Tanvir Alim started working in the field of LGBT rights activism in Bangladesh in 2007. Presently he represents a non-funded, nonprofit, voluntary group called « Boys of Bangladesh » which works on social awareness building. Along with the group, he has organized several workshops, conferences and training programs, such as sexuality and rights, sexual health, and LGBT-related national and international laws, sexual diversity and coalition building, etc. Tanvir also contributes journals to different social media, such as LGBT Bangladesh, Trikone South Asia, Pink Pages India, Galaxy Magazine, Display Switzerland, NETZ Germany, etc.
Professionally, he is working with German Cultural Centre Bangladesh, where he coordinated several contemporary art exhibitions and film programs on LGBT issues. One of his big initiatives has been to organize the festival Under the Rainbow for three consecutive years.
Bangladesh was reviewed for the second cycle of UPR on 29th April 2013. During the interactive dialogue, Chile made a recommendation on repeal of article 377 of the Criminal Code criminalizing adult consensual sexual acts, which did not enjoy the support of Bangladesh. What are the actions that have been undertaken by Boys of Bangladesh after the interactive dialogue of 29th April?
There was a briefing following the Post UPR on 28 May in Dhaka. During the discussion there about a government statement on LGBT, it came out that the statement of the government of Bangladesh was too vague. A vested quarter was all out to stir up homophobic violence by Foreign Minister Dr. Dipu Moni’s statement on LGBT at the UPR session. Various reports published in online and offline newspapers got published with ill motivation. They were also purposefully accommodating all the negative comments considering the religious sensitiveness of the country. However, later, for a press briefing of the Foreign Ministry, it came out that the suggestion on formal approval of homosexual relations was discarded by the Foreign Minister in considering the socioeconomic and religious values of the country.
Apart from the post UPR event with the local community and foreign missions, there was a national UPR seminar organized by ASK where Boys of Bangladesh took part; and my colleague Shakhawat Hossain Rajeeb was on the panel. Saida Muna Tasneem, DG Director General (UN) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh, was there for the concluding speech, where she mentioned that the Government of Bangladesh is going to reject two recommendations, which are extra judicial killing and abolition of section 377of the Penal Code based on traditional and cultural values.
Besides, there were also politics regarding a statement of Dr. Muhammed Yunus, (2006 Nobel Peace Prize laureate) where he endorsed LGBT rights. The issue was raised again and addressed in a way that will ruin our values, etc. This was intentional to bash down the opposition party, but we believe the issue of religion is getting used here to gain public sentiment and especially for the upcoming election.
What were the main challenges as well as positive aspects for your organization in being part of the UPR process?
It was quite a challenge for us, as we are a non-funded organization run by a pool of volunteers. For us, getting the idea on how UPR works was quite a challenge. It was also an opportunity to explain and to familiarize people with the whole process. It was very engaging in Geneva; and in the end I found it exciting, because country representatives and others were interested to hear about Bangladesh and how we work. It was also a privilege to be a part of the Human Rights Forum Bangladesh. The cooperation we receive from the other organizations regarding accepting us and what we strive for is fabulous. We are in constant dialogue with them to have smaller events in their premises, so that people working there can have a dialogue on the sexuality issue; and more awareness is generated on sexual minorities.
What are the next steps and strategies that Boys of Bangladesh will undertake in order to raise awareness on LGBT issues in Bangladesh?
In order to raise awareness on LGBT issues, we have a three-yearlong plan where in the first year we want to work on a social media campaign with different youth groups of Bangladesh and form diversity clubs in different public and private universities.In addition, we are also planning for a nationwide conference to have a strategy to move forward with all our stakeholders in the beginning of next year. In addition, we want to participate more in roundtable discussions in newspapers, radio stations, theatre plays, short film discussions, etc. and to use various alternative media to build awareness on the issue.
In Geneva you have been able to interact with other NGOs and LGBT organizations’ representatives. What have been the benefits from a personal and activism point of view, of interaction with them?
The whole process was tremendously engaging. What amazed me most is the people and their interest to know about our work process in a Muslim country. I found the side event organized by ILGA and FIDH very helpful in this regard, which opens a door of opportunity for us, as it brings the possibilities of more networks and awareness about the practices taking place in other countries. Besides, from ILGA Patricia Curzi and André du Plessis were mentoring all the time with loads of encouragement and appreciation. The whole atmosphere takes it a step further and, I believe, plays a role in motivation to work further in voluntary activism.
What would be your advice to other organizations who want to be part of the UPR process?
The reason UPR is important for Bangladesh, or any state for that matter, is the opportunity for stakeholders to submit their own reports along with the one from their government. The mechanism has proved to be very popular and powerful in upholding the human rights of marginalized or disenfranchised groups. So, I believe it’s a great platform to get your voice head and work together with other human rights organizations. Besides, it’s also an opportunity to see how the other organizations are moving forward with their rights issues, which can be implemented and shared commonly.
Read and watch HERE the oral statement delivered by Tanvir Alim on behalf of Boys of Bangladesh on Friday 20th September 2013.
Read a news article written by Tanvir Alim on BDNews24
More information on the Universal Periodic Review
The Universal Periodic Review (UPR), started by the UN in 2006, aims at reviewing the situation of human rights in a given country. The first round for all countries ended in 2011; the second cycle started in June 2012; and forty-two countries are to be reviewed each year, meaning that within four and a half years all 193 UN Member States will be reviewed.
The reviews develop in five stages: drafting and filing of the report, interactive dialogue with Member States, adoption of the draft report, formal acceptance of the report, implementation and monitoring.
Each procedure involves states, national and international NGOs, and national institutions for human rights protection.
In April/May 2013, the 16th session of UPR reviewed Bangladesh and thirteen other countries. The formal adoption took place in September 2013 at the 24th session of the Human Rights Council.
Proofread by Tom Hoemig
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