Human rights: Bangladesh’s LGBT Community and the UPR 2013

Bangladesh will be subject to Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on April 29. The UPR is a mechanism of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) that will examine Bangladesh’s overall human rights performance during the last four and a half years. It will be the second UPR cycle, following the first one in 2009.

The UPR aims at improving the human rights situation on the ground in each of the 193 United Nations (UN) member states. Each UN member state is subjected to this review every four and a half years. The reason UPR is important for Bangladesh, or any state for that matter, is the opportunity for stakeholders to submit their own reports along with the one from the government. The mechanism has hence proved to be very popular and powerful in upholding the human rights of marginalized or disenfranchised groups.
The sexual and gender minority community of Bangladesh has also discovered this new mechanism as a way to raise awareness for the violations of their human rights on an international platform. In 2009, based on reports prepared by local rights groups, Chile and the Czech Republic made three recommendations to the Government of Bangladesh that, if implemented, would improve the legal status of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons in Bangladesh.
Two of the recommendations were to decriminalise same-sex relationships by abolishing Section 377 of the Bangladesh Penal Code, which is a remainder of British colonialism. Another recommendation was to educate law enforcers and judicial officers about LGBT issues, and to adopt further measures to ensure the protection of LGBT persons against violence and abuse.
The Government of Bangladesh rejected the first two recommendations, saying that “Bangladesh is a society with strong traditional and cultural values. Same-sex activity is not an acceptable norm to any community in the country. Indeed, sexual orientation is not an issue in Bangladesh. There has been no concern expressed by any quarter in the country on this.” The government, however, accepted the recommendation of training law enforcers to protect sexual and gender minorities.
When Bangladesh comes under review for the second cycle in a few days, more specific recommendations from UN member states are expected to ease the plight of LGBT people. But, given the current political situation of the country, the issue may be dumped way beneath the pile of other issues. That is why it is important that the media, civil society and the community endorse the cause of sexual and gender minorities.
Boys of Bangladesh (BoB), the largest platform of self-identified gay men in Bangladesh, has put forward a number of recommendations from the LGBT community in the stakeholders’ report this year. One of the main recommendations is to conduct a government survey about human rights violations victimising LGBT persons in the country. Such a survey is necessary to learn more about the discrimination, stigma and violence LGBT persons face in Bangladesh, and to develop strategies to address these human rights violations.
The government already has an extensive HIV/AIDS program under the Ministry of Health, which also includes men who have sex with men (MSM) and Hijras. Hence, the government’s claim that sexual orientation is not an issue in the country is only a way to brush aside the realities, and to avoid acknowledging human rights violations of sexual and gender minorities.
BoB thinks that it is time for the government to acknowledge the existence of this clandestine but significant population, and to take appropriate measures to address the violations of their human rights. After all, sexual and gender minorities are part of every family, every society and are integral development partners of the country.

The writer is a human rights activist and a volunteer at Boys of Bangladesh (BoB), a non-registered, non-funded, informal network of self-identified gay men in Bangladesh.

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Bangladeshi trans community ignored in the recent cencus

About 300,000 people have been deployed in the impoverished country of South Asia to identify the estimated population of 146 million inhabitants, but many transsexuals and eunuchs say they were ignored because they did not fit into the categories of Administration .

“They only count a few of us,” he told AFP “Pinky”, who runs an association for the rights of transgender people, Badhan Hijra Sangha.

“We rehearsed over and over again that we are neither men nor women. We should be categorized as” other “or” transgender, “he continued” Pinky “.

Transgender in Bangladesh, a predominantly Muslim country, are lobbying for years to be recognized as belonging to one sex “other” as male or female when it comes to filling out paperwork.

A complaint was filed with the National Commission on Human Rights to denounce the fact that only 10 of the 175 people living in a transgender community building in Dhaka have been identified.

Shahjahan Mollah, head of the National Statistics Office which manages the current census, has rejected the accusations while recognizing that the transsexual population could only be recorded as a man or woman.

In India, where the census population of over 1, 1 billion people is underway, a third category was added to the attention of transsexuals. Nepal has done the same.

In South Asia, transgender communities are often among the poorest in societies which are still very conservative.

Source: AFP

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BANGLADESH: Mixed messages on sex work undermine HIV prevention

Crossposted from IRIN ASIA

 

Sex worker in Bangladesh: “I don’t want to live this life anymore”

DHAKA, 12 October 2010 (IRIN) – Civil society is preparing to challenge a recent government decision in Bangladesh to exclude “prostitution” as a profession on new voter cards on the grounds it effectively blocks sex workers’ access to HIV prevention and life-saving health care.

On 17 August the Bangladesh Election Commission (BEC) announced “prostitution” would be recognized for the first time as a profession on new voter ID cards. But pressure from conservative religious groups led the BEC to reverse its decision, according to Shahnaz Begum, president of Sex Workers Network (SWN), a local NGO that works in half of the nation’s 64 districts.

Election commissioner Sohul Hossain told IRIN the term “sex worker” was omitted in order to prevent commercial sex work, in line with Article 18(2) of Bangladesh’s constitution, which states that “gambling and prostitution” should be “discouraged”.

But activists are seizing upon Article 40 of the constitution, which gives citizens the right to “enter upon any lawful profession or occupation”, arguing that women, therefore, can choose sex work as a profession.

This decision is “ripe for a public interest challenge”, said Khaled Chowdhury, a lawyer at the Supreme Court. “Sex work is not illegal, but as moral and social issues are involved, it is not encouraged. The decision of the EC [Electoral Commission] may have an impact [on the acceptance of sex workers], as voter ID cards are now essential in many aspects of a citizen’s life.”

ID cards are necessary to open a bank account, apply for a passport, and to register property. While not required for health services, almost all other government forms require an ID card as proof of identity.

Limited legality

When the government tried to shut down two large brothels in Dhaka, the capital, a decade ago, 100 sex workers fought back – and won. As a result, sex work is now legal for women over 18, pimps and brothel owners.

But the ruling offers sex workers little protection, as police still frequently harass them, which, according to Begum, can lead to unsafe sex practices. “Clients are often taken to a dark alley and the sex workers have to rush because they are on the lookout for police. If sex work was properly recognized they could take the time to convince their clients to use a condom.”

To make matters worse, a sex worker in Dhaka who gave her name and age as Tania, 28, said police often demand half her average daily earnings of US$7. And without police protection, she has little recourse when clients are abusive. “Yesterday a client gagged and beat me. I don’t want to live this life any more.”

Health care

The government has offered no-cost health care to sex workers at designated clinics around the country since 1978, but the Health Ministry reports that only 2,000 sex workers used these services in 2009 (0.5 percent of the 400,000 sex workers the NGO SWN estimates are working nationwide).

Begum said the government’s mixed messages about sex work are hurting the fight against HIV because sex workers who seek medical treatment are often turned away on the grounds they are “bad women”.

A consistent government stance on sex work would help prevent such discrimination, she added. “The legal framework for sex workers exists, but it is not implemented. The mixed public health messages from the government and Election Commission are undoubtedly harmful for reducing the spread of HIV.”

NGO clinics

There are dozens of NGO-run drop-in centres nationwide that provide free HIV counselling, condoms and medicines, and a referral system for HIV testing to sex workers and their clients. IRIN spoke to 10 sex workers: All said they preferred to visit NGO clinics due to the conservative attitudes of public health staff.

In 2007, 67 percent of sex workers reported using a condom with their most recent client, according to the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) 2008 Progress Report.

According to the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), in 2009 estimated HIV prevalence among Bangladesh’s 160 million people was less than 0.1 percent. The rate for sex workers was about 1 percent, according the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

However, the Global Fund warned that a highly mobile population, coupled with poverty and a low level of awareness about HIV, threaten to increase prevalence.

And until the law can protect sex workers and guarantee their access to health care, civil society leaders taking their case to court say that Bangladesh’s status as a low HIV prevalence country may change.

“HIV is not spreading at an alarming rate, but I believe it would decrease further if the government gave [it] full recognition,” said Begum.

Legal protection is one of the issues to be addressed at the first UNAIDS consultation in Asia on sex work and HIV to be held 12-15 October in Pattaya, Thailand.

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LGBT Community Calls for the Repeal of Section 377

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Sam is a university-educated Muslim-born Hindu of 25 years. He is living in Dhaka and works as a university teacher. Six years ago, after graduating from college at the age of 19, he discovered that his sexual orientation deviates from the cultural norm in Bangladesh. Today he is in a romantic relationship with a man. He also has had sexual encounters with women before and describes himself as a bisexual man. Sam and his boyfriend go on trips together, hold hands on the streets of Dhaka and share a bed when staying at each other‟s places. Since male-male friendships are traditionally very intimate in Bangladesh, these practices cast no doubt upon their presumed heterosexual identities. Family and friends consider Sam and his boyfriend to be close friends. “As long as you don‟t come out open to your family, you are safe,” Sam explains. Sam is not his real name. Afraid of the possible social and legal consequences, he agreed to speak only under the condition of anonymity.

Like Sam and his boyfriend, many homosexuals in Bangladesh hide their sexual orientation from their friends and families. “It is easy to live a moderate life with a hidden identity if one is homosexual.” In predominantly Muslim countries, homosexuality is often looked upon as a sin. Accordingly, the consequences of coming out can be severe. Some gay men who inform their families about their sexual orientation are forced into a heterosexual marriage. Other parents consider homosexuality a mental illness and object their gay sons to religious brainwashing or psychiatric treatment. Sam heard of cases in Bangladesh where electric shocks were applied to homosexual men in an effort to “cure” them from their supposed psychiatric condition. He is convinced that, “unless the government, parents and friends understand that a man or woman can be a gay or a lesbian and yet be a very good and devout Muslim, Hindu or Christian, the chances for LGBT (“lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender‟) rights in Bangladesh are low.” Society in Bangladesh is far from that. Homosexuality among men is seen as a morally deprived Western phenomenon that needs to be fended off. “While the existence of gay sex is at least acknowledged by most people though, lesbian sex does not even exist in the dreams of people in Bangladesh.”

The status of homosexuality as a social and religious taboo is also reflected in the Bangladeshi Criminal Code. Its Section 377, a legacy of British rule, refers to consensual oral and anal sex as “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” and subjects it to punishment up to imprisonment for life. Effectively, this section makes homosexual intercourse illegal in Bangladesh. Interestingly, prosecutions under Section 377 are extremely rare. Section 377, hence, does not impair Bangladesh‟s moderate image in the world and questions about the country‟s human rights record on the issue of homosexuality are avoided in the international arena. Not only in court, but also in mainstream media the issue has largely been ignored. The LGBT community is forced into a shadow existence and its voice is effectively silenced in the public sphere. However, mainly due to new media, times are changing.

Starting out as an online group in 2002, an organization called Boys of Bangladesh (BoB) has become a central forum for gay and bisexual men in Bangladesh. BoB currently has more than 2000 registered members, including school students as well as Ph.D. holders. Their ages range between 16 and more than 50 years. BoB is run by around twenty young men and has increasingly become public in recent years. In November 2010, it conducted the second edition of a festival titled “Under the Rainbow”, in cooperation with the German Goethe-Institut in Dhaka. Under the slogan “accept diversity and end discrimination”, the five-day festival included movie screenings, art exhibitions and musical performances and brought together leading human rights activists from with the country and abroad. Angela Grünert, director of the Goethe-Institut, explains her involvement in the LGBT movement in Bangladesh with the belief that “everyone should have equal rights in the society”, regardless of religion, ethnicity, sex or sexual orientation. BoB organized various other events, mainly in Dhaka, and its representatives attended international conferences on LGBT issues in Nepal and Thailand. The organization further provides homosexuals in Bangladesh with information on health and legal issues on its website at http://boysofbangladesh.org/.

Change on the subcontinent is also happening on the legal front. An Indian court in the country‟s capital, Delhi, decriminalized homosexual intercourse by repealing Section 377 of the Indian Criminal Code in July 2009, saying that treating certain forms of consensual sex between adults as a crime is a violation of fundamental human rights. For Sam, this is a sign of hope. He is convinced that, due to the profound cultural links between India and Bangladesh, the Indian court‟s ruling will spark a public debate on LGBT issues in Bangladesh and encourage the homosexual youth here to fight for their rights. “It is the youth, exposed to international media and increasingly educated, that is empowering the LGBT movement in Bangladesh.”

Some movements in Islam, such as the US-based Al-Fatiha Foundation, accept and consider homosexuality as natural and work towards the acceptance of non-heterosexual love-relationships within the global Muslim community. Progressive Muslim scholars around the world argue that Qur’anic verses on homosexuality are obsolete in the context of modern society and point out that, while the Qur‟an speaks out against homosexual lust, it is silent on homosexual love. However, in Bangladesh, religion remains the single most persistent obstacle for LGBT rights.

The LGBT rights movement in Bangladesh is growing rapidly and the voices for the repeal of Section 377 are becoming louder. The issue is bound to emerge into a public battle over the young nation’s religious and cultural identity, human rights and modernity and will pose a challenge to policymakers, religious authorities and leaders of civil society alike.

Rainer Ebert is a moral philosopher at Rice University in the United States of America. He is specializing in animal ethics and issues of global justice.

Mahmudul Hoque Moni is the founding director of the Centre for Practical Multimedia Studies at the Department of Mass Communication and Journalism at the University of Dhaka. He is interested in human rights issues, social justice, sports media and visual communication.

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Filed under Analysis of Homosexual Issues, Bangladesh persecution of Homosexuals, Bangladesh- Policies and declarations, Media-Indian Subcontinent

Aids Conference 2010,turns out to be a dissapointment

activists on a protest march during the AIDS Congerence, Vienna

The Global AIDS Conference is held every two years to highlight the need and success of the HIV prevention programmes and hence estimate the funds required to sustain them.At the 18th International AIDS Chonference in Vienna, there were 248 sessions and 6,238 abstracts presented.However the recently concluded Vienna Aids Conference has been declared as a dissapointment by the global experts.I provide you with a brief synopsis on those issues which has been grossly overlooked in this conference.

Severe Cuts in funding : Dr. Kamal Yanni, a senior HIVpolicy advisor quotes  “The host country, Austria, set the wrong tone. It pledged $1 million into the Global Fund at its inception (2002) and have not put any money and have now said they are not planning to put any money” Most of the donors refused to pledge any actual figure during the conference.  It is unlikely that the estimated 20 million euro budget will be recovered,thus reducing the possibility of introducing newer prevention programmes or expansion of currently running ones.This is quite ridiculous as Aid for poor countries (mostly african and asian nations) represents a small fraction of the donor budget so it will make little saving even if they are curtailed.

The CONDOM issue is undermined:

The cheapest and most effective of all prevention methods is the condom.This conference saw the investments in condoms and safer-sex campaigns fall off Yet, as th experts stressed on new measures come along – microbicides, antiretrovirals, circumcision, etc. According to the United Nations Population Fund, only 2.7 billion condoms were distributed last year against an estimation of 13 billion condoms that are needed.


HIV menance across China and India overlooked:

China and India account for 37 per cent of the world’s population. Yet news from the two countries was virtually nonexistent at the AIDS conference.In India aggressive prvention initiatives among the high-risk groups such as commercial sex workers and migrant workers curtailed the spread of the virus to a mere 2.4 million against an estimation of 100 million a decade ago. China has little HIV testing and a lot of stigma to HIV so the official numbers of 70,000 is ikely to be deceiving. Can the world afford to turn its eyes off these two sleeping giants??

Russia declares it will not change its policies:

Russia is home to one of the most explosive epidemics of HIV/AIDS in the world,  fuelled by IV drug use.  The country has among the most draconian drug policies in the world. Russian officials have balantly declared in AID Conference at Vienna, that they will not fund HIV/AIDS programs for drug users, prisoners and sex workers.

Potential of Male Circumcision not championed:

Studies conducted indicates that male circumcision can reduce a man’s risk of HIV infection by 60 per cent. In countries with the highest HIV/AIDS infections, circumcision rates are less than 10 per cent. The conference heard of vague, plans to raise that to 80 per cent. In practice  fewer than 150,000 operations have been done since the data were first published a few years back. Circumcision is a cause that has potential but does not have an obvious champion.

Acess to HIV medication for all:

The drugs needed to fight the infection needs to be cheaper,affordable and within the buying means of the affected community. Till a cure for HIV arrives a patient needs to be continuosly on medication to retard the process of developing AIDS. But with high price medicines can their treatment be sustained??Most of the time the expense of drugs restricts a continuation of the treatment and the virus starts  developing resistance against it.Estimates indicate that the drugs could be availed at a mere 10% of its present cost if they are procured from the developing world.But no concrete decision was taken on low cost manufacting and effective distribution of these medications.

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Gays are filth say fanatical muslim clerics

the Muslim fundamentalist fanatic, Sheikh Abdullah Hakim Quick

Several London universities are hosting fundamentalist clerics, who advocates the killing of gay people and of Muslims who abandon their faith. They also endorse the beating of young Muslim girls who refuse to wear the hijab.

Too many student Islamic Societies are promoting hate-mongering clerics. These clerics are religious fascists.University authorities are complicit with the propagation of Islamist fundamentalism. They are allowing their campuses to be used for the promotion of extremist interpretations of Islam.

Many Vice-Chancellors are too weak and cowardly to take a stand. They fear being branded racist and Islamophobic. Instead of challenging these false slurs, they cave in to the hate-preaching fundamentalists.The encouragement of homophobia is one of pathways to Muslim radicalisation. It helps create a fanatical, anti-human rights mindset that can later develop into support for jihadism and terrorism.

The failure of many university authorities to take a stand against homophobic and anti-Semitic clerics is complicity with fundamentalism and radicalisation. It is collusion with the gateways to terrorism.The Islamic Society should not be promoting this fanatic. By giving him a platform it is complicit with homophobic and anti-Jewish hatred. It is colluding with intolerance.

In defiance of its own equal opportunities policy, King’s College London (KCL) and University of East London hosted the Muslim fundamentalist fanatic, Sheikh Abdullah Hakim Quick, earlier this year.He is anti-Semitic and homophobic. He denounces the “filth” of Jews (Yahood) and kaffirs.
See here (about 3.50 minutes into the video):

He says homosexuals should be executed.

Sheikh Abdullah Hakim Quick is on record as preaching:

  • AIDS is caused by the “filthy practices” of homosexuals
  • Homosexuals are dropping dead from AIDS and “they want to take us all down with them”
  • The Islamic position on homosexuality is “death”
  • Homosexuals are “sick” and “not natural”
  • “Muslims are going to have to take a stand [against homosexuals] and it’s not enough to call names” (this last point comes close to an implied threat of violence).

Quick addressed viewers about “Challenges Facing Muslims in the New Millennium”. Toward the conclusion of the lecture, Sheikh Quick expressed fanatical homophobic views on exterminating members of this community.

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Violence Against LBT People in Asia

Crossposted from ILGHRC website :  http://www.iglhrc.org/cgi-bin/iowa/article/takeaction/resourcecenter/1099.html

Summary Report on Violence on
 the 
Basis 
of
 Sexual Orientation,
 Gender 
Identity
 
and
 Gender 
Expression
 
Against
 Non‐Heteronormative
 Women 
in 
Asia



Lesbians, bisexual women and transgender (LBT) people in Asia experience forced institutionalization in mental rehabilitation clinics, electro shock treatment as aversion therapy, sexual harassment in school and at work, threats of rape to make you straight, school expulsions, eviction by landlords, police kidnapping, family violence, and media stigmatization.

Lesbians face discrimination in the workplace because of their gender and their sexual orientation. Employment and job promotions are denied if women look too masculine. Male coworkers stalk and sexually harass lesbians who cannot report for fear of backlash and retaliation.

Transgender/gender variant people are marginalized in their jobs, and are targeted for blackmail, harassment, and sexual violence from the community or people in positions of authority like the police. Activists who defend the rights of LBT people experience threats to their safety, in some cases, harassment, attacks, even torture and abuse, with police participating in or doing nothing to stop these violations.

Frequently, LBT people in Asia face violence in the “private” sphere—by members of immediate and extended family, community and religious groups. This violence includes beatings, home confinement, ostracism, mental and psychological abuse, verbal abuse, forced marriage, corrective rape and in some cases killings to restore family honor.

The fear of family and community violence is often exacerbated by police complicity, when police officers join forces with family members to break up lesbian couples by arresting, detaining and intimidating them. In some cases, charges of kidnapping, trafficking or child abuse are brought against one of the partners. Police officers also charge lesbians under sodomy laws even if the law does not explicitly include lesbianism. Compounding the situation is the state’s lack of due diligence in applying existing laws that penalize domestic violence and sexual violence to LBT people who are victimized, thus denying them access to complaint mechanisms and opportunities for redress. Victims themslves don’t turn to these laws for protection because they lead double lives, and exposing the violence invites disapproval, rejection, discrimination and further violence. Such a vicious cycle allows violence to go unreported, unrecognized, and unchecked.

In some instances, media does report on suicide pacts or foiled same sex marriages but the coverage does not name what happened as abuse or suppression of rights. Instead, the media publicity reinforces the stigma against LBT people and makes them the object of ridicule and shame.

Many humanitarian organizations and women’s rights NGOs fail to understand the severity of violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Government reports to treaty monitoring bodies as well as shadow/alternative reports by women’s right NGOs make no reference to violence against LBT groups and individuals for the most part because sexual rights for women, beyond reproductive rights, are rarely a priority for the women’s human rights movement, and the demand for women’s sexual autonomy is treated as incidental or an inferior right compared to the other rights. At the same time, when LBT activists lobby their governments or treaty bodies like CEDAW or their national human rights institutions, they often lack the data and documentation to support their claims of violence and discrimination, which contributes to the under-recognition of the problem.

In 2007 and 2008, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) met with grassroots and national LGBT groups in Asia to identify their key priorities and needs. From women’s groups, IGLHRC heard that homophobic and transphobic violence against women was their number one issue—even if some of the groups lacked the capacity and resources to make this issue their priority. To bring visibility to the issue, some groups conducted local studies in their service vicinity, but these were limited in scope. Regional level data gathering on violence against lesbians, bisexual women and transgender (LBT) people in Asia has not yet been carried out.

In response to what we heard, IGLHRC convened a Strategy Workshop in Quezon City, Philippines, May 27-30, 2009 to start a cross-country dialogue among activists from countries in Asia. Their reports confirm that homophobic and transphobic violence against non-heteronormative women in the region is under-reported, under-documented, and consequently eclipsed by other concerns in the region. This lack of data contributes significantly to lack of funding for services and lack of legislator attention.

Few government efforts to end violence against women involve LBT groups. LBT people are often denied protections from and remedies for violence that other people, including heterosexual women receive from anti-discrimination laws, domestic violence legislation and rape laws. In countries with minimal or poor state responses to violence against women, LBT people are even more marginalized because of the double or triple jeopardy that renders their suffering less visible. Benefits won by women’s rights movements often does not extend to LBT individuals, although many are part of these movements in their countries. Despite these inconsistencies, LBT activists are working to raise awareness about violence at state and non-state levels in many parts of Asia.

The following country summaries are based on the cross-country exchange convened by IGLHRC in May 2009. They are a prelude to the two-year in-depth qualitative and collaborative research and documentation project that will be undertaken in June 2010 by IGLHRC and LBT partners in Asia, and which will culminate in local advocacy initiatives to stem violence against women on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. Some of these activities will be linked to existing national, regional and/or international public awareness and violence prevention campaigns such 16 Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women, the UN Secretary General’s Campaign to End Violence Against Women, International Day Against Homophobia, International Women’s Day, Campaign to Just Say No to Violence and Impunity, etc.

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