Ending violence against LGBT people? Addressing protection gaps in the UN system - Side event from the Human Rights Council

The organizer began by stating that all LGBT people around the world emphasized with Orlando. Orlando represents a suffering that the community experiences on a daily basis, which enables the community to feel spontaneous empathy towards this tragic event. Love has never been a crime, and is the purest gift one can give. Orlando does raise a question: how to respond to a suffering of that scale? How to continue the struggle?

The event, organized by Allied Rainbow Communities International, had a panel composed of Joleen Brown Mataele, Tonga Leiti’s Association, from the Pacific Islands;   Fadi Saleh, a Syrian LGBT activist ; Yahia Zaidi, from Mantiqitna Network ; Sheherezade Kara, Human Rights Consultant and John Fisher from Human Rights Watch.



The different forms of suffering endured by LGBT people

Joleen Brown Mataele, from Tonga Leiti’s Association, began by addressing the fact that the Pacific Islands have the highest rate of domestic violence in the world. NGOs are the ones working tirelessly to address violence against women and LGBT communities, and when they’re lacking, as it was the case in the Pacific Islands, it becomes a dire issue.

Indeed, LGBT people encounter many difficulties coming out in public, speaking out and forming associations and communities. From her personal experience as a transgender, Joleen Mataele explained how she was abused from both parents and classmates. In these conditions of loneliness and hardships, it takes a lot of courage to be oneself, as society is hardly accepting.

The fact that Tonga, the island from which she’s from, is strongly religious, is an aggravating factor, as religion is used to abuse the LGBT community in a lot of cases. Joleen Mataele is still struggling today with her family, fifty years later. Even though she has created her own association, things have hardly changed. While LGBT people are more commonly accepted in stereotyped professions, such as hairdressers, they’re still kept away from all decision making and real political representation.

Fadi Saleh, a Syrian LGBT activist, stated that the media coverage of LGBT people needs to be more critically assessed. Often, it becomes a disservice to the community, as it leads people to think LGBT violence does not happen in areas controlled by the regime in Syria, whereas it is a true problem there too.

There are very specific forms of violence that remain undocumented and un-talked about. They don’t seem to capture the same media attention for there are not on the scale of ISIS’ atrocities nor as spectacular. LGBT people are punished without legal authority, arrested and tortured.

Transwomen tend to be the group most targeted, especially by the (Free) Syrian Army. Arbitrary arrests happen frequently: recently, six people were arbitrary arrested on their looks, and amongst them a trans-woman. Without any connections nor money to help them out, some of these people had to spend days and days in jail, though they didn’t commit any infractions.

Yahia Zaidi, of Mantikitna Network, stated that North Africa has also a high rate of violence against LGBT people: “proved” homosexuality, often through the practice of humiliating anal testings, can lead to jail.

There are many types of violence: violence in the family sphere, conveyed and condone by religious figures, state and non-state agents. Nowadays, the tendency seems to have shifted towards violence from non-states agents particularly focused on gay men and trans-women.
For the last two years, LGBT people have endured a new wave of increased violence, by groups of harassers, who also tend to film and publically spread their violent acts on platforms such as Internet.

According to him, the State fails to sufficiently and efficiently protect the members of the community, which is aggravated by the fact that victims cannot even report these violent acts. Yahia Zaidi took the example of one victim of a hate attack in Morocco, who went to Court with the support of a LGBT association and a lawyer, only to find himself charged for “homosexuality”.

The public opinion can be also decisive and vector of violence, discrimination and unfairness. One time, the Court did convict two perpetrators but it created an uproar in the village, which led to demonstrations in front of the Court, which eventually released them.
Yahia Zaidi also emphasized the fact that homophobia is an international issue, far from being only a North African one.

Sheherezade Kara, Human Rights Consultant, expressed her wish to bring more attention to LGBT women. Women suffer from different types of violence: one of the form it can take is Lesbians being submitted to punishing rapes, a subject which has been addressed in the session of the Council. The working group of discrimination against women also showed that LGBT women have a double discrimination, from other groups of society, for being, for instance, both women and part of LGBT communities.

John Fisher from Human Rights Watch stressed out the importance of doing an homage to LGBT people killed in Orlando, as the event is representative of the sufferings endured by LGBT people in the world.


UN action in terms of LGBT people at the grassroots level? On the importance of having an UN independent expert to ensure sustained attention to human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity

The panelists highlighted the importance and the need of having an UN independent expert on sexual orientation and gender identity. 

Special rapporteurs constitute a huge contribution from the UN, as they’re able to engage with States, the civil society, media and overall raise awareness while enabling better conceptual understanding of the issues at work. Any systematic violation requires a systematic solution from the UN, a mechanism to move forward must be created and implemented regular basis.

There is indeed a burning human right need, and good practices can be spread and encouraged. The UN and Council are a perfect forum for that. Within Europe, many States consider themselves leaders but still have bad laws towards some of the LGBT communities. Many of them could benefit from good practices from independent experts.

Joleen Mataele stressed out the fact that every business needs an expert. Human rights isn’t different. For instance, it took several years for the Special Rapporteur from UN to come visit the Pacific Islands. They have a specific task and can also have a direct connection to the LGBT network, in the Pacific. Having an expert would ease out procedures, and reduce formality and loss of time. In the Pacific Islands, there is still no Human Rights Commission, and they do not have the resources to pay such persons: in these conditions, experts would indeed prove to be invaluable.

Sheherezade Kara highlighted that it is high time for Mandate on sexual identity inside the Council. An independent expert can provide a space for dialogue and enable understanding, comprehension and raise awareness. Root causes and intersectional approaches are very important and would be studied through the prism of an independent expert. Furthermore, defenders of the cause who are not fluent in the UN system have difficulties accessing it: how it would help them and how to address the Council remain unclear for them. A mechanism to make it more approachable should be made, especially for those already marginalized. 


Personal opinion:

This event was interesting, well thought and constructive. The fact that all members of the panel were from different backgrounds and provided an international view on gender identity, sexual orientation and the violence suffered by the LGBT community was beneficial. While personal experiences were shared, which enabled to highlight the different types of violence on can endure, more theoretical ideas were also exchanged, which made the event both lively and comprehensive. Finally, the discussions stressing the importance of an independent expert were stimulating, as it enabled the event to actually ponder the future and propose concrete actions and planning.


Léa Guinet, Coordinator at CIPADH