Human rights abuses are “rampant” and we need to act quickly and decisively, say campaigners

BY SAURAV DUTT AND MANDY SANGHERA

The LGBTQIA community in the world has never been in a more precarious position than at the current time. So much work has to be done, for if you are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and/or questioning, intersex or asexual, there is a pervasive threat of discrimination and human rights abuses rampant in the vast majority of countries in the world. 

These aggressions range from the loss of jobs, to inadequate provision of housing, transgressing into the threat of violence, extreme violence itself, and in the most horrific cases, murder.

One of the key ways we can measure this in the past, and especially now, is in the number of claims of asylum due to sexual orientation and the threats that arise from living within your own skin. Indeed the numbers are rising and this may be unsurprising given that approximately 80 countries still criminalise LGBTQIA relationships in some way, and many other laws in various permutations deny even the most basic rights and dignity to LGBTQIA people.

For example, many African countries still deem homosexuality as not only a mental aberration and worthy of scorn, but is deemed to be illegal. This is reinforced by the increased provision of draconian anti-gay laws as well as an uptick in the cases of violence against LGBTQIA citizens.

Away from the African subcontinent, Russia continues to take a myopic and hardfisted approach to the LGBTQIA way of life, passing a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, and in countries like Poland, Hungary and Italy, there are increasing reports of state-sanctioned discrimination and violence against LGBTQIA people. 

As if violence were not enough of a threat, there is the imposition of the death penalty for just the suspicion or possibility of private, consensual same-sex sexual activity. Intention, love, and companionship are irrelevant for in six countries – Iran, Northern Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen – love comes at an incredible cost; and where it is not written into the law as far as sentencing goes, it is always there as a legal possibility to punish and condemn in Afghanistan, Brunei, Mauritania, Pakistan, Qatar and UAE.

Just because the deaths do not always make the headlines do not think that the threat is still not very real. One case did make the headlines last week, yet another honour-based killing in Iran. So called honour-based abuse is a collection of practices used to control behaviour within families in order to protect perceived cultural and religious beliefs and/or honour. Violence can occur when perpetrators perceive that a relative has shamed the family and/or community by breaking their honour code.

Sadly some pay the ultimate price and sadly it was the turn of Alireza Fazeli-Monfared, 20, to be punish according to the strictures of that code. Fazeli-Monfared was reportedly murdered by his brother and cousins on Tuesday 4 May after they discovered the Iranian military had exempted him from service because of the “fact” that he demonstrated “sexual depravities” in his life, in his mind, in his daily life.

Such pejorative language is simply a weapon to demonise homosexuality or any manifestation of LGBTQIA identity no matter what form it may take. For violence, in any form, is a sensitive topic and one that can be incredibly difficult to talk about. Add religion and sexuality to the mix, and it can become even harder. Honour-based violence is exactly that. With cases being seen in religions, this is an issue disproportionately affecting LGBTQIA people and often kept secret behind closed doors. Sadly Alireza Fazeli-Monfared had no recourse to justice or safety, he had to escape, and was planning to flee to Turkey to be with his refugee boyfriend when he was killed. 

Although the right of asylum has been in existence for many centuries, it was officially written into international law in Article 14(1) of the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and later clarified at the 1951 Refugee Convention and in the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.

Under the modern right of asylum, any person facing persecution in their home country may seek asylum, that is protection, in another country or state. Asylum may be sought when persecution happens, or may happen, for any of the following reasons:

Race

Caste

Nationality

Religion

Political opinion

Membership and participation in certain social groups or activities

Sexual persecution and violence, for instance, female genital mutilation

Civil war

Ethnic cleansing

Tribal violence

Sexual or gender orientation

The last five issues mentioned above are not always seen as acceptable reasons for the granting of asylum but the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has urged that these reasons be considered. Sadly a lot of people don’t disclose about their sexuality when applying for asylum due to stigma, shame, and fear.

So what we can we all do? The easiest step is to raise awareness about the cases that come to us and to lobby governments to foster change. For instance, several individuals often reach out to shine a light on the awful experiences they are going through. 

Maryan, 22, from Iran explained that she has been held hostage within a marriage with a man older than her own father, that this man rapes her daily, saying that due to her relatively young age she is not in a position to “know what she wants” and that “I will show you”. Married at 17, Maryan now has three children and has experienced three miscarriages. To compound the situation, her husband has two other wives and she is treated as nothing more than a maid in her own household.

The Islamic Republic of Iran is responsible for facilitating the murder of countless members of the LGBTQIA community in Iran. This community is yearning to be heard by the world. Sadly people don’t understand the definitions of sexual orientations and gender identities or they choose not to recognise them.

As one of the founders of the UK Forced Marriage Unit, and a human rights campaigner I work with, Mandy Sanghera is saddened to hear about so many young people in the Middle East and Africa being forced into marriage to keep face within society and are never able talk about their sexual orientations and gender identity. We believe we have to push for greater awareness as even now, in such a digitally connected world, young people who now want to discuss the Alireza Fazeli-Monfared case are stunned to hear that so much abuse happens across the globe to LGBTQIA communities where they are vilified, ostracised, beat upon, and in even killed in the name of honour.

So let’s educate ourselves and others, spread the word and challenge the prevailing orthodoxy in those communities and countries that refuse to adapt to the modern world. Together we really can educate, empower, and inspire, but we have to take that first step and act honourably on a consistent basis.

The sources below are useful, and these are the major international organisations campaigning for our LGBTQIA community.

ILGA

Human Dignity Trust

Amnesty International

ALL OUT

OUT right

Saurav Dutt is an author, political analyst and human rights campaigner. @sd_saurav

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