Sunday, December 19, 2010

Thailand must not condone a 'licence to kill' gays

A UN resolution involving the protection of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders (LGBTs) around the world may sound vague for most Thais. But nothing is clearer than the picture of two blindfolded Iranian teenagers with nooses being put around their necks by masked men minutes before they were hanged for their alleged homosexuality.

The gruesome picture was used as the background for last Friday's press conference to remind participants of atrocities being committed against LGBTs in many countries. Organised by the Sexual Diversity Network and FOR-SOGI (Foundation for Human Rights on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity), the event called on the Thai government to vote in the UN General Assembly today in support of protection for LGBTs around the world against being killed because of their sexual and gender identities.

Last month a mention of sexual orientation as grounds for protection was removed from a UN resolution condemning extra-judicial, summary or arbitrary executions. Despite chairing the UN Human Rights Council, Thailand abstained on the anti-gay initiative, effectively condoning a licence to kill LGBTs.

Today the General Assembly votes to ratify the amended resolution and there's an active effort - supported by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the US ambassador to the UN - to reinstate "sexual orientation" as well as to add "gender identity" to the grounds for protection.

The reason for such protection is clear to anyone who cares to listen. During Friday's event, a human rights researcher who just came back from Iraq told of last year's "social cleansing" campaign in the war-ravaged country, which became a killing spree on gays and transgenders by militias and security forces. Her interviews with 10 Iraqi gay men in hiding revealed a pattern of serious human rights violations such as harassment, gang rapes, tortures, death threats, abductions, disappearances and murders.

"I was told stories of their friends who were killed for being gay or transgender. Their mutilated bodies were left in the street. Those who managed to escape had their pictures publicly posted with cash rewards offered to those who can catch them."

According to the researcher, the men knew at least 25 friends who were killed. An Iraqi activist put the number of deaths at over 60, but the overall number may be many times higher according to Human Rights Watch.

The climate of fear is not limited to the Middle East. Persecution against LGBTs can be found in many parts of the world, often as a result of homophobia at the highest levels. For example, in 2000 Namibia's home affairs minister was reported as having urged newly graduated police officers to "eliminate" gay men and lesbians "from the face of Namibia".

Uganda is pushing a bill, supported by Christian fundamentalists, that would impose the death penalty on homosexuals. Local newspapers now publish name lists and pictures of LGBTs and incite violence against them. As of May, seven countries had laws allowing the execution of individuals convicted of engaging in homosexual conduct - Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia and Nigeria.

"Thailand is in a good position to promote LGBT rights internationally. We have an environment conducive to LGBT rights. Our constitution also contains a non-discrimination clause for their protection," said Vitit Muntarbhorn, a professor at Chulalongkorn University and the UN special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea. Thailand's abstention doesn't follow its constitution or international obligations, he said.

In many ways, Thailand is lagging behind its Asian neighbours, which in recent years have made significant progress towards respect for LGBT rights. In 2007, Nepal's supreme court ordered the government to ensure the rights of the "third gender". A same-sex marriage bill is now being drafted.

Last year, the Delhi high court struck down a 150-year-old sodomy law. In the Philippines, the supreme court this April decided in favour of the LGBT party-list group AngLadLad, allowing it to run for senate seats, despite attempted obstruction by the election commission.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said in 2007 that the "Democrat Party hopes that Thai society will recognise human dignity for all persons including those of the 'third sex'. All of us must put the highest priority on human rights, liberty and equality.

There should be no discrimination on the grounds of sex. Society should accept the differences as they exist in the modern world."

There's no better time for him to act on those words. It is imperative that Thailand today votes to protect the lives of LGBTs worldwide, because no rights are more fundamental than the right to exist. The Nation, Bangkok

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