Human Rights Council
4 May 2015
Agenda items 2 and 8
Annual report of the United Nations High Commissioner
for Human Rights and reports of the Office of the
High Commissioner and the Secretary-General
Follow-up to and implementation of the Vienna
Declaration and Programme of Action
Discrimination and violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity
Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
The present report is submitted to the Human Rights Council pursuant to its resolution 27/32, in which the Council requested the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to update the report of the Office of the High Commission on violence and discrimination against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity (A/HRC/19/41).
I. Introduction 1 – 2 3
II. Recent developments 3 – 8 3
III. Applicable international standards and obligations 9 – 19 4
A. To protect individuals from violence 11 – 12 5
B. To prevent torture and ill-treatment 13 – 14 5
C. To decriminalize homosexuality and to repeal other laws used to punish
individuals on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity 15 6
D. To protect individuals from discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation
and gender identity 16 – 17 6
E. To protect rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly and to take
part in the conduct of public affairs 18 – 19 7
IV. Homophobic and transphobic violence 20 – 40 7
A. Context 20 – 25 7
B. Killings 26 – 30 8
C. Other violence, including sexual violence 31 – 33 9
D. Torture and ill-treatment 34 – 38 10
E. Positive developments since 2011 39 – 40 11
V. Discrimination 41 – 75 12
A. Discriminatory laws 43 – 49 12
B. Discriminatory practices 50 – 70 14
C. Positive developments since 2011 71 – 75 19
VI. Conclusions and recommendations 76 – 81 20
A. States 78 – 79 20
B. National human rights institutions 80 21
C. Human Rights Council 81 22
1. In 2011, pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 17/19, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights submitted a report to the Council in which she described a pattern of discrimination and violence directed at people in all regions on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity.1 Almost three years on, in its resolution 27/32, the Council requested the High Commissioner to update the above-mentioned report with a view to sharing good practices and ways to overcome violence and discrimination, in application of existing international human rights law and standards.
2. The present report draws on recent findings of United Nations human rights bodies, regional organizations and non-governmental organizations, and information submitted by Governments, including 28 replies to a note verbale addressed to Member States on 29 December 2014.2
II. Recent developments
3. In recent years, Governments in all regions have pursued a variety of initiatives aimed at reducing levels of violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. For example, since 2011, 14 States have adopted or strengthened anti-discrimination and hate crime laws, extending protection on grounds of sexual orientation and/or gender identity and, in two cases, also introducing legal protections for intersex persons. Three States have abolished criminal sanctions for homosexuality; 12 have introduced marriage or civil unions for same-sex couples nationally; and 10 have introduced reforms that, to varying degrees, make it easier for transgender persons to obtain legal recognition of their gender identity.
4. In dozens of countries, police, judges, prison guards, medical staff and teachers are receiving gender and sexuality sensitivity training, anti-bullying programmes have been launched in schools, and shelters have been built to house homeless lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth. Popular television programmes have integrated LGBT characters in a positive way and celebrities have helped to raise awareness by “coming out” as LGBT persons themselves or speaking out in support of members of the LGBT community. In all regions, LGBT and intersex3 human rights defenders are more vocal and visible – in several cases successfully challenging in the courts attempts by authorities to restrict their legitimate activities.
5. While these advances are welcome, they are overshadowed by continuing, serious and widespread human rights violations perpetrated, too often with impunity, against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. Since 2011, hundreds of people have been killed and thousands more injured in brutal, violent attacks – some of which are chronicled below. Other documented violations include torture, arbitrary detention, denial of rights to assembly and expression, and discrimination in health care, education, employment and housing. These and related abuses warrant a concerted response from Governments, legislatures, regional organizations, national human rights institutions and civil society, as well as from United Nations bodies – the Human Rights Council included.
6. Concerns regarding the extent and gravity of violence and discrimination against LGBT and intersex persons have been raised repeatedly by United Nations human rights treaty bodies and special procedures. In recent years, the Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR) has published a range of guidance and public information materials – including factsheets, booklets and short videos – and has sought to engage States in a constructive dialogue on ways to better protect the rights of LGBT and intersex persons. In July 2013, the High Commissioner launched UN Free & Equal (www.unfe.org), a global education campaign to combat homophobia and transphobia that has so far reached more than a billion people around the world through events and via traditional and social media.
7. The rights of LGBT persons have also been a focus of work going on across the wider United Nations system. In his message to the Oslo Conference on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, the Secretary-General described the fight against homophobia and transphobia as “one of the great, neglected human rights challenges of our time” and pledged to work for an end to criminalization and for action to tackle violence and prejudice. United Nations agencies are increasingly integrating issues of sexual orientation and gender identity into their programmatic work, including in the areas of development, education, labour rights, child rights, gender equality, refugee protection, HIV and public health.4
8. Human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity have also been addressed by regional organizations in Africa, the Americas and Europe. In 2014, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights passed a resolution in which it condemned violence and other human rights violations based on real or imputed sexual orientation and gender identity; the Organization of American States approved its seventh resolution on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity, having in 2013 adopted the Convention against all forms of Discrimination and Intolerance, which addresses these issues; the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights established the mandate of Rapporteur on the rights of LGBT and intersex persons, having established a dedicated unit in 2011; the European Union adopted guidelines on the promotion and protection of human rights of LGBT and intersex persons, and both the European Parliament and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted resolutions on the subject; and the European Court of Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued several judgements affirming the rights of LGBT persons to equal treatment and protection under the law.
III. Applicable international standards and obligations
9. Application of international human rights law is guided by the fundamental principles of universality, equality and non-discrimination. All human beings, irrespective of their sexual orientation and gender identity, are entitled to enjoy the protection of international human rights law with respect to the rights to life, security of person and privacy, to freedom from torture and ill-treatment, discrimination and arbitrary arrest and detention, and to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, and all other civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.
10. States have well-established obligations to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of all persons within their jurisdiction, including LGBT and intersex persons. These obligations extend to refraining from interference in the enjoyment of rights, preventing abuses by third parties and proactively tackling barriers to the enjoyment of human rights, including, in the present context, discriminatory attitudes and practices. Specific related obligations are elaborated below, building on analysis in the previous report (A/HRC/19/41) and evolving work of United Nations human rights mechanisms.
A. To protect individuals from violence
11. States have an obligation to exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate, punish and redress deprivation of life and other acts of violence. United Nations mechanisms have called upon States to fulfil this obligation by taking legislative and other measures to prohibit, investigate and prosecute all acts of targeted, hate-motivated violence and incitement to violence directed at LGBT and intersex persons, and to provide remedy to victims and protection against reprisals.5 They have called for State officials to publically condemn such acts, and to record statistics on such crimes and the outcomes of investigations, prosecutions and remedial measures.6 The application of the death penalty on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity violates fundamental State obligations to protect the rights to life, privacy, equality before the law and freedom from discrimination.7
12. States also have an obligation not to return refugees to places where life or freedom would be threatened on account of actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity.8
B. To prevent torture and ill-treatment
13. States have an obligation to protect all persons, including LGBT and intersex persons, from torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in custodial, medical and other settings. This obligation extends to prohibiting, preventing, investigating and providing redress for torture and ill-treatment in all contexts of State control, including by ensuring that such acts are offences under domestic criminal law.9 State responsibility is engaged if public officials, including prison and police officers, directly commit, instigate, incite, encourage, acquiesce in or otherwise participate or are complicit in such acts, as well as if officials fail to prevent, investigate, prosecute and punish such acts by public or private actors.10
14. The medical practices condemned by United Nations mechanisms in this context include so-called “conversion” therapy, forced genital and anal examinations, forced and otherwise involuntary sterilization and medically unnecessary surgery and treatment performed on intersex children.11
C. To decriminalize homosexuality and to repeal other laws used to punish individuals on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity
15. States have an obligation to protect the rights to privacy, liberty and security of the person, including the right not to be subjected to arbitrary arrest and detention. United Nations mechanisms have called upon States to fulfil these obligations by repealing laws used to punish individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity, including laws criminalizing homosexuality and cross-dressing, and have rejected attempts to justify such laws on grounds of the protection of public health or morals.12 States must refrain from arresting or detaining persons on discriminatory grounds, including sexual orientation and gender identity.13
D. To protect individuals from discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity
16. The protection of rights to equality before the law, equal protection of the law and freedom from discrimination is a fundamental obligation of States under international law, and requires States to prohibit and prevent discrimination in private and public spheres, and to diminish conditions and attitudes that cause or perpetuate such discrimination.14 To this end, States should enact comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation that includes sexual orientation and gender identity among protected grounds.15 States should review and repeal discriminatory laws and address discrimination against LGBT and intersex persons, including in the enjoyment of the rights to health, education, work, water, adequate housing and social security.16
17. States also have obligations to address discrimination against children and young persons who identify or are perceived as LGBT or intersex. This includes harassment, bullying in schools, lack of access to health information and services, and coercive medical treatment.17 United Nations mechanisms have called upon States to legally recognize transgender persons’ preferred gender, without abusive requirements, including sterilization, forced medical treatment or divorce.18 They have called upon States to develop education campaigns and train public officials to combat stigma and discriminatory attitudes, to provide victims of discrimination with effective and appropriate remedies, and to ensure that perpetrators face administrative, civil or criminal responsibility, as appropriate.19 States should also provide legal recognition and protection to same-sex couples20 and protect the rights of their children, without discrimination.21
E. To protect rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly and to take part in the conduct of public affairs
18. States have obligations to protect rights to freedom of thought and expression, association and peaceful assembly without discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity. To that end, they should review and repeal discriminatory provisions in domestic legislation that have a disproportionate impact on the exercise of these rights by LGBT persons and others advocating for their rights. States should refrain from directly interfering with these rights and protect LGBT persons exercising these rights from attacks and reprisals through preventive measures and by investigating attacks, prosecuting perpetrators and ensuring remedy for victims.22
19. States must protect the right to take part in the conduct of public affairs, without discrimination, and ensure that LGBT and intersex persons and organizations defending their rights are consulted with regard to legislation and policies that affect their rights.23 States should take measures to empower LGBT and intersex persons, and to facilitate their participation in economic, social and political life.24
IV. Homophobic and transphobic violence25
20. Due diligence requires States to ensure the protection of those at particular risk of violence – including, in the present context, those targeted because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.
21. United Nations human rights mechanisms continue to receive reports of homophobic and transphobic violence committed in all regions. Such violence may be physical (including murder, beatings, kidnapping and sexual assault) or psychological (including threats, coercion and the arbitrary deprivation of liberty, including forced psychiatric incarceration). These attacks constitute a form of gender-based violence, driven by a desire to punish individuals whose appearance or behaviour appears to challenge gender stereotypes.
22. In addition to “street” violence and other spontaneous attacks in public settings, those perceived as LGBT remain targets of organized abuse, including by religious extremists, paramilitary groups and extreme nationalists.26 LGBT and gender non-conforming youth are at risk of family and community violence. Lesbians and transgender women are at particular risk because of gender inequality and power relations within families and wider society.27
23. Violence motivated by homophobia and transphobia is often particularly brutal, and in some instances characterized by levels of cruelty exceeding that of other hate crimes.28 Violent acts include deep knife cuts, anal rape and genital mutilation, as well as stoning and dismemberment.29
24. United Nations experts have condemned the persistence of impunity for these violations and repeatedly called for investigation, prosecution and punishment, and reparations for victims.30 Reported shortcomings include ineffective police action, failure to register cases, loss of documents, inappropriate classification of acts, including physical assault as a minor offence, and investigations guided by stereotypes and prejudices.31
25. In most countries, the absence of effective systems for recording and reporting hate-motivated violence, or “hate crimes”, against LGBT persons masks the true extent of violence. Where they exist, official statistics tend to understate the number of incidents.32 Victims are often reluctant to report their experiences for fear of extortion, breach of confidentiality or reprisals. In addition, prejudicial and inexact categorization of cases results in misidentification, concealment and underreporting.33 Failure to investigate, prosecute and punish violations when reported also contributes to incomplete assessments of the scale of violence.34
26. Hate-motivated killings of LGBT individuals have been documented in all regions. The Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions has noted “grotesque homicides” perpetrated with broad impunity, allegedly at times with the “complicity of investigative authorities” (A/HRC/26/36/Add.1, para. 85). Treaty bodies, special procedures and United Nations agencies continue to express alarm at such killings and related patterns of violence, including the murder of transsexual women in Uruguay35 and of Black lesbian women in South Africa.36 In an assault in Chile, a gay man was beaten and killed by neo-Nazis, who burned him with cigarettes and carved swastikas into his body.37
27. Data are patchy but, wherever available, suggest alarmingly high rates of homicidal violence. In Brazil, one of relatively few countries where the Government publishes an annual report on homophobic violence, the authorities documented 310 murders in 2012 in which homophobia or transphobia was a motive.38 The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights reported 594 hate-related killings of LGBT persons in the 25 States members of the Organization of American States between January 2013 and March 2014.39 In its resolution 275, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights condemned increasing violence and other human rights violations based on imputed or real sexual orientation or gender identity. The European Parliament (resolution 2013/2183(INI) and the Council of Europe (resolution 1948 (2013) have also regularly expressed their concerns.
28. Reporting from non-governmental organizations underscores the prevalence of fatal violence. The Trans Murder Monitoring project, which collects reports of homicides of transgender persons in all regions, lists 1,612 murders in 62 countries between 2008 and 2014, equivalent to a killing every two days.40 The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs in the United States of America reported 18 hate violence homicides and 2,001 incidents of anti-LGBT violence in the United States in 2013.41
29. Terrorist groups may target LGBT persons for punishment, including killings.42 In February 2015, photos appeared to show several men, allegedly accused of homosexual acts, being pushed off a tower to their deaths by militants of the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).43
30. LGBT persons have also been victims of so-called “honour” killings, carried out against those seen by family or community members to have brought shame on a family, often for transgressing gender norms or for sexual behaviour, including actual or assumed homosexual conduct.44
C. Other violence, including sexual violence
31. United Nations experts continue to express their alarm at non-lethal violence directed at individuals on the grounds of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Examples include cases of gay men who have been kidnapped, beaten and humiliated, with film clips of their abuse shared on social media,45 and of lesbians assaulted and raped because of their sexual orientation.46 In the Syrian Arab Republic, there have been reports of rape and torture of men assumed to be gay perpetrated by security agents and by non-State armed groups.47 Concerns have also been expressed about the risk to human rights defenders working to uphold the rights of LGBT persons, some of whom have been subjected to violence, threats and verbal denigration.48
32. In the United States, recent government figures show that the number of bias-motivated incidents based on sexual orientation ranks second only to racist incidents among single-bias hate crimes.49 A Europe-wide survey of 93,000 LGBT persons conducted in 2013 for the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights found that a quarter of all respondents had been attacked or threatened with violence in the previous five years.50 A survey conducted in 2012 by the non-governmental organization Stonewall in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland found that one in six LGBT respondents had experienced a hate crime or incident in the previous three years; of those, 75 per cent had not reported the experience to the police.51
33. Treaty bodies and special procedures continue to express concern at rhetoric used to incite homophobic and transphobic hatred and related violence.52 Such language is used by some political and community leaders to promote negative stereotypes, stir up prejudice and harass particular individuals, especially during electoral periods. The High Commissioner has expressed concern at inflammatory rhetoric used in Belarus, the Gambia and Honduras.53 The Committee on the Rights of the Child has criticized statements by the Holy See as contributing to the stigmatization of, and violence against, LGBT adolescents and children raised by same-sex couples,54 and about the negative impact of hate speech on LGBT and intersex adults and children in Switzerland.55