LGBT Rights

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LGBT people across the globe suffer violence and other human rights violations every day. We’re here to help change that.

Lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in all regions of the world experience discrimination, stigma and violence simply for being themselves. In 73 jurisdictions, including 36 Commonwealth countries, it is a criminal offence for adults to engage in consensual same-sex sexual conduct, with penalties ranging from 2 years' imprisonment to the death penalty. LGBT people are discriminated against in access to education, employment, housing and healthcare. Lesbians are at particular risk of so-called 'corrective rape' and forced marriage. Men who have sex with men and trans women are particularly vulnerable to HIV by virtue of being forced underground, with no safe access to healthcare services and information. Torture, murder and other hate crimes against LGBT people are commonplace in many countries.

The Equality & Justice Alliance is working to change this reality, by supporting Commonwealth Governments to enact better laws for better lives.

International Standards

"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights... without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status."

The 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights establishes a universal standard for equality and non-discrimination for all human beings. It also establishes the rights to dignity, privacy and freedom from degrading treatment. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) reiterates and creates binding obligations to fulfil these rights. The seminal 1994 case of Toonen v Australia confirmed that laws criminalising consensual same-sex intimacy violate the rights to privacy and non-discrimination. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights guarantees equal rights in all aspects of economic, social and cultural life.

 

The UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) requires States to take measures to eliminate discrimination against all women. The CEDAW Committee has confirmed on multiple occasions that States must provide specific legal protection for women who experience intersecting forms of discrimination, such as lesbian, bisexual and trans women, who are discriminated against because of both their gender and their sexual orientation or gender identity.

In 2016, a report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture recommended that states prevent and combat violence against LGBT people and highlighted the impact of "entrenched discrimination, patriarchal, heteronormative and discriminatory power structures and socialised gender stereotypes.” The same year, the UN established the role of the UN Independent Expert on Protection against Violence and Discrimination based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.

Regional Standards

Each of the regional human rights treaties – the American Convention on Human Rights, the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms – contains broad non-discrimination provisions, as well as provisions protecting rights such as to human dignity, privacy and freedom from degrading treatment.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has confirmed that the non-discrimination provision protects people against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights released a comprehensive report on violence against LGBT people in 2018, which considered the impact of laws that criminalise LGBT people and made a number of recommendations on measures to combat violence against LGBT people.

 

In Africa, Resolution 275 of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights in 2014 addressed violence and other human rights violations based on real or imputed sexual orientation or gender identity and urged States to end all acts of violence on the basis of real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, whether committed by States or by non-state actors, including by enacting and effectively applying appropriate laws.

Multiple decisions of the European Court of Human Rights have confirmed that criminalisation, violence and discrimination against LGBT people violate the European Convention. The Council of Europe's Recommendation 2010(5) outlines measures to combat discrimination and hate crimes on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity and highlights that legislative frameworks must be reviewed to ensure proper protections.

LGBT Rights throughout the Commonwealth

A number of provisions of the Commonwealth Charter are directly relevant to LGBT human rights. Article 2 provides that member states are committed to equality and the protection of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights for all without discrimination on any grounds. Article 4 accepts that diversity and understanding multiple identities are fundamental to the Commonwealth's principles. Article 12 recognises that gender equality is essential for human development and basic human rights. Multiple domestic courts in the Commonwealth have confirmed that criminalisation of and discrimination against LGBT people violate constitutional human rights norms.

 

The Commonwealth Equality Network (TCEN), established in 2013, is a network of LGBT organisations across the Commonwealth that works to challenge discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The 2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) similarly contain multiple targets of relevance to LGBT human rights. SDG 5 calls on states to take action towards the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls, which by definition includes lesbian, bisexual and trans women and girls. SDG 10 on reduced inequalities urges states to promote the social, economic and political inclusion of all, and to eliminate discriminatory laws and promote appropriate legislation. SDG 16 on peace and justice calls for promotion of the rule of law and equal access to justice for all.

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