16-February-2011 – Paul Causey
Global Commission Reviews Legal Barriers Obstructing Progress on AIDS – Historic dialogue hears issues of Asia and the Pacific from over 150 people.
by UNDP, Bangkok
Thirty years after the first cases of HIV were diagnosed, 90 percent of countries in the Asia-Pacific region still have laws and practices that obstruct the rights of people living with HIV and those at higher risk of HIV exposure. As part of a global drive to remove barriers to progress in the AIDS response, policymakers and community advocates will join experts from the Global Commission on HIV and the Law in Bangkok on 17 February for the first in a series of regional dialogues to be held across the world.
The Global Commission on HIV and the Law is an independent body comprising some of the world’s most respected legal, human rights and HIV leaders. At this week’s dialogue, approximately 150 participants from 22 countries will discuss and debate region-wide experiences of restrictive and enabling legal and social environments faced by key populations in the Asia-Pacific region, including people living with HIV.
According to UNDP Administrator Helen Clark, “The law and its application can have a profound impact on the lives of people, especially those who are marginalized and disempowered. The law is a powerful instrument to challenge stigma, promote public health, and protect human rights. We have much to learn from the positive and negative experiences in this region on the interactions between the law, legislative reform, law enforcement practices, and public health responses.”
Read the complete news release
February 17, 2011 – The Global Forum
Top 10 Key Global Policy Developments Concerning MSM & HIV
by Jack Beck, Communications Associate
The year 2010 was very important for activists focused on the health and human rights of MSM. There were a number of key developments – both positive and negative – that made a significant impact on the global advocacy landscape.
In just twelve months, new evidence was introduced that provides powerful arguments about the importance of addressing MSM in the global epidemic, numerous HIV interventions targeting MSM were endorsed and promoted by the most respected authorities in global health, and several of the most influential organizations in the field made solid commitments to the health and well-being of MSM around the world. Sadly, the year was also marked by devastating setbacks, including a wide range of activity surrounding the criminalization of homosexuality and the failure to achieve universal access by 2010.
The Global Forum on MSM & HIV (MSMGF) has compiled a list of the top 10 policy-related developments of the past year. The items on the list not only help us to understand where we are as a global movement, but they can also aid in determining effective next steps for achieving a higher level of health for MSM in a diversity of contexts.
We hope this document will stimulate important discourse on global collaboration and strategy toward obtaining our shared goals. While the document includes a number of recommendations, they are by no means exclusive or definitive. We invite readers to add their own reflections on current challenges and opportunities, as well as ideas about potential ways forward.
Read the PDF:
3 March 2011 – Fridae
HIV programs can only be truly effective if sexual minorities are decriminalised, Global Commission told
by Laurindo Garcia
Over 200 participants from 22 Asia-Pacific countries gathered in Bangkok for a historic dialogue hosted by the Global Commission on HIV and the Law. As of now, 90 percent of countries in the Asia-Pacific region still have laws and practices that obstruct the rights of people living with HIV and those at higher risk of HIV exposure.Members of the Asia-Pacific LGBT community, public health workers and civil society came face-to-face with lawmakers, judiciary and police during a rare opportunity to air their grievances and share stories in hopes that a frank discussion on the core issues around HIV might change hearts and ultimately change laws.
The first of six regional dialogues for the Global Commission on HIV and the Law was held in Bangkok on February 16 and 17. The event comes almost midway through the 18-month lifespan of an independent commission, convened with the support of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and tasked to analyse the critical legal and human rights challenges of the HIV epidemic and recommend remedial policies. Work started for the Commission in June 2010 and its 14 Commissioners – which include former presidents and members of international judiciary in its line-up – are working towards the goal of delivering key findings and recommendations by December 2011.
Observers believe that the credentials and political clout of this independent commission – which count Former President of Brazil, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Parliamentarian Dame Carol Kidu from Papua New Guinea, the Honourable Michael Kirby, former Supreme Court Judge from Australia and Jon Ungphakorn from the Thai Senate among its members – could help convince governments and judiciaries that laws and law enforcement should support, rather than block, effective HIV responses.
During the dialogue, the Commissioners assigned to this first session and their legal counterparts from the region, heard that the burden of HIV is rests on the shoulders of Asian and Pacific Islander gay or bisexual men and other MSM. If current trends prevail, 50-percent of new HIV infections will be among by MSM by 2020, according to a Commission on AIDS in Asia report released in 2008. It is for this reason that various community groups who presented for the Commission advocated so stridently for the decriminalisation of same-sex behaviour.
This localised understanding is timely as scientific evidence released at the 2010 International AIDS Conference supports models of targeted prevention and treatment services for those most-as-risk of HIV infection. The research found that focusing on key-affected populations can result in a decline in on overall HIV prevalence in the general population. Hence governments and public health workers are being urged to “know their epidemic” and provide care and support for those who need it the most.
Dr Stuart Koe, CEO of Fridae and Vice-Chair of the Asia Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health (APCOM) attempted to spell out the conflict that is suffered by men who have sex with men and transgender people in the face of HIV.
“Discriminatory actions by public authorities threaten recent progress in addressing the HIV epidemic among these particularly vulnerable populations,” Dr Koe said. "During the past year, police and public security authorities across the Asia Pacific region have increasingly targeted men who sex with men and transgender people with physical and sexual assault, harassment, extortion and sometimes forced blood testing.”
Dr Koe and other community spokespeople from around the region recounted stories of human rights abuses against gay or bisexual men and other men who have sex with men with clear repercussions on HIV risk and access to treatment. Reports from China and the Philippines reveal how police often use charges of sex work as means to harass MSM and transgender people. Charges are often dropped in exchange for extorted money or sexual favours. There are several cases where on-duty HIV outreach workers have been snared by police in South Asia on suspicion of sex work. Possession of condoms was used as evidence of the charges.
Many laws in the region are preventing the distribution of MSM-specific safer sex education information on the basis that these materials contravene strict pornography laws, for example in Sri Lanka and Indonesia. Or similarly in Malaysia and Singapore where censorship codes prohibiting the promotion of homosexuality in the public domain hinder the scaling-up of MSM-specific HIV and sexual health outreach.
As the issue of homosexuality was raised, a Supreme Court Judge from Sri Lanka implored the Asian LGBT community to come together in solidarity because HIV is not just “gay or MSM issue”. Justice Shiranee Tilakawardane said that many lesbians were at risk of HIV as acts of rape and sexual violence was commonly used to “cure” lesbians of homosexuality. This reporter, who’s also Fridae’s HIV Programs Manager, made the point that while solidarity among LGBT people was likely to be common goal, laws need to be changed so that LGBT groups within the region can be recognised, thus enabling the community to organise and engage in public discourse. Violence and discrimination as demonstrated by religious fundamentalists across the region highlighted the urgent need for protection of sexual minorities under the law.
March 2011 – Vimeo
Asia-Pacific Regional Dialogue
This channel contains videos of the Asia-Pacific Regional Dialogue of the Global Commission on HIV and the Law. More information about the Global Commission on HIV and the Law can be found here.
6 May 2011 – LGBT Asylum News
In Southeast Asia, no longer silence on LGBT issues
by Dr. Jason Abbott
Last week 66 young boys in the conservative largely Muslim state of Terengganu, Malaysia, were sent to a special ‘re-education’ camp for displaying signs of effeminacy which if left ‘unchecked’, state official argued, could “reach the point of no return”. In other words they could ‘become’ gay or transsexual. While the women’s minister, Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, criticized this move, neither the state government nor the Federal government has yet acted to do anything about this. But we should not be either shocked or surprised since gay rights in Malaysia are largely non-existent. Only a month earlier for example, Malaysian radio stations chose to deliberately ‘garble’ the line, “No matter gay, straight or bi, lesbian or transgendered life, I’m on the right track, baby” in the Lady Gaga song “Born this Way” for fear of being fined by the government for breaking rules on ‘good taste… decency.. [or for being] “offensive to public feeling”.
Indeed as the current trial of the opposition leader, and former deputy Prime Minister, Anwar Ibrahim visibly demonstrates, the country’s religious and political elite continue to regard homosexuality as a morally repugnant way of life. Thus in Anwar’s case putting him on trial for sodomy (which is punishable by up to 20 years in prison) has proven a ‘convenient’ and sadly rational tactic by the government to destroy his political career and tarnish his public image. But Malaysia is by no-means on it’s own in the region in its staunchly conservative stance. When it comes to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender rights, Southeast Asia is found severely wanting.
While Thailand might be infamous for its transsexual ‘lady boys’, same-sex marriage and same-sex adoption remain illegal, and there are no anti-discrimination laws nor laws concerning gender and identity expression. Arguably the most gay-friendly country in Southeast Asia (perhaps surprisingly given that it is overwhelmingly Catholic) is The Philippines, where same-sex adoption is permitted and since 2009 openly gay men and women have been allowed to serve in the military. However even here anti-discrimination law is largely absent nationally, while same-sex marriages or civil partnerships are not officially recognized. And yet Thailand, Cambodia and The Philippines are in a veritable league of their own compared to the rest of the region. In Burma, Brunei, and Malaysia homosexuality remains illegal with harsh prison sentences the normal punishment; none of the ten Southeast Asian countries recognize neither same-sex marriages or partnerships; only two allow same-sex adoption (Cambodia and The Philippines); three allow gay men or women to serve in the military (The Philippines, Thailand and Singapore) and none have passed anti-discrimination laws.
To defend this appalling track record, arguments have been made about ‘cultural and spiritual pollution’ from the decadent (sic) West, and about the incompatibility of homosexuality with the teachings of Islam and other religions. In most cases the opposition is pure bigotry and drawn from the view that regards LGBTs as nothing more than deviant ‘life-style’ choices. The head of Malaysia’s controversial Islamic Affairs department in an interview with Time magazine in 2000 epitomized this view when he remarked that homosexuality “is a crime worse than murder”. When asked if it was wrong for two people of the same sex to love each other he rebuked the questioner replying, “Love? How can men have sex with men? God did not make them this way. This is all Western influence”.
In even starker terms former Prime Minister of Malaysia Dr. Mahathir Mohamad warned in a national day speech in 2003 that “if there are any homosexuals in Malaysia they had better mend their ways.” In the same speech he also criticized the West saying that, “they are very angry — especially their reporters, many of whom are homos — when we take legal action against these practices.” But it is not simply Malaysia where such views remain widespread. For example, a crowd of extremists shut down the 4th International Lesbian and Gay Association Asia conference that was supposed to take place in Surabaya, Indonesia between 26th and 28th March 2010. In addition all 150 participants had to evacuate the conference hotel.
May 17, 2011 – IGLHRC
The Courage Unfolds Campaign
The Courage Unfolds Campaign calls for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people to be protected by law, respected by society, and accepted by family. It is a call for the use of the Yogyakarta Principles as a tool to ensure the respect, protection and promotion by governments of the human rights of all people – including LGBT people. This set of international legal principles addresses the application of international law to human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
To achieve this goal, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) is asking activists, LGBT groups, human rights defenders, and concerned citizens to join the campaign. As central to this campaign, IGLHRC’s Asia Program has produced a documentary film – Courage Unfolds – highlighting the issues faced by LGBT people in Asia and how the Yogyakarta Principles are a relevant and effective tool that LGBT activists can use in their advocacy for human rights.
Learn: Learn more about the Yogyakarta Principles and LGBT activism in Asia by watching the Courage Unfolds documentary
Share: Tell your friends and community about this Campaign and how they can join you. Share your actions with us and others on IGLHRC’s Courage Unfolds Map.
Act: Screen Courage Unfolds, hold a rally, a training or a community event, write about using the Yogyakarta Principles, or petition your government to address violence and discrimination against LGBT people.
17 September 2010 – Fridae
SOGI takes center stage at Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions – Part 1
by Grace Poore, IGLHRC
Lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender (LGBT) people in Asia and the Pacific Islands experience extra-judicial killings, torture, violence and rape, as well as discrimination in employment, education, housing and health services. – Note: [SOGI is an abbreviation for Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity]
Lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender (LGBT) people in Asia and the Pacific Islands experience extra-judicial killings, torture, violence and rape, as well as discrimination in employment, education, housing and health services. These are the preliminary findings of the Advisory Council of Jurists (ACJ) of the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions (APF) that met August 3-5, 2010 in Bali, Indonesia. This independent body of legal experts has found that at least 17 API governments (1) have failed to provide protections for LGBT people because their national laws, policies and practices are inconsistent with international human rights law.
In response to these realities for LGBT people in the region, the APF has begun the process of addressing discrimination and violence on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity as a legitimate human rights issue requiring the attention of its member institutions that are National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs). The fact that protecting the human rights of LGBT people has captured the attention and become a focus for the APF is pleasantly surprising. Surprising because, only three countries in the region have laws providing explicit protection of LGBT human rights (2), while nineteen countries still have laws that criminalize consensual homosexual relations (3). Many of the NHRIs that are members of the APF have never discussed – let alone considered – sexual orientation and gender identity as a human-rights issue. In fact, many state officials in the region view non-heteronormative sexual orientation and gender identity as anti-religious and counter cultural.
Read complete article here
7 September 2010 – Fridae
SOGI takes center stage at Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions – Part 2
by Grace Poore, IGLHRC
At least 17 Asia Pacific governments fail to provide protections for LGBT people because their national laws, policies and practices which are inconsistent with international human rights law.
The findings and recommendations of the Advisory Council of Jurists presented to the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions (APF) during its August 2010 meeting in Bali, Indonesia were significant. As I shared in the first part of this review, it was a major achievement for this independent body of legal experts to conclude that at least 17 API governments have failed to provide protections for LGBT people because their national laws, policies and practices are inconsistent with international human rights law. In response the ACJ is recommending that national human rights institutions take on issues of sexual orientation and gender identity and ensure the compliance of national laws and policies with international human rights protections for LGBT people in a way that involves the participation of LGBT groups and individuals.
For me, so much rides on the NHRIs effectively implementing the ACJ recommendations since the API region lacks a regional human rights monitoring entity (even the credibility of the newly-formed ASEAN Commission on Human Rights (ACHR) is uncertain). In addition, access to international human rights entities such as the United Nations is limited, not only because the UN is so far away, but also because people whose rights are being violated, have limited access to these avenues for redress – assuming redress is possible. However, since the APF and the ACJ have no enforcement mechanism or power, it is unclear what will happen if these recommendations are not implemented – for instance, in the name of religion or cultural values. Since there is no centrally imposed penalty or peer pressure for weak or non-implementation of international human-rights standards, how will disregard for the ACJ recommendations be addressed in a productive way?
The independence of the national human rights institutions is critically important. According to the Paris Principles, (9) which serve as criteria for the effectiveness of NHRIs, national institutions should have a clearly defined but broad-based mandate defined by legislative decree or the constitution. They must remain independent from government, have membership that reflects the composition of society, work in close cooperation with civil society and NGOs, and be adequately resourced by the state to carry out their work as NHRIs. But, according to Emerlynne Gill, coordinator of the ANNI Network, which monitors the performance of NHRIs in Asia, in most Asian countries members of NHRIs are chosen either only by the President, the Prime Minister, or by “a select group of like-minded people, which often results in appointments that are not based on human rights expertise.” Gill says that many NHRIs in the region lack pluralism in their composition and transparency in the selection process, which she feels are “two pivotal elements for ensuring the independence and effectiveness of NHRIs [while] minimizing the danger of neglecting less mainstream issues which may be affecting groups considered to be minorities in the country.”
Read complete article here
November 02, 2011 – Jakarta Post
View Point: Sexualities: The straight and very, very narrow
by Julia Suryakusuma, Yogyakarta
Imagine going to a full-on Javanese royal wedding, full of pomp and ceremony, the bride and groom resplendent in gold jewelry and trimmings and the somber blacks and browns of Javanese traditional attire. Then imagine attending a huge conference two days later, opened with a dance inspired by Ardhanareesvara, a half-male, half-female manifestation of Shiva, illustrating the dualism of human nature. The dance is very gracefully performed – amazingly so when you consider that the performers are all … men!
Yes, they are Indonesia’s famous third sex, the waria (wanita-pria or female-male), akin to the hijras of India, Bangladesh and Pakistan; the fa’afafine of Polynesia, the kathoeys (ladyboys) of Thailand and the “sworn virgins” of the Balkans, among others. Very skillful and graceful, inviting much admiration and applause, their performance was also just as kitschy and campy as might be expected. The dancers wore sparkly, sequined and glittery kebayas (traditional blouses), with colors so bright and flashy that the audience needed sunglasses.
The contrast between the two events was huge!
Or was it? In fact, there were lots of similarities. Both had hordes of people watching (5,000 at the wedding, and an estimated 1,200 from 49 countries at the conference), with oodles of dignitaries and foreigners. And both were related to sex and reproduction. The wedding was Indonesia’s answer to William and Kate’s royal hitching earlier this year: the Oct. 18 nuptials of Nurastuti Wijareni, the youngest daughter of Sultan Hamengkubuwono X of Yogyakarta, and a commoner, Achmad Ubaidillah. The conference, held from Oct. 19 to 22, was the 6th Asia Pacific Conference on Reproductive and Sexual Health and Rights (APCRSHR6), which is held every two years. Previously hosted in Manila, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Hyderabad and Beijing, the venue for the conference this year was Yogyakarta at the Gadjah Mada University Center for Population and Policy Studies. The theme? “Claiming sexual and reproductive rights in Asian and Pacific societies”.
Read complete article here