LGBTI

 

  • ‘Threats to women’s and LGBTI rights are threats to democracy; any retrogression is unacceptable’

    Recent years have seen an apparently growing tendency for anti-rights groups to seek to claim the space for civil society, including at the intergovernmental level. CIVICUS speaks about it with Gillian Kane,asenior policy advisor for Ipas, a global women’s reproductive health and rights organisation.Founded in 1973, Ipas is dedicated to ending preventable deaths and disabilities from unsafe abortion. Through local, national and international partnerships, Ipas works to ensure that women can obtain safe, respectful and comprehensive abortion care, including counselling and contraception to prevent future unintended pregnancies.

    1. Do you observe any progress on sexual and reproductive rights in the Americas? What are the main challenges looking ahead?

    Ipas has robust programmes in Latin America, and we have definitely seen progress on legislation that increases women’s and girls’ access to safe and legal abortions, including in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Uruguay and Mexico City. Still, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organisation, more than 97 per cent of women of childbearing age in the region live in countries where abortion is restricted or completely banned. A woman who lives in restrictive settings and wants an abortion will have to do so under illegal conditions and at great risk to not just her health, but also her security. Women who have abortions are vulnerable to harassment, intimidation, arrest, prosecution and even jail time.

    We also see that restrictive abortion laws are damaging the provider-patient confidentiality relationship. A study by Ipas and the Georgetown Law School’s O’Neill Institute found that an alarming number of medical staff across Latin America are reporting women and girls to the police for having abortions. Many countries now require, protect or encourage medical providers to breach their confidentiality duties when they treat women seeking post-abortion care.

    1. Are we facing a democratic regression at the global level? Do you think women are being targeted?

    We are indeed facing a democratic regression, and I do think women are being targeted, both which are incredibly alarming. With the United States leading, we’re seeing the rapid degradation of the political and legal infrastructure that is designed to promote and protect the interests of citizens. For example, you see this in attacks against the Istanbul Convention, which is intended combat violence against women. You would think this would be uncontroversial. Yet, there are right-wing groups like the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) objecting to the Convention, claiming that it takes away parental rights and that it promotes gender as social construct, and not as a binary biological truth, as they see it. This is also happening in international spaces. This year at the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women, the US State Departmentappointed two extremists to represent it. One was an executive leader of a known LGBTI-hate group, and the other was from an organisation that has advocated for the repeal of legislation that prevents violence against women. And at the country level, for example in Brazil, conservative leaders are downgrading the power of ministries that promote equal rights for women and black communities.

    But it’s not all doom and gloom. Women are responding forcefully. Poland provides an amazing example of women organising and effecting change. In late 2016 thousands of women and men crowded the major cities of Warsaw and Gdansk to join the ‘Black Monday’ march, to protest against a proposed law banning abortions. The full ban wasn’t enacted, which was a huge victory. And of course, the women’s marches and the #MeToo movement are incredible, and global.

    1. Not many people in Latin America have ever heard of the Alliance Defending Freedom. How is this organisation surreptitiously changing the political conversation in the region?

    ADF is a legal organisation. It was founded in 1994 by a group of white, male, hard-right conservative evangelical Christians. It was designed to be the conservative counterpoint to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which they saw as out to squash their religious liberties. They are huge, and have a global reach, which they say is dedicated to transforming the legal system through Christian witness. To that end they litigate and legislate on issues linked to the freedoms of expression and religion.

    I wouldn’t say that their actions are surreptitious; they’re not deliberately trying to fly under the radar. They are intervening in spaces that don’t necessarily get a lot of news coverage, such as the Organization of American States (OAS). But in recent years they have definitely increased their activism both at the regional and country level in Latin America. In terms of the conversation, what they are doing is reframing rights issues to use religion as a sword, rather than a shield. Right now they are litigating, in the United States Supreme Court, the case of a baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple. As my colleague Cole Parke has explained, they are corrupting religious freedom. They are claiming it is legal to discriminate against a gay couple because of religious beliefs: that religion trumps all other rights. They are doing the same with conscientious objection: they have supported a midwife in Sweden who has refused to provide abortion as required by law. The list goes on.

    1. What strategies have anti-rights groups used, and what accounts for their success in international forums?

    As I have explained in a recent op-ed, in international forums these groups express concern for the wellbeing of children, who they claim are being indoctrinated by permissive governments in the immoral principles of ‘gender ideology’. Of course there is no such thing as a gender ideology, and much less governments forcing children to learn inappropriate material. The wellbeing of children is being used as a cover to disable efforts to enforce rights and protections for girls, women and LGBTI people.

    The 2013 General Assembly of the OAS, held in Guatemala, witnessed the first coordinated movement agitating against reproductive and LGBTI rights. This was, not coincidentally, also the year when the OAS approved the Inter-American Convention against all forms of discrimination and intolerance, which included protections for LGBTI people.

    At the 2014 OAS General Assembly in Paraguay, these groups advanced further and instead of only being reactive, began proposing human rights resolutions in an attempt to create new policies that they claimed were rights-based, but were in fact an attempt to take rights away from specific groups. For instance, they proposed a ‘family policy’ that would protect life from conception, in order to prevent access to abortion.

    From then on, their profile increased with each subsequent assembly, in the same measure that their civility declined. At the 2016 General Assembly in the Dominican Republic, they even harassed and intimidated trans women attending the event as they entered women’s restrooms. As a result, the annual assembly of the OAS, the regional body responsible for promoting and protecting human rights and democracy in the western hemisphere, turned into a vulgar display of transphobic hate.

    1. Should progressive civil society be concerned with the advances made by these groups in global and regional forums? What should we be doing about it?

    Progressive civil society should definitely be concerned. Constant vigilance is needed. There are many ways to respond, but being informed, sharing information and building coalitions is key. I would also recommend that progressive movements think broadly about their issues. Consider how groups like ADF have managed to attack several rights, including abortion, LGBTI and youth rights, using one frame, religion. We need to be equally broad, but anchored, I would argue, in secularism, science and human rights. We started the conversation talking about democracy, and this is where we should end. We need to show how threats to specific rights for women and LGBTI people are threats to democracy. Any retrogression is unacceptable.

    Get in touch with Ipas through theirwebsite or theirFacebook page, or follow @IpasLatina and @IpasOrg on Twitter.

     

  • Belarusian authorities must end suppression of citizens, says CIVICUS

    Johannesburg. 19 May 2011. The recent detention of 14 Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) activists in Minsk is just one more incident in an on-going crackdown on civil society in Belarus, said CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation today. The arrests came as local LGBT groups were gathering in Minsk to commemorate the International Day of Anti-Homophobia on 17 May.

    According to one organiser, Sergei Androsenko, head of the organisation Gay Belarus, the protestors were planning to gather peacefully with the goal of spreading tolerance and understanding, but were detained pre-emptively by police before they could assemble. The fourteen detainees, including Androsenko, were taken to a local police precinct, where they were finger-printed, harassed with slurs and had some of their personal effects confiscated, including a thousand flyers advertising the campaign to ‘legalise love’, before being released.

     

  • BRAZIL: ‘The new government has come to establish a regressive, anti-rights agenda’

    Paula Raccanello Storto

    Portuguese

    In the October 2018 elections, Brazil elected as president a former military officer and far-right populist, Jair Bolsonaro, who ran a particularly aggressive campaign against women’s and LGBTI rights. CIVICUS speaks to Paula Raccanello Storto about the impact that the Bolsonaro administration, which began in January, is already having on civil society. Paula holds a master’s degree in Law from the University of São Paulo and is a lawyer with a long experience in providing services to civil society organisations (CSOs). She is also a researcher at the Catholic University of São Paulo’s Centre for Advanced Third-Sector Studies (PUC-SP-Neats), where she works on issues related to the legal framework for CSOs in Brazil and Latin America and restrictions on the freedom of association.

    Based on what has happened in the few weeks since its inauguration, how would you describe the relationship between the Bolsonaro administration and Brazilian civil society?

    Brazilian civil society is heterogeneous enough to have all kinds of relations with the new government, but if we focus on the subgroup of the most representative rights advocacy organisations it is safe to say that their relationship with the Bolsonaro government has been bad from day one, which has not been exactly a surprise.

    We already knew what Bolsonaro thought of civil society organisations (CSOs). During the campaign he said that if he became president there would be no public money for CSOs and attacked organisations by saying that “those good-for-nothings will have to work.” In the same speech he also said that if it were up to him, “every citizen will have a firearm in their house” and “there will not be a single centimetre of demarcated land for indigenous reservations or quilombola communities” [settlements founded by people of African origin, most of them runaway slaves]. All these statements were clearly contrary to the historical agenda of organised Brazilian civil society, which feels threatened not only by the potential actions of the government to create obstacles that hinder its free action, but also by possible opponents emerging from within society itself, which have viewed the president’s statements as an encouragement to use physical or symbolic violence against the organisations defending those causes. The new government has come to establish a regressive, anti-rights agenda.

    It was for no other reason than this that before the runoff election a group of more than a thousand lawyers and jurists, myself included, signed a manifesto to support then-candidate Fernando Haddad. Regardless of our programmatic differences, all the signatories to that letter knew that in the second round of elections Haddad was the only candidate capable of ensuring continuity and a deepening of the democratic regime with respect for human rights in an environment of peace and tolerance.

    The violence that permeated the latest electoral campaign was striking. A survey conducted by the polling organisation Public, in partnership with Open Knowledge Brasil, revealed that over just 10 days of the campaign there were at least 50 attacks, most of them perpetrated by Bolsonaro supporters against opponents. This legitimation of violence is a particularly worrying fact in a country like Brazil, which has a violent society and a record-breaking number of femicides and murders of environmental leaders and LGBTI people, and is marked by police violence and precarious conditions of imprisonment, with a system that incarcerates mostly black and poor people.

    So the decisions that Bolsonaro made in those first weeks were predictable, although at times we have had difficulty believing our own eyes. One of the first measures of the Bolsonaro government, Provisional Measure (PM) 870/2019, which dealt with the structure of the new Federal Administration, entrusted the Secretariat of the Presidency with the new role of “supervising, coordinating, monitoring and following the activities and actions of international organisations and non-governmental organisations within the national territory.”

    Under the democratic rule of law it is assumed that individuals are free to meet and associate, and they may perform any lawful activity free from state monitoring. The text of PM 870 reveals a clear disregard for the constitutional principles of the rights to the freedom of association and free enterprise. In addition, the idea of creating government structures with broad powers over CSOs is in and by itself a risk because it may lead to the establishment of an undue architecture of state control of private activities. In this regard, PM 870 is unconstitutional and should be modified by the National Congress.

    Do these measures target civil society in general, or are there any specific groups that the government seeks to control?

    PM 870 deals with organisations in general and is therefore an undue interference by the state in the work of international organisations and CSOs. The measure is also of concern because it can result in the monitoring of expressions of independent thought and of civil society’s actions to hold the government accountable, counterbalance political power and defend public freedoms.

    Bolsonaro was elected on the basis of a superficial government programme. He did not participate in any debate with the other candidates and his public statements to friendly TV networks and on Twitter conveyed a developmentalist discourse that was liberal regarding the economy and conservative regarding the advancement of rights, and which resonated with contemporary Brazilian society. His supporters have massively spread fake news through social media to attack certain agendas considered to be progressive, and particularly those related to environmental protection and the rights of minorities.

    After he was elected, Bolsonaro appointed a Minister of Foreign Affairs who has stated that he does not believe in climate change and considers it a Marxist plot. At the head of a so-called Ministry for Women, Family and Human Rights he placed an evangelical preacher who is publicly opposed to abortion for religious reasons. The task of demarcating indigenous lands was moved from the Indian Support Foundation to the Ministry of Agriculture, an agency with interests completely opposed to land demarcation. After backtracking on his previously announced decision to merge the Ministry of the Environment with the Ministry of Agriculture - which caused much controversy and many negative reactions - he put the cherry on top of the cake by celebrating the fact that environmental organisations criticised his appointee to the Ministry of the Environment, a representative of agro-industrial interests who has declared global warming “a secondary issue” and dismissed environmental fines as forms of “ideological persecution.”

    One of the first measures of the new Minister of the Environment was directed against environmental organisations. He issued a resolution that suspended for 90 days the execution of agreements and partnerships with CSOs. Contrary to the notion of sustainable development, the current administration’s approach to environmental issues dates back to a time when environmental preservation and economic and social development were viewed as conflicting goals. But sustainable development is a priority of the global agenda and is enshrined in the Brazilian Federal Constitution and domestic legislation, and therefore it is not up to any particular administration to decide whether its chosen model of national development is to preserve the environment and take care of its population.

    Moreover, since 2014 Brazil has had a law - No. 13,019 of 2014 - that defines the legal relationship between the state and civil society, which was unanimously passed by the National Congress when Jair Bolsonaro was a national representative. This law does not provide for the possibility of a suspension in the way that it was done. The decision by the Minister of the Environment violates the principle of legal certainty, since it disregards contractual relations that have been formalised on the basis of a law. It also defies administrative efficiency, as it cancels activities in which the Brazilian state has invested public resources, including the time and work of public servants.

    In what other ways has the space for civil society in Brazil been affected since the election of Bolsonaro?

    The administration has not been up and running long enough for us to assess the impact of the measures it has taken. The Bolsonaro government is only completing its first month now. But I would point out some issues that even at such an early stage already draw my attention. One is the choice of people who are notoriously opposed to certain agendas to lead politically and administratively the agencies that are key to their implementation - a classic case of the fox guarding the henhouse, as the popular saying goes. Another issue is the lack of recognition of LGBTI people as holders of rights and subjects of human rights policies, and the extinction of spaces for civil society participation in public policy, such as the National Council for Food and Nutrition Security, a space for social participation adopted by Brazil in the area of food and nutritional security that has been held up by many other countries as an example.

    It is also important to note that the government has issued decrees on issues that bring significant setbacks to CSOs’ agendas, such as easing the purchase and possession of firearms and weakening the Access to Information Act by expanding the opportunities for public information to be classified as confidential and delegating more power to public officials than in the past, clearly hampering effective transparency.

    How has civil society reacted to these setbacks?

    Civil society is alert, closely following all the decisions made by the new government and organising to seek the reversal of measures that are contrary to human and environmental rights.

    Soon after the publication of the resolution by the Ministry of the Environment, in view of its very negative repercussions and the mobilisation of civil society, the Minister backtracked and issued a new order stating that the implementation of contracts already underway would continue and only new ones would have to keep waiting for approval. However, this change cannot be credited to civil society’s reaction alone, since this kind of behaviour has so far been a trademark of the Bolsonaro administration, which from the campaign onwards has adopted communication strategies inspired by Donald Trump’s. It is clearly possible to identify the intention, at times, to confuse public opinion by creating factoids so that disputes do not happen based on technical analysis, but rather on the basis of a chain of news about absurd measures, social reactions and changes of course by the government, seeking to convey to a section of the population the idea that there is ideological criticism on the part of the left while in contrast the government is willing to correct its mistakes.

    Civil society mobilised against the decision to establish a system of state monitoring of CSOs set out in PM 870, and a diverse and representative collection of Brazilian organisations signed an open letter requesting the rectification of PM 870 in line with the Constitution.

    Soon, in early February, the National Congress will resume work and civil society is getting ready to call on representatives to respect the Constitution and therefore amend the text to strip the government of the power to monitor international bodies and CSOs. The possibility of seeking the protection of the judiciary if Congress keeps the text of the legislation as proposed by the government is also under consideration, as well as resorting to international mechanisms in the event that domestic institutions fail to protect these rights, which are ensured by international treaties of which Brazil is a signatory state party.

    Why is it important for Brazilian civil society to be able to continue doing its work, and what kind of help does it need from international civil society?

    CSOs are key institutions for democracy, as they ensure plurality, diversity, the freedom of expression and respect for minorities. Moreover, only a free and strong civil society provides secure enough foundations for the change in the development model that our country requires.

    The work of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, points in the same direction, emphasising the connection between development and the freedom for organisations to operate, something that is not always apparent to the wider public.

    In her celebrated work Governing the Commons, which earned her the 2009 Nobel Prize in Economics, scholar Elinor Ostrom analysed several case studies on the management of common goods and determined that these are better managed by the community than by the state working in isolation. Her research shows that the management of potentially scarce common goods is more efficient when done by a group formed by people who are directly affected by that good, by means of rules created by the very same group and adapted to local needs and conditions. Within the type of economic arrangement that was the object of Ostrom’s study, the management of common goods was typically carried out by CSOs formed at the community level and aimed at promoting development compatible with the preservation of the environment and the populations that inhabit it.

    Unfortunately, in recent days we saw in Brazil yet another demonstration of the accuracy of Ostrom’s thesis, in the form of the tragiccollapse of a dam owned by the Vale mining company in the municipality of Brumadinho, state of Minas Gerais. This environmental crime took place three years after the collapse of a dam in Mariana, which literally killed the Rio Doce, carrying toxic minerals and destruction more than 500 km down the river, between the disaster site and the sea. News about the Brumadinho case points to the fragile implementation of existing inspection instruments. In this context, it is highly telling that about a month earlier the State Environmental Council had voted favourably, by eight votes to one, to grant new environmental licences to expand Vale's operation of the soon-to-collapse dam. The dissenting vote was cast bythe sole environmental organisation with a seat on the Council, which had warned the supervisory bodies about the risks.

    Examples such as this underscore the important role of civil society in ensuring the model of sustainable development that the world currently needs. Brazilian society needs to realise that loosening environmental regulations and attacking organisations that advance unpopular causes - those of people and territories with scarce financial resources standing up against huge corporations - is exactly what it takes to bury us in the mud of environmental devastation, violence and inequality.

    Right now, it is essential to expand our exchanges with international civil society to understand and seek answers to face the expansion of the forces of this conservative right that simply denies on social media the worth of multilateral mechanisms, the need to reverse climate change and the rights of minorities. What is happening in Brazil should be kept in context, as it is part of the same global movement that is causing setbacks to the rights agenda elsewhere, through a repressive collection of customs and liberal economic policies that fail to take into account the limits to the development process set by human rights and environmental protections.

    Increased coordination of Brazilian organisations with international public and private mechanisms, including those within the justice system, will help ensure the monitoring and visibility of the Brazilian situation, as well as access to international courts, if necessary.

    Investment in international cooperation programmes for joint action among organisations, states, universities and experts will also certainly help to promote enabling environments that are more hospitable to civil society and democracy.

    Civic space in Brazil is rated as ‘obstructed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with Paula Raccanello through her email, .

     

  • CIVICUS condemns the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill

    17 November 2009. Johannesburg, South Africa. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation condemns the introduction of the Anti Homosexuality Bill 2009 in the Uganda Parliament on 14 October 2009. The Bill contains derogatory references to members of the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) community as well as sexual rights activists -- whom it accuses of “seeking to impose their values of sexual promiscuity on the people of Uganda.”

    “The Bill flagrantly violates personal freedom and the guarantee of non-discrimination enshrined under international human rights law,” said Ingrid Srinath, Secretary General of CIVICUS. “It is deeply disturbing that such a Bill that seeks to breach the country’s existing human rights commitments has been introduced in the Ugandan Parliament.”

     

  • Cultural barriers are lifting but legal and political obstacles still hinder gender equality in Chile

    Spanish

    CIVICUS speaks to Natalia Muñoz Castillo, director of International Affairs at the Observatory Against Street Harassment (OCAC), a Chilean civil society organisation that works to make public spaces safe and egalitarian, making them accessible to the most vulnerable, and specifically to women, children, adolescents and LGBTI people.

    1.Why an organisation dedicated to the issue of street harassment? Why is this an important issue in terms of women’s rights?
    While there are indeed other outstanding issues in which women’s lives and health are directly at stake, street sexual harassment is also a real problem in Chile. And it is an issue that is difficult to address because it is supposedly attached to our culture. For a long time it was considered to be part of our Latin American culture and upheld as “the way Chilean men are”, and therefore it was believed that there was nothing you could do to guarantee your safety in the street. We believe it is unfair for women to be second-rate persons and to be forced to use the public space in fear. What we try to do at OCAC is challenge preconceptions, take ownership of public space and promote change so that we can feel safe without being constantly on guard against the possibility of sexual assault. In Chile, giving a woman a “compliment” in the street is widely accepted, it is considered normal and natural; however, it actually violates the right of women to walk around safely. This practice has endured for many years, and in that sense it is “traditional”, but that does not make it acceptable. If it causes you fear and insecurity, and limits your prospects for the only reason that you are a woman – it makes you avoid certain routes, restrict your schedule, change the way you dress or move – then it amounts to gender-based violence.

    2. In which ways does the use of public space – that is, the restrictions linked to the understanding of the place that each is meant to occupy – relate to the broader problem of gender inequality?
    The female gender is generally associated with the private sphere. The privileged participation of males in the public sphere translates into better salaries, greater security in the streets and sexual freedom. When women dare to cross these barriers of patriarchy, societal norms immediately set the limits. If I, a woman, leave the private space and try to move freely in the public space, I become a target for violence. And society will blame me for whatever happens to me: it was my fault because I was in a place where I should not have been, because I was dressed in a way I shouldn’t have, or because I was out at a time when I should have been home. So gender inequality is visible both inside and outside the home. The Observatory focuses on what goes on outside, while other organisations focus on, for instance, sexual violence within the home, dating violence and other violations of rights that occur in the sphere of private or intimate relationships. In sum, OCAC focuses its efforts on addressing sexual violence taking place in the streets, and occurring when women seek to occupy a public space that traditionally, according to societal norms, does not belong to them.

    3. You have probably been told a thousand times: “Chile has a female president, what else do you want?
    That’s exactly right. And we reply: The fact that Chile has a female president [Michelle Bachelet, president in 2006-10 and re-elected in 2014] is no guarantee that all women in our society are being treated equally. In fact, the president herself is portrayed in the media in an extremely sexist fashion. Congress representatives such as former student leaders Camila Vallejo and Karol Cariola also receive sexist press coverage and public opinion also reflects these views. People refer to the president in demeaning ways by focusing on her weight or her body, which has never happened to male presidents. Even when they reach prominent positions in national politics, women are still subjected to violence linked to traits that have nothing to do with their ability to do their jobs. They are permanently questioned and assessed in terms of their “feminine” attributes and for their bodies above anything else.

    4. As feminist activists, have you and your colleagues faced similar stereotypes?
    I am also a teacher, and when I talk to my students about gender issues they often react by saying “but prof, you don’t look like a feminist!” It’s just that I don’t fit into their stereotypes. They say “but you are married”, meaning I am not a lesbian, or they point out that I have long hair, or that I wear makeup, or that I don’t mistreat male students but instead treat them all equally. This surprises them because their point of departure is the characterisation of a feminist as a very angry woman who rejects everything feminine and wants to vent her anger against men – in short, a “feminazi”.

    This conversation helps my students feel that gender issues are much closer to them and gives them a different point of entrance into feminism – by watching my actions, and particularly my emphasis on equal treatment. As representatives of a feminist organisation, we are subjected to public scrutiny, so we need to be careful of, for instance, the ways we refer to men and women. And we strongly insist that the current situation is not the fault of individual men, but of the patriarchal structure within which all of us, both men and women, have been raised.

    In fact, although there are many women in our organisation, and our directors are all female (for reasons of experience with these issues as well as trajectory within the organisation), ours is not strictly a women’s organisation, since many males also work in it.

    5. On its website, the Observatory does not define itself as a feminist organisation. Is that label still too much weight to carry?
    This was a discussion that we did have in the beginning. When the organisation was founded, in 2013, there was still some fear of the connotations the label could carry. Still then, being a feminist was not “cool” in Latin America, it was not in fashion, so the label was not all that desirable. But after a while we realised that what we were doing was grounded in feminism, and that we needed to claim the label and see what happened – and if it was not well received, then bad luck. So we started presenting ourselves as feminists, as we do on Twitter and Facebook.

    As our work began to take hold – our posters were there in the metro, our memes circulated on social media – we noticed feminism was becoming more popular among younger generations. Among young women, today it is almost unconceivable not to be a feminist. I may have a biased perspective, because I am talking about the people I interact with in my surroundings, but nowadays my students are very aware of what harassment is, they recognise gender differences and inequalities, they know that respect requires and understand what things should not be done… I am not sure I would say feminism is now fashionable, but at least it is more normal: you can say you are a feminist and you will not be attacked from all flanks. It is possible to have a meaningful conversation, and even to quote feminist organisations to support your argument… this may have something to do with access to information, which is much more open today. Internet access has educated the public on these issues.

    6. What strategies – advocacy, campaigning, mobilisation – does OCAC use?
    As an organisation we work in various fields, and we work in teams of professionals specialised in law, sociology and political science, communications and design, and psychology, pedagogy and social work, depending on the case. The International Networks team, which I lead, works alongside “sister” organisations in several Latin American countries: Bolivia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Uruguay. In some of these countries, and particularly in Guatemala and Nicaragua, the situation is much more difficult than in Chile. Here in Chile, street sexual harassment usually takes less-than-drastic forms: you feel insecure and limited in your freedom, but phenomena such as gang rapes are rare, while they are fairly common in other countries.

    So we collaborate with our counterparts in these countries by producing joint campaigns at the regional level and supporting the communications work of our weaker nodes. For those countries where violence against women and girls is more serious, such as Guatemala, we have devised stronger awareness-raising campaigns. The demands we put forward for our governments to address are not the same everywhere: in those cases, for instance, rather than a law against street harassment more basic security measures are required, including protection against femicide. We try to be a source of support for these organisations, because they also feel much more abandoned by the law than we do. After all, civil society organisations mostly have one another for support.

    In turn, the Legal Advisory team provides legal support to victims of street sexual harassment, and it was also the one that drafted and promoted the Law of Street Respect (Ley de Respeto Callejero) that is currently under discussion in the Chilean Senate Human Rights Commission. The Communications team works in sharing experiences, making public denunciations and generating content for campaigns. We also have a Studies team whose research feeds into public debate, outreach efforts and campaigns; an Interventions team that works with communities, schools and public opinion to educate the public about street harassment, and also accompanies victims; and a Management and Projects team that develops alliances, seeks donations and guarantees funding for our initiatives.

    It is important to note that while we emerged as an organisation with a focus on street sexual harassment, which is therefore at the core of our work, we embrace the feminist demand in its entirety. We therefore have a clear-cut position on femicide and we support the #NiUnaMenos (“not one less”) campaign and the legalisation of abortion. However, street mobilisation does not rank high among our strategies: although we regularly join in mobilisations summoned by other organisations, OCAC itself rarely calls for mobilisation. Rather than massively taking to the streets, we focus on using to our favour a variety of platforms – social media, traditional media, institutional spaces, communications with elected officials – that are available for citizens to make themselves heard. We consider ourselves to be neither street feminists nor academic feminists, but we rather try to spread our message throughout society. So we try to be present in the media, in schools and universities as well as in streets, marketplaces and public squares.

    A recent campaign we took out there was #Notedavergüenza (“Aren’t you ashamed”). We addressed it to men, whom we invited to reflect on consent in order to understand that, in the absence of explicit consent, many behaviours that are relatively common in fact constitute sexual violence. Besides spreading it on social media, we took the campaign to street markets in order to talk to people about it. Our goal is to establish a dialogue, introduce our organisation to people and have them commit to making a change and spreading it.

    6. Have you faced any obstacles, cultural or otherwise, when doing this work?
    Cultural obstacles are there, but mostly among older generations. Chile was the last country in the region to legalise divorce, and is among those that still ban abortion under any circumstances. However, this is a legacy of the dictatorship (1973-1990) rather than a deeply rooted cultural trait. In fact, until the late 1960s Chilean women had access to therapeutic abortion, under lax conditions that made it relatively accessible. It was under the Pinochet regime that legislation went back to unmitigated prohibition, and this remained untouched as democracy was restored, among other reasons because the coalition that came to power and ruled for many years was either led by or prominently included the Christian Democratic Party. Thus the law remained aligned with Christian doctrine.

    While the law remained frozen in time, citizens’ mentality changed. And in some areas, and to some extent, this had repercussions on the law, which began to give way. This was the case of Law No. 20830, passed in 2015, which regulated civil unions for same-sex couples. This happened because the younger generation is more open on these issues than their predecessors. My parents’ generation grew up under the dictatorship, so they grew up in fear, and change does not come easy to them.

    In this sense, today’s obstacles are legal and political rather than cultural. Chile’s majority is nominally Catholic, that is, Catholic by tradition rather than out of actual conviction or regular religious practice. The majority of the population takes stances that are more open and tolerant than those of the Church, but the political class is more conservative than public opinion. The Catholic Church continues to wield power and its views are taken into account when decisions are made. That is why, for us, the Catholic Church remains a wall in our way.

    Civic space in Chile is rated as “narrowed” in the CIVICUS Monitor.
    • Get in touch with OCAC through their website, visit their Facebook page, or follow @ocacchile on Twitter. You can also sign to support the campaign against street harassment at www.respetocallejero.cl

     

  • Gay activist murder part of trend of deteriorating rights: CIVICUS

    Johannesburg. 28 January 2011. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is greatly saddened by the news of the tragic murder of prominent gay rights activist David Kato in Uganda on 26 January 2011. CIVICUS calls upon the government of Uganda to carry out an immediate and independent investigation into the murder and bring the perpetrators to justice.

     

  • INDIA: When justice is on your side, you have to keep on fighting

    Flickr: Anand Grover

    After years of civil society campaigning and legal action, gay sex was decriminalised in India in 2018. CIVICUS speaks to Anand Grover, Senior Advocate and Director of Lawyers Collective, a civil society organisation that led the campaign. Lawyers Collective seeks to empower andchange the status of marginalised groups through the effective use of law and engagement in human rights advocacy, legal aid and litigation. Founded in 1981, Lawyers Collective uses the law as a tool to address critical issues such as gender-based violence, sexual harassment in the workplace, sexual and reproductive rights, LGBTI rights and access to medicine and healthcare.Anand is known for his legal activism around homosexuality and HIV/AIDS. From 2008 to 2014 he was the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health and is currently an acting member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy.

    Homosexuality is still criminalised in about 70 countries around the world, but no longer in India. What is the significance of this change?

    In September 2018, when the Supreme Court decriminalised consensual adult sex in private, it meant a lot to many people in India. Section 377 of the Penal Code criminalised all forms of so-called ‘unnatural sex’, that is, penal non-vaginal sexual acts. Section 377 ostensibly applied to both heterosexuals and homosexuals, and to gay men and lesbian women, but it was mostly used as a tool in the hands of the police to harass, extort and blackmail gay men. It prevented gay men from seeking legal protection from violence, for fear that they would end up being penalised for sodomy. Criminalisation resulted in stigma and prejudice, which in turn perpetuated a culture of silence around homosexuality and resulted in rejection at home and discrimination in the workplace and public spaces.

    Not surprisingly, when we first challenged Section 377 in 2001, nobody wanted to become a petitioner; homosexuality was so stigmatised that nobody wanted to come forward. It was only in 2009, when the High Court of Delhi first decriminalised it, that people started coming out into the open.

    The recent Supreme Court ruling lifted such a heavy burden from many people that we call it the second independence of India – the independence of all these groups that were still criminalised by a British law. Section 337 was imposed in 1861, under colonial rule. Before the British came, sexual practices were not criminalised in India.

    As an immediate result of the legal change, people now can be open about their sexualities. People who got married abroad are now throwing receptions to celebrate their marriages. This was unheard of in India before September 2018. It is quite new for people to declare willingly that they are gay and be seen as a normalised part of society. The other day I interviewed somebody for a job, and she said she was bisexual – and nobody had asked her about it, we asked her about her aspirations, her thoughts about society, and she just said, ‘I’m bisexual and I am happy about all that is happening’, and that was that. We will, hopefully, become a more pluralistic society, at least in terms of sexuality.

     

    Can this change be claimed as a victory for Indian civil society? What role did the Lawyers’ Collective and other civil society organisations (CSOs) play in the process?

    This was indeed a big and hard-won victory for civil society. The process was kicked off by the Lawyers’ Collective in 2001 - or even earlier, because it all started with HIV. We began advocating for the rights of people with HIV in the late 1980s, and lost many times, but got our largest victory in 1997, when the Bombay High Court ruled against discrimination in public sector employment on the basis of HIV status.

    After we won the HIV case, many gay men started coming to our office in Mumbai to seek legal advice. And that’s when I realised that the main issue for them was Section 377. It was the biggest impediment to the full expression of sexuality and personhood of LGBTI people.

    We, in the Lawyers Collective, first decided to challenge Section 377 in 1999 or 2000 but couldn’t file a petition because no gay men were ready to come forward. In the meantime, someone else filed a petition in Delhi and it was dismissed. We then had to challenge the constitutionality of Section 377 in Delhi High Court. The Naz Foundation, a Delhi-based CSO working on HIV prevention amongst homosexuals and other men having sex with men, had also reached the same conclusion: Section 377 was one of the biggest obstacles to access to health services by gay men, who tried to stay under the radar due to fear of prosecution.

    In the Delhi High Court, we argued that Section 377 made it difficult for the Naz Foundation to do their job of providing sexual health advice to gay men. We also challenged Section 377 on the grounds that it violated the rights to equality, non-discrimination and freedom of expression, life and personal liberty, which included the rights to privacy, dignity and health.

    In 2009, the Delhi High Court declared that Section 377 was unconstitutional, and therefore decriminalised adult consensual same-sex relations in private. However, 15 Special Leave Petitions (SLPs) against the Delhi High Court’s decision were filed in the Supreme Court, mostly on behalf of faith-based and religious groups, and the government did not file an appeal. Among other interventions in support of the judgment, the Lawyers Collective filed a comprehensive counter affidavit against the SLPs, on behalf of the Naz Foundation. In 2013 the Supreme Court overturned the judgement of the Delhi High Court on the grounds that amending or repealing Section 377 should be in the hands of parliament rather than the judiciary. The Naz Foundation, through the Lawyers Collective and others, then submitted curative petitions. In the meantime some other petitions were filed and in September 2018 the Supreme Court eventually revised its 2013 judgment and concluded that Section 377 was indeed unconstitutional. They basically said: oh, we made a mistake, sorry.

    What are they key lessons you learned from this experience that could help people in other countries who are fighting similar battles?

    The lesson is quite simple: you need to realise that when justice is on your side, you have to keep on fighting and you will eventually win. That is what happened here: we knew that this law, that was arbitrarily imposed by the British, was unjust. We encountered lots of challenges, the fight was a long one, but we were ultimately victorious.

    Are you experiencing backlash? Do you expect anti-rights groups to challenge these gains?

    Not really, not this time. In fact, from 2001 to 2018 we developed a lot of advocacy through the media, and over time the public started understanding the issues, so there’s hardly any backlash now. The process took a long time, so it also gave us time for changes to catch within the mindset of the people.

    I think anti-rights groups are weak on this particular issue, because all major religious groups eventually took sides against criminalisation. We will eventually see backlash when the issue of marriage equality is raised, but not around the decriminalisation of gay sex. And even gay marriage will eventually happen, because it is the logical next step.

    What should be the next agenda item to work on?

    Now we need to move to the next stage in terms of equality between LGBTI people and the rest of the population, including equality and non-discrimination in the private sector, regarding employment, education, health services and so on. Also, laws about sexual assault and rape need to be gender-neutral. This also applies to marriage – it should be defined as a relationship between two people, and so the definition should be gender-neutral. The same goes for inheritance and other things.

    We approach change from two sides: public opinion and the courts. The reason why we choose to work through the courts rather than parliament is that the judiciary is more empathetic to these causes, whereas the parliament is packed with right-wing politicians, so these reforms wouldn’t pass.

    Civic space in India is rated as ‘obstructed’ in theCIVICUS Monitor

    Get in touch with Lawyers Collective through theirwebsite orFacebook page, or follow@LCHIVWRI and@AnandGroverRepo on Twitter

     

  • Joint statement on LGBTI rights: More safeguards needed against violence and discrimination

    35th session of the Human Rights Council
    Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity
    12 June, 2017

    CIVICUS and 23 civil society groups from 12 countries were deprived from delivering this statement during the SOGI ID but given the high number of signatories, we feel compelled to deliver it. 

    Across the world, we are witnessing debilitating restrictions and persecution of LGBTI civil society groups and human rights defenders.  As a movement, LGBTI advocates face compounded restrictions, as they often become the target of government crackdowns. 

    Due to intersectionality there is increasing re-victimization of LGBTI children, young people, women, refugees, persons with disabilities and more. In Tunisia, a public defamation campaign against LGBTI groups was carried out in the media and LGBTI defenders have been attacked. In Pakistan, defenders working on transgender rights continue to be subject to attacks including shootings, rape in police stations and torture. In El Salvador, LGBTI activists are facing hate crimes and harassment and since 2015, seven members of the LGBTI organisation, Muñecas de Arcoiris in Honduras, have been murdered. In South Africa, despite a protective legal framework, LGBTIQ+ people and activists, and women in particular, continue to face extreme levels of violence and discrimination, including targeted rape. In Uganda, the civil society organisation, Sexual Minorities Uganda, is denied access to financial resources and legal registration. The introduction of so-called anti-propaganda laws and closures of civil society organisations in Europe and Central Asia have the effect that LGBTI minors cannot access necessary information on sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics. The restrictions and attacks worldwide against LGBTI groups and human rights defenders often happen with impunity for the perpetrators and complicity from police and law enforcement. 

    To address these concerns, we urge all states to: 1) ensure an enabling environment for and promote the rights to freedom of assembly, association and expression of LGBTI civil society groups and human rights defenders of all ages and including children, 2) guarantee strong safeguards against reprisals faced by LGBTI groups and defenders and; 3) take all necessary measures to independently investigate all attacks, including killings, of LGBTI human rights defenders. 
    We thank you,

    Signatories

    1. ACCIONA A.C. (México)
    2. ARESTA (South Africa)
    3. Asociación Silueta X (Ecuador)
    4. Blue Veins (Pakistan)
    5. Child Rights Connect (International)
    6. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation (International)
    7. Coalición LGBTI en la OEA (Latin America)
    8. Congolese Civil Society (South Africa)
    9. Corporación Caribe Afirmativo (Colombia)
    10. EQUAL GROUND (Sri Lanka)
    11. Federación ecuatoriana de organizaciones LGBTI (Ecuador)
    12. Fundación Diversencia (Bolivia)
    13. Latin American and the Caribbean Network for Democracy (Latin America and the Caribbean)
    14. Lawyers for Human Rights (South Africa)
    15. GALA (South Africa)
    16. Gay and Lesbian Network (South Africa)
    17. Mawjoudin (Tunisia)
    18. Mulabi/ Espacio Latinoamericano de Sexualidades y Derechos (Costa Rica)
    19. Red Latinoamericana GayLatino (Latin America and the Caribbean)
    20. Same Love Toti (South Africa)
    21. Sexual Minorities Uganda (Uganda)
    22. TransAction (Pakistan)
    23. Transparencia Electoral (Argentina)
    24. Triangle Project (South Africa)

     

  • LGBTQI Rights in the Balkans: A Perpetual Struggle

    By Mawethu Nkosana, Crisis Response Fund Administrator at CIVICUS

    Romanian Adrian Coman and his American-born partner Clai Hamilton had two major reasons to celebrate when they tied the knot last June. One of course, was their marriage. The other was the historic legal victory they scored when their case before Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) led to the recognition of same sex marriage for the purpose of freedom of movement in the European Union (EU). The case, challenging current law, represented a significant victory for LGBTQI rights, in particular in Eastern Europe.

    Read on: Inter Press Service

     

     

  • Renew mandate of Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity

    Over 1300 civil society organisations from across the globe call for the renewal of the mandate of the Independent Expert on violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

    Around the world, millions of people face human rights violations and abuses because of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity (SOGI). These abuses include: killings and extrajudicial executions; torture, rape and sexual violence; enforced disappearance; forced displacement; criminalization; arbitrary detentions; blackmail and extortion; police violence and harassment; bullying; stigmatization; hate speech; denial of one’s self defined gender identity; forced medical treatment, and/or forced sterilization; repression of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, religion or belief; attacks and restrictions on human rights defenders; denial of services and hampered access to justice; discrimination in all spheres of life including in employment, healthcare, housing, education and cultural traditions; and other multiple and intersecting forms of violence and discrimination. These grave and widespread violations take place in conflict and non-conflict situations, are perpetrated by State and non-State actors (including the victims’ families and communities) and impact all spheres of life.

    In 2016, this Human Rights Council took definitive action to systematically address these abuses, advance positive reforms and share best practices – through regular reporting, constructive dialogue and engagement – and created an Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

    This Council considered the mandate an essential tool to respond to the vast body of evidence of such violence and discrimination in all world regions and followed recommendations from the UN human rights system – including the Treaty Bodies, the Human Rights Council, its Special Procedures and the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), and the findings of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and many others.

    The two mandate holders have examined these issues in greater depth through reports, country visits, communications, and statements issued in the past three years. They have identified root causes and addressed violence and discrimination faced by specific groups, including lesbian, bisexual, trans and gender diverse persons.

    The mandate has also welcomed progress and identified best practices from all regions of the world, including in decriminalisation, legal gender recognition, anti-discrimination laws and hate crime laws that include SOGI. All the while, continuing to engage in constructive dialogue and assist States to implement and further comply with international human rights law, as well as collaborating with UN mechanisms, agencies, funds and programs and other bodies in international and regional systems.

    For persons of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities globally, this mechanism and its work have been a beacon of hope that violence and discrimination will not be ignored; and since 2016, progress has been made in many areas in all regions, including in countries that have decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual acts, legally recognized a person’s gender identity and promulgated SOGI-inclusive anti-discrimination and hate crimes laws.

    Despite these positive advances, to this day, 69 countries still criminalize consensual same-sex sexual acts, seven with the death penalty. Alarmingly 3000 killings of trans and gender diverse people were reported in 72 countries in the past decade. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans and gender diverse people everywhere face daily discrimination and violence.

    A decision by Council Members to renew this mandate would send a clear message that violence and discrimination against people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities cannot be tolerated. It would reaffirm that specific, sustained and systematic attention is needed to address these human rights violations and ensure that LGBT people can live a life of dignity.

    We 1,316 civil society organisations from 174 States, around the world urge this Council to ensure we continue building a world where everyone can live free from violence and discrimination. To allow this important and unfinished work to continue we urge you to renew the mandate of the Independent Expert on violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

     

  • Statement on alarming trends of reprisals and killings -- 38 UN member states implicated

    Human Rights Council 39th session 
    Joint statement: ISHR & CIVICUS

    Interactive Dialogue with Assistant Secretary-General on the Secretary-General's report on cooperation with the United Nations, it's representatives and Mechanisms in the field of human rights

    Human rights defenders must be able to access and communicate with the UN freely and safely so it can do its crucial work of monitor countries’ compliance with human rights obligations and protect victims from abuse.

    Cases of reprisal are direct barriers to this, and to effective and meaningful civil society participation with the UN. Yet the SG’s reprisals report points to ‘alarming trends’ of reprisals, including killing, torture, arbitrary arrests and detention, travel bans, surveillance, criminalisation, freezing of assets, and stigmatization. 

    This years’ report including an increased number of cases – 45. Including follow up, 38 countries are implicated. This is to say that, In this year alone, 20% of States who by joining the UN—“reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, and dignity and worth of the human person”—attacked or intimidated persons or organisations knocking on the UN’ doors seeking change and a better world.

    The report again documents cases by Council members and candidates, including Bahrain, Burundi, Cameroon, China, Cuba, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Hungary, India, Iraq, Japan, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico, Pakistan, Philippines, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Venezuela. We urge GA members to consider this before voting in Council elections.

    Missing from this year’s report are Chinese defenders WANG Qiaoling and LI Wenzu, the wives of two detained lawyers who have been intimidated and harassed; CAO Shunli, who was detained in September 2013 prior to boarding a flight for Geneva, where she was going to participate in China-related U.N. training sessions, and who died in detention after authorities denied her adequate medical care; and Dolkun Isa, a Uyghur activist, who was denied entry into the meeting of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York in April 2018.

    We welcome the Report’s recommendation that the UN do more to ensure the experiences of LGBTI persons facing reprisals for their advocacy are documented, disaggregated, and properly analyzed, seeking to minimize additional risk.

    In practice, the Council’s discussion of cases in the Report and follow-up to those cases has not been systematic. What we see now is defenders dissuaded from engaging because the cost is too high. What we need is for States to turn away from repression and attacks, because the cost to them is too high. 

    We welcome the statement made today by Germany on Egyptian defender Ebrahim Metwally and we urge more States to stand up for the critical voices of human rights defenders and seize the opportunity to take up cases in the report during future interactive dialogues.

    The SG concludes in his report that the UN is seeing evidence of self-censorship with regard to engagement, including people too afraid to speak to the UN, both in the field and at headquarters in New York and Geneva. What more can be done by the UN and others to effectively and proactively address this situation to minimize risk to those engaging and ensure that the UN can effectively fulfill its mandate?
     

     

  • UN General Assembly vote today: CIVICUS calls on South Africa to reject attempts at the UN to block the appointment of the first-ever independent LGBTI expert

    Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS urges the South African government to reject attempts at the UN to block the appointment of the first-ever independent expert on sexual orientation and gender identity. A vote is due today at the UN General Assembly in New York to overturn the appointment of the expert which was mandated by the Geneva based UN Human Rights Council in June this year following a resolution.  

    The current situation has arisen out of a move by the 54 members of the Africa Group to suspend the September 2016 appointment of Thai international lawyer, Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn as the first UN Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Independent Expert, who began his work on 1 November, is responsible for monitoring and reporting on implementation of international human rights standards to overcome violence and discrimination against LGBTI persons.

    “The creation of the mandate of the Independent Expert reflects the sustained and concerted efforts of a broad coalition of civil society stakeholders, UN bodies and states against violence and discrimination against the LGBTI community,” said Mandeep Tiwana Head of Policy and Research for CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance. “We hope South Africa will stand firm on its constitutional commitment against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.”

    In a global climate of continued prejudice and hostility against the LGBTI community, a vote to suspend the work of the Independent Expert would undermine the development of crucial international mechanisms to ensure that LGBTI individuals and groups subject to discrimination, harassment and attacks at home access have access to necessary protections and scrutiny. According to global civil society group the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), over 70 countries maintain laws that criminalise same sex relations.

    CIVICUS urges South Africa to take a principled position in line with its constitutional values by (i) voting against the resolution to defer the appointment of an Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and (ii) by engaging the states opposed to the expert’s mandate on the need to uphold not undermine the international human rights framework.  

    Note to editors

    In June 2016, the UN Human Rights Council, the world’s premier human rights body adopted Resolution 32/2 establishing the mandate of the Independent Expert. The resolution, presented by the governments of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico and Uruguay, was approved by the 47 member UN Human Rights Council. The resolution expands and elaborates on two prior resolutions including in 2011, led by South Africa, and in 2014 led by Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Uruguay to counter and violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

     

     

     

     

  • Urgent call to release 19 detained members of the LGBTI community in Uganda

    CIVICUS calls on the Ugandan authorities to release 19 members of the LGBTI community who have been arrested on trumped up charges, under the pretext of curbing the spread of COVID-19.

    All 19 have been charged with, “committing a negligent act likely to spread the infection of disease,” and, “disobedience of lawful orders.” However, the Ugandan authorities have a history of targeting members of the LGBTI community:

    “The Ugandan authorities have a track record of targeting LGBTI activists and subjecting them to arbitrary arrest and detention. The arrests have nothing to do with violating COVID-19 social distancing rules, but are based on the state’s prejudice against the LGBTI community – this has been the case even before the COVID-19 pandemic. There is no justification for these arrests and the activists should be released immediately,” says Mawethu Nkosana, LGBTI Advocacy & Campaigns Lead, CIVICUS.

    “Detention centres and jails are congested places where the virus can easily spread. As we work together to curb the impact of COVID-19, we call for the immediate release of the 19 activists – they are at risk of contracting the virus and are not guilty of any crime.”

    Background

    On 29 March 2020, the Ugandan authorities raided the premises of Children of the Sun Foundation (COSF), an NGO in Kyengera, Wakiso district. This is a shelter for the LGBTI community. The authorities arrested 23 individuals and charged 19 for allegedly violating rules which prevent large gatherings to curb the spread of COVID-19.

    Four of those arrested, including a nurse at the shelter, were released on medical grounds. Restrictions on movement imposed by the Ugandan authorities on 30 March to curb the spread of the virus have hindered access to lawyers of the accused. Even when special permission was sought, on some occasions prison authorities prevented lawyers from accessing the detained activists.

    For more information on civic space violations, visit the Uganda country page on theCIVICUS Monitor.