legal impediments that make it difficult to prosecute LGBT hate crimes. Moreover, a lack of official and specific LGBT-related statistics in most countries makes it difficult to ascertain the depth of the problem.
In addition, the reports detail far too many instances in which government officials and others in positions of influence have fueled an atmosphere of violence against LGBT persons. These instances have included Albania, Georgia, Hungary, Kyrgyz Republic and Zimbabwe, where homophobic statements or other divisive language by government leaders seem to condone violence. In other countries, such as Algeria, Dominican Republic, Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda, statements by religious leaders have inflamed tensions.
The report notes, however, that some governments are taking steps to respond to these common patterns of violence. El Salvador, Honduras and Suriname have adopted new hate crime-related laws that could assist in the prevention and prosecution of LGBT hate crimes. Nicaragua has a new, if untested, prosecutor for sexual diversity, and Honduras has a relatively new Violent Crimes Task Force to investigate LGBT violence. In July, the government of Malawi accepted a recommendation from the UN Human Rights Council and committed to prosecuting the perpetrators of LGBT violence. Sierra Leone’s Human Rights Commission conducted outreach to the LGBT community to encourage individuals to submit complaints and to request investigations into bias-motivated crimes. South Africa has a “National Intervention Strategy” and set up rapid response teams from civil society and government to ensure that law enforcement officers respond “promptly and professionally” to crimes against the LGBT community. The report notes that most of these government initiatives have only delivered limited accomplishments to date, but they provide a foundation for additional action.
Given this year’s report, the Council for Global Equality looks forward to working with the White House, the State Department and the Justice Department to energize the initiatives put in place last June at the White House to ensure that U.S. government assets are deployed to respond to such egregious violence. To do so, we should invest in training and resources for police who are willing to reform their structures to respond to hate crimes; work closely with other governments to showcase longstanding FBI efforts to collect and disaggregate LGBT hate crime data in our own country in the hope that they will do likewise; promote the decriminalization of homosexual relationships, cross dressing laws and other legal impediments that reduce LGBT individuals to criminals and invite arrest, harassment and abuse at the hands of the police; and deploy our diplomatic resources, including our new Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons, to implore foreign officials everywhere to respond promptly and professionally to LGBT violence whenever it occurs.
Click here for more information on the 2015 Human Rights Reports (including transcripts from the briefing as well as video)