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IACHR values progress on LGBTI rights in the region

in WORLD, 20/05/2014

Notwithstanding the persistence of high levels of discrimination and violence experienced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and intersex (LGBTI) persons in the Americas, the IACHR is encouraged by the promising news regarding some steps forward taken over the last six months with an aim of protecting their human rights in the region.

Reforms in the police, justice and penitentiary systems

First, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights welcomes state actions regarding the investigation of cases of violence against LGBTI persons in several jurisdictions. For example, in Honduras and Mexico (Oaxaca), the government appointed a specialized prosecutor to investigate and prosecute crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In the Brazilian state of Paraná, a prosecution unit specializing in the investigation of crimes committed against LGBTI persons was created, inspired by similar existing units in the states of Espírito Santo and Pernambuco. These units are responsible for guaranteeing the rights of LGBTI persons in their jurisdictions, fostering educational programs and promoting the formulation of public policies.

Furthermore, the Commission received information about good practices in the police and the penitentiary systems in other countries. The IACHR welcomes the increasing number of trans people serving in the Argentinean and Brazilian police. As a strategy to fight against homophobia and transphobia, police forces in Chile have agreed to let LGBTI persons that have committed minor crimes to fulfill their community sentence working at the local LGBTI organization.

 

Political participation

Regarding the right to political participation, the Commission also sees certain advances. For example, the first ever meeting between representatives of the LGBTI community and the President took place in Ecuador. In Colombia, the first openly lesbian was elected to the House of Representatives. In Chile, the first openly gay person was elected to the National Congress and the majority of politicians running for President attended an annual LGBTI Pride event or sent a representative. In Cuba, the first trans woman has been elected for a political office.

The IACHR sees these developments as concrete and significant steps forward to increase involvement of LGBTI persons in the management of public affairs and a good effort to offset the historically poor representation of LGTBI persons in publicly elected positions in the region.

 

Positive statements from Commonwealth Caribbean authorities

The Commission is pleased to receive information that officials from countries of the Commonwealth Caribbean continue to show public support for the rights of LGBTI persons. The Commission believes that public statements of this sort play a key role in combating stigmatization of LGBTI persons and recalls that States play a crucial role in leading social change to combat discrimination and social prejudices. For instance, the Honorable Mr. Frederick Mitchell, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration of Bahamas said that the sexual orientation of someone who wants to run for election should not be relevant. He added that “there must be tolerance at a minimum and we must uphold the principle that the general rights for which we fought [are] rights for all people… [and] cannot be derogated from because of someone’s sexual orientation.”

Furthermore, the Honorable Youth Minister Lisa Hanna from Jamaica announced that the government is developing programs focused on LGBTI youth. Moreover, the IACHR highlights that the Prime Minister of Barbados, the Honorable Mr. Freundel Stuart, recalled the importance of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and supported “the elimination of all forms of discrimination including discrimination against persons of differing sexual orientation.” The Commission also encourages the existence of spaces where these issues can be discussed. In Antigua and Barbuda, politicians had the chance to publicly discuss LGBTI issues at the recent National Youth Forum.

The IACHR praises the commitment of State officials who take a public stance in favor of equality in contexts in which prejudice, discrimination and violence against LGBTI persons are widespread. In this regard, the IACHR urges OAS Member States not only to criminalize acts which severely hinder the rights of persons with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities, but also to advance law reforms as a means to respect, protect and guarantee the right to equality and non-discrimination of LGBTI persons, and those perceived as such.

 

Family diversity, non-discrimination and health

With respect to diverse families, the IACHR welcomes that the States of Hawaii and Illinois in the United States approved legislation legalizing same-sex marriage and the Supreme Court of New Mexico ruled in favor of same-sex marriage. In Mexico, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of equal public benefits for same-sex couples and more recently declared unconstitutional the article that defines marriage between a man and a woman in the Civil Code of the State of Oaxaca.

The Commission has received other promising information that indicates further protection of the human rights of LGBTI persons by OAS Member States. The IACHR acknowledges the efforts that are being made to modify legislation in Cuba with the purpose of protecting LGBTI persons from employment-related discrimination. Similar efforts are being made in the United States. The Commission welcomes the decision of the Uruguayan State to facilitate equal access by couples to the national health system regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. In Ecuador, the police rescued 17 persons from a clandestine “facility”, which offers services to “medically treat” LGBTI persons. The “facility” did not have proper credentials and there were allegations that these persons were being tortured.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

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