A recently published report that aims to highlight the human rights situation of Southeast Asia’s LGBTIQ communities and the people working to defend them has revealed both the challenges that the region faces and its progress
The report, titled “Revealing the Rainbow”, has shed a light on the steps that many countries are taking to adapt their legal framework to improve protection for the LGBTIQ community – and noted the vast inconsistencies between approaches in the region and areas that still need to be improved.
Céline Martin, the technical advisor for Destination Justice, the social change organisation behind the report, has described the report as a tool to sparking necessary communication: “It is about creating a dialogue. In some countries it will be a little difficult to engage, but I hope [the report] can be a tool to move forward.”
One aim of the report is to encourage Southeast Asian countries to engage more with the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), a process set up under the United Nations Human Rights Council that assesses human rights in all 193 members states of the UN through peer-to-peer assessment.
Within the last ten years there have been a lot of positive developments for LGBTIQ protection in the region
First launched in 2006, the UPR reviews countries every four to five years. Along with its assessment of human rights, it offers recommendations for how countries can improve.
“We use the UPR because it’s one of the best tools we have, and we also want to encourage all stakeholders to use that tool to really engage and increase social inclusion and equality,” Martin said. “You cannot for sure assess whether the positive developments are due to the UPR, but within the last ten years, there have been a lot of positive developments for LGBTIQ protection in the region.”
Inconsistencies in the region
One key point of the report is the disparity in the region’s support of the LGBTIQ community. Countries such as Cambodia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam have all adopted laws in recent years providing greater rights and freedom for the LGBTIQ community. In one example, the report noted Vietnam’s recent law legalising gender recognition for transgender people undergoing sex reassignment surgery, which came into effect in January 2017.
Khoa Nguyen, a human rights defender and community leader from Vietnam, was positive about the government’s role in providing greater rights for the LGBTIQ community.
“I have seen a rapid change in our society,” Nguyen stated in the interview featured in the report. “In the past, LGBT people faced many problems and they faced stigma and discrimination… [But now] there are more and more people being confident in their lives and they freely tell anyone about their sexuality.”
“Society welcomes and encourages people to talk about their sexuality,” he added.
The report also takes into account the problems still surrounding the community, particularly in countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, where LGBTIQ rights remain a sensitive issue.
According to the report, many LGBTIQ people living in these countries and the region as a whole still face discrimination, censorship, ostracism and violence.
“We constantly hear LGBT people [in Malaysia] being beaten, terrible stories of torture, harassment, intimidation, lack of acceptance by state or non-state actors,” Thilaga Sulathireh, co-founder of grass-roots campaign group Justice for Sisters, said in an interview from the report.
Despite the many challenges facing the LGBTIQ community and its defenders, the report concludes that there is still cause for optimism.
This week Cambodia celebrates gay pride week, marking the 15th year since gay pride has been publicly celebrated in the nation. In Thailand, a law legalising same-sex marriage is in the beginning stages of being drafted.
Ryan Silverio, the regional coordinator for ASEAN SOGIE Caucus, stated his hopes for the future in an interview featured in “Revealing the Rainbow”.
“Nowadays LGBT groups from many countries are taking movement building seriously, rather than patches of activism here and there. There are moves to consolidate forces, not only within the LGBT community, but also with the wider social justice movements,” he said.
“So that gives us hope because at the end of the day, when all these mechanisms falter, when domestic mechanisms falter, you’ve got the local movement who will provide protection on LGBT rights.”