Drissa Traoré, FIDH Secretary General: ‘An attack on the rights of LGBTQIA+ people is an attack on human rights in their universality. Mobilising everywhere on their behalf is imperative.’

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L’œil du plafond / FIDH

To mark International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia on 17 May this year, Drissa Traoré, FIDH Secretary General delivered his analysis of the situation of LGBTQIA+ people internationally and called for universal recognition of their rights as a matter of urgency.

LGBTQIA+ is an abbreviation signifying people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or transsexual, queer, intersex or asexual. The + indicates that these categories are not necessarily fixed or exhaustive.

What is the state of play internationally for LGBTQIA+ people in 2023?
Unfortunately, we cannot talk generally about positive developments. We are seeing an overall reversal in the situation, with attendant discrimination, stigmatisation, hate speech and incitement to violence. Equal rights are not always guaranteed as regards options for civil unions, access to housing and employment, access to healthcare and also to treatment for HIV, and as regards the discrimination and stigmatisation of people living with the virus as well as of homosexuality in general. This is the reality in numerous countries.

“It is more difficult to speak out and harder to be listened to.”

The organisations which defend the rights of LGBTQIA+ people face numerous difficulties with taking action, primarily as regards registering with the authorities. At present, the loudest voices are anti-LGBTQIA+, while those people defending this community face countless threats, making it very difficult to speak out in public and harder to be listened to. The anti-rights and anti-gender movements use the rhetoric of anticolonialism. In attacking the rights of LGBTQIA+ people, they use the pretext of opposing a ‘western agenda’ and defending traditional values. But this is false and highly dangerous. The universality of human rights demands that we defend the rights of all worldwide. This is an extremely worrying development, when the message we want to put across is quite simply that of the ‘right to be oneself’, as referred to by António Guterres in his speech on the 11 May this year.

For fear of reprisals, human rights defenders themselves (and we are not talking here about LGBTQIA+ activists) are not always prepared to tackle this issue and support this struggle in some regions of the world. In Uganda, for example, with the new law adopted by parliament (and awaiting enactment by the President of the Republic), criminalisation could also extend to those providing support to the LGBTQIA+ community. Despite the difficulties encountered by human rights defenders, they must be celebrated for the worthwhile work they carry out as they courageously attempt to change mindsets by assisting those discriminated against and attacked. Human rights defenders often undertake to do so at some risk to their own safety and freedom; Turkey, Iran and Thailand are just a few examples.

Is the violence against LGBTQIA+ people specific in nature?
Over and above the violence inherent in the regulatory framework, there is societal violence which condemns, censures and even incites attacks on LGBTQIA+ people. To be an LGBTQIA+ person is often to be unprotected or not listened to by law enforcement officers when submitting a complaint about an attack. In such instances, the attitude of agents of the security forces fosters a sense of impunity that is particularly devastating and undermines the safety of individuals as well as the rule of law.

What can be done to improve the situation?
The most critical issue is to improve the legal and social situation of LGBTQIA+ people without provoking hostile reactions in society. To do so first requires the mobilisation of all stakeholders, and not just LGBTQIA+ activists: the general expectation is that human rights defenders will do so. This is extremely important, as it will help secure acceptance of the universality of the rights of LGBTQIA+ people, a wish that has not yet been realised.
Second, we need a method: not everything can stem from legislation. Given the reversals observed internationally, we must begin to work on the perceptions of populations and organisations in advance of legislation. Passing a protective law without society’s prior acceptance is an enterprise that is doomed to failure.

“The question of the universality of rights lies at the heart of the matter.”

The question to bear in mind is that of the universality of rights: currently, the principle of universal rights is accepted only on the basis of variable parameters. On some aspects, such as freedom, equality, and the right to education, there is clear consensus as to their universal nature for the benefit of all, whatever the cultural context. The problem is that in some societies, the rights of LGBTQIA+ people are not perceived as forming part of human rights, being supposedly ‘unnatural’. There is thus a real fundamental issue here regarding universality and the LGBTQIA+ question, and it is imperative that everyone is made to understand that human rights are for all without exception.

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