Last edited: February 14, 2005

Government Inaction & Abuse Drives Torture, Sexual Assault, Forced Psychiatric Treatment of Lesbians and Gays Worldwide

Latest Report in Amnesty International’s Anti-Torture Campaign Documents Violations in 30 Countries; Urges US and Others to Dramatically Increase Protection of LGBT People

Amnesty International, June 22, 2001
For Immediate Release
Contact: Wende Gozan (212) 633-6247

NEW YORK—Government inaction—and at times government provocation—is a driving force behind the torture and mistreatment of lesbians, gay men, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, Amnesty International said in a report launched today. The report includes documented examples of torture and ill-treatment in some 30 countries, including Uganda, Pakistan, Argentina, the United States and Russia, and details cases of LGBT people who were antagonized in custody, physically and sexually assaulted, subjected to unnecessary medical or psychiatric treatment, and sometimes forced to flee their countries because of persecution based on their sexual identity.

The report, Crimes of Hate, Conspiracy of Silence: Torture and Ill-Treatment Based on Sexual Identity, is the latest in the organization’s yearlong campaign to fight torture worldwide. It notes that LGBT people are frequently subjected to torture and abuse by state agents in police stations and prisons; that over 70 countries, including parts of the US, still criminalize same-sex relations; and that some countries even mete out the death penalty as punishment.

However, government abuse represents only one part of the picture. All people, as a result of real or perceived sexual identity or behavior, can be vulnerable to physical and psychological violence in the community and in the family. This climate of social intolerance and legally sanctioned discrimination provides fertile ground for the proliferation of torture. Lesbians, who often face the double discrimination of sexism and homophobia, are at particular risk of abuse, including forced marriages and forced pregnancy.

"There is an overriding tolerance of abuse because of the social stigma attached to homosexuality and defined gender norms," said William F. Schulz, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA. "Because of this, victims remain silent for fear of retaliation, incidents of ill-treatment remain largely under investigated, and those responsible for abuses are seldom brought to justice." Schulz noted that the Amnesty International report is simply a representation of a worldwide phenomenon, and that the full extent of the problem is undoubtedly much larger. Cases highlighted in the report include:

* A young gay Syrian man, granted asylum in the US in 2000, reported that he was raped in 1994 by a teacher who called him "a sin to this world." The young man fled to Jordan in 1999, where he was again sexually assaulted. When he complained to the Jordanian police, they taunted him and threatened to put him "somewhere scary" if he ever bothered them again. When he revealed his sexual orientation to his parents, "My father became enraged and start[ed] hitting me and kicking me, saying that I was degrading his family name…he threw me out in the street."

* Christine, Norah and three other human rights defenders were abducted by the Ugandan military in 1999. Soldiers took Christine to a secret detention center, stripped her naked, beat her and threatened her with rape. Later she was raped by three male detainees. Norah was taken to a military barracks, where: "I was kept in a small filthy room with bats in the ceiling...for about five hours, then three men came in and started interrogating me…I was also beaten, abused both sexually and physically. My clothes were ripped off. Nasty remarks were made that I should just be punished for denying men what is rightfully theirs, and that who do I think I am to do what the president feels to be wrong. They even suggested that they should show me what I am missing by taking turns on me."

* In November 2000, Jeffrey Lyons, a 39-year-old heterosexual man, was allegedly assaulted by a group of between eight and 10 off-duty Chicago police officers after they witnessed him embracing a male friend outside of a bar. The assault left him with severe injuries, including a broken nose, a fractured cheekbone and neurological damage. One officer reportedly taunted him by saying, "Get this through your head, you faggots will never win." According to reports, officers driving two of the cars attempted to run over Lyons’ friend as he took note of their license plate numbers. Crimes of Hate, Conspiracy of Silence provides a series of recommendations to stop the worldwide torture of people based on sexual identity. These include: urging governments that criminalize homosexuality, (including those of 17 states in the US), to repeal all "sodomy" laws or similar provisions outlawing homosexual or transgender behavior; the prohibition of forced medical "treatment" designed to "cure" homosexuality; the protection of refugees fleeing torture based on sexual identity; protection of human rights defenders working on issues of gender and sexual identity; and governmental prohibition of all forms of discrimination based on sexual identity.

Amnesty International recognizes and supports the efforts of the many movements that have emerged throughout the world to break the wall of silence surrounding human rights violations against LGBT people. The organization also welcomes the recent initiative by the special mechanisms of the UN Commission on Human Rights—including the Special Rapporteur on Torture—to encourage the submission of information on human rights abuses related to sexual identity, and requests that UN human rights bodies give further attention to LGBT issues.

"To combat global abuses against LGBT people, a clear message must be sent by the UN: that the torture and ill-treatment of people on the basis of their sexual identity will not be tolerated," said Michael Heflin, Director of AIUSA’s OUTfront program. "Governments must realize that the protection of sexual orientation and gender identity is not a special category of human rights; it is fully embedded in overall human rights norms defined in international conventions. Fighting torture based on sexual identity is an integral part of the struggle towards a truly torture-free world."


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