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.