As people in more than 50 countries marked the International Day against Homophobia on the 17th of May, Human Rights Watch named to a “hall of shame” five public officials who have actively promoted prejudice against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in their countries.
Human Rights Watch also pointed to five recent advances that give hope for a future free of hatred and homophobia.
“This ‘hall of shame’ does not claim to include the worst offenders, but it highlights public officials who have failed in their basic duty to respect human rights for all,” said Scott Long, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. “The abuses these officials have caused or countenanced symbolize the daily, invidious forms of homophobia that countless people face around the world.”
The public officials named to the “Hall of Shame” for their actions in 2005-2006 were:
For showing what sodomy laws are for: Senior Superintendent of Police Ashutosh Pandey, Lucknow, India
In January 2005, Lucknow police arrested four men on charges of operating a “gay racket” on the Internet, as well as of engaging in “unnatural” sex. Undercover agents, posing as gay men on an Internet website, entrapped one man, then forced him to call others and arrange a meeting where they were arrested.
Ashutosh Pandey, senior superintendent of police, said the men “had formed some kind of a gay club whose members would meet in both private and public places to indulge in unnatural acts… The group had established online internet links with gay groups outside the country too and strictly speaking, these groups too could be liable.”
Charges against the men are still pending. Five years earlier, Lucknow police had arrested four HIV/AIDS outreach workers on charges of homosexuality, and tried to close down two organizations in the city providing support services to people living with HIV. The latest case illustrates an increasingly frequent phenomenon: fears around sexuality intersecting with fears of the Internet and the open spread of information. In a massive crackdown in Egypt between 2001 and 2004, undercover police arranged meetings with men through gay websites and chat rooms, arresting and torturing many. Both regular and religious police also practice Internet entrapment in Iran.
The Lucknow case also pointed to the continuing prevalence of sodomy laws around the world. Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, titled “Of Unnatural Offences,” punishes “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” with penalties of up to 10 years of imprisonment. The law was originally introduced by British authorities under colonial rule in the 19th century. A challenge to the law, pending in the Delhi High Court, asserts that it violates constitutional protections on equality and personal liberty. In countries from Jamaica to Zambia, similar provisions regularly lead to arrests, imprisonment, and often torture of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.
For closing borders and closet doors: Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk, the Netherlands
In February 2006, Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk announced a plan to end a six-month moratorium on the deportation of LGBT asylum-seekers back to Iran. Minister Verdonk said that in Iran, “For homosexual men and women it is not totally impossible to function in society, although they should be wary of coming out of the closet too openly.” Iran imposes the death penalty on men and women convicted of homosexual conduct.
The freeze on deportations had initially been imposed in 2005, after reports of executions in Iran for homosexual conduct. Iran’s criminal code states that lavat – sexual intercourse between men – “is punishable by death.” The punishment for sexual intercourse between women is 100 lashes; if the offence is repeated three times, the punishment is execution.
Human Rights Watch has documented brutal floggings imposed by courts as punishment for homosexual acts, and torture and ill-treatment, including sexual abuse, in police custody. International human rights law, including treaties by which the Netherlands is legally bound, prohibits the deportation of anyone to a destination where they may be at risk of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Under parliamentary pressure, Verdonk reinstated a freeze on deportations for a further six months, pending an investigation into conditions in Iran. Verdonk’s statement that staying in the closet is an acceptable price for staying alive was deeply ominous. Silencing an essential part of the human personality is not a way of avoiding persecution: it is the essence of persecution.
For denying freedom of assembly: Mayor Yuri Luzhkov of Moscow, Russia
In February 2006, Mayor Luzhkov’s office announced that he would ban Moscow’s first ever lesbian and gay pride parade, planned for May 25. “Some say that the ban on the gay parade does not comply with human rights,” Lubov Sliska, the first vice-speaker of the State Duma, said. “There are several million people in Moscow who do not want homosexuals to have this procession. Who is going to protect their rights?” The mayor’s position remains unchanged although the lesbian and gay community is proceeding with plans for the parade. Mayor Luzhkov’s ban is unfortunately not unique.
In 2004 and 2005 in Poland, Lech Kaczynski, then Warsaw’s mayor and now the country’s president, took steps to prohibit lesbian and gay pride marches in Warsaw. In 2005 a similar ban on a March for Equality and Tolerance was imposed in Krakow, Poland. In the same year, Latvia’s prime minister attempted to have pride celebrations in Riga banned. In 2006, city authorities in Chisinau, Moldova prohibited a march supporting legislation to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Moves to prohibit public rallies of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people are becoming common in new democracies of eastern Europe. Aimed at denying people their rights to be visible and to assemble peacefully, they threaten not just public celebrations, but also democratic freedoms.
For playing politics with human rights: President Olusegun Obsanjo, Nigeria
In January 2006, Nigeria’s government brought forward a bill “for the Prohibition of Relationship Between Persons of the Same Sex, Celebration of Marriage by Them, and for Other Matters Connected Therewith.” Information Minister Frank Nweke said the “pre-emptive step” was necessary because of developments elsewhere in the world, including South Africa’s recognition of lesbian and gay marriages. “In most cultures in Nigeria,” he said, “same-sex relationships, sodomy and the likes of that, is regarded as abominable.”
The bill, which is now before parliament, goes far beyond banning gay marriage. It provides a penalty of five years of imprisonment for anyone who “performs, witnesses, aids or abets the ceremony of same sex marriage,” or “is involved in the registration of gay clubs, societies and organizations, sustenance, procession or meetings, publicity and public show of same sex amorous relationship directly or indirectly in public and in private.” The bill would also criminalize the registration of gay organizations or any public display of a “same sex amorous relationship.”