LGBT people face torture worldwide
June 28, 2001
First the bad news. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people all over the world are tortured and abused, often at the hands of their own governments and communities.
In Chicago, a gay man arrested after an altercation with his landlord in February 2000, reported that he was severely abused by police, who "handcuffed him by his elbows to a hook on the wall. Allegedly, while one officer walked away (but did not leave the room) the other sodomized him with a billy club, ramming his head against the wall as he did so."
In 1995, a lesbian inmate in California was placed in a men's unit where she was constantly visible to the other prisoners, even when she was in the shower and toilet. A guard sold entry to her cell to male inmates, three of whom raped her.
In Argentina in February 2000, Vanessa Lorena Ledesma, a transgender woman, died five days after being arrested by police. The official report said she died of cardiac arrest, but Ledesma had no heart condition and an autopsy revealed that her body showed signs of torture, including severe bruising.
These and other such stories are included in a report the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission submitted to the United Nations. Amnesty International also detailed cases of torture in its June 22 report, "Crimes of Hate, Conspiracy of Silence: Torture and Ill-treatment Based on Sexual Identity."
Statements by political leaders often encourage a climate of intolerance. In March, Namibian President Sam Nujoma told university students that "the Republic of Namibia does not allow homosexuality, lesbianism here. Police are ordered to arrest you and deport you and imprison you."
There is a direct correlation between anti-gay public statements and the frequency of harassment and abuse directed at LGBT individuals, according to research conducted by the International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) and Human Rights Watch.
Now the good news: The United Nations is finally paying attention to torture of LGBT people.
Earlier this month, six independent U.N. experts, including the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, issued a joint statement reaching out to LGBT communities. They urged activists to contact them about human-rights violations. This is the first time a group of high-level international experts has moved publicly to make LGBT issues part of its mandate. They will report annually to the United Nations on their findings.
But it is up to individual governments to ensure that human-rights violations against LGBT communities do not occur.
Governments need to enact anti-discrimination legislation that protects against unequal treatment based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Governments must also ensure that full support is available, including all necessary legal and social services to all victims of discrimination or violence. Until such measures are taken, activists, human rights defenders and U.N. officials must continue to hold governments accountable for the safety of all people.
We have a long way to go before governments, including our own, decriminalize homosexuality.
Let's work to create a culture of human rights in which all people can live with dignity and integrity.
Surina Khan is the Executive Director of the International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) in San Francisco. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.