IGLHRC’s Asia Program was revived in 2007 after a two-year hiatus. Staffed by a regional coordinator from Malaysia based in the United States and a project coordinator based in the Philippines, the program promotes acceptance of sexual and gender diversity at all levels of society. Several Asian countries—including Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, Pakistan, Singapore and Sri Lanka—have laws criminalizing intimacy between same-sex couples. Those who challenge sexual or gender norms also confront non-state violence in the “private” sphere of the family; the threat of family or community rejection or recrimination often prompts people to lead double lives, making them vulnerable to police blackmail and extortion. Our staff partners with local and regional groups in Asia to bolster their ongoing efforts to achieve equality and justice at national and regional levels, and to increase the visibility of Asian activists within the international arena. Our work involves:
• Responding in a crisis
Our staff responds to human rights violations related to sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression, often issuing action alerts to initiate letter-writing campaigns with local groups. In the last year, we have issued action alerts related to a landmark case about freedom of gender expression in Pakistan, and denouncing the homophobic statements of the leader of the Grand National Party in South Korea. Along with Thai activists, we wrote to authorities in Thailand urging them to provide constitutional protections for people experiencing discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.
• Conducting research and documenting human rights abuses
We have written reports on sexual rights violations in Indonesia and on transgender rights in Pakistan for the UN Human Rights Council’s 2007 Universal Periodic Review. We have also written and disseminated regional updates describing sexual rights abuses in countries including Malaysia, the Philippines, India, South Korea and Singapore. Our legal observers have reported on the Nepal Supreme Court case on relief for sexual and gender minorities. Our staff is currently developing mechanisms for tracking anti-discrimination demands in Asia—monitoring anti-discrimination bills being drafted, comparing language of bills in Asia with similar bills in Europe and Latin America, and looking at legal and non-legal strategies used to pass anti-discrimination laws.
• Pursuing structural and institutional change
In addition to responding to human rights emergencies, our Asia program focuses on changing laws, attitudes and perceptions. Our staff is working with activists in India to link that country’s campaign to decriminalize homosexuality to a global campaign on this issue. We will join other groups at the November 2009 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Trinidad to exchange strategies for decriminalization in countries formerly under British rule. In addition, our staff is working with activists in Asia and the Pacific Islands to produce a video documentary designed to draw attention to lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LBT) people’s activism and illuminate the way in which the Yogyakarta Principles—a set of principles describing how international human rights law applies to sexual orientation and gender identity—can be used to combat domestic and social violence against sexual minority women.
• Lobbying at the United Nations
We recognize the difficulty that activists from Asia face in traveling to New York or Geneva where treaty bodies meet and so we periodically lobby at the UN on their behalf. We are also working closely with local groups in Asia to raise visibility about violence against lesbian, bisexual and transgender people at the United Nations vis-à-vis the Committee for Ending All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the UN Rapporteur on Violence Against Women.
• Commiting to support Pacific Islanders
We are committed to supporting the sexual rights of Pacific Islanders. In 2008-9, our staff will help local activists raise the visibility of violence against LBT women in the Pacific Islands through documentation trainings and other means.