You were involved in NGO shadow report of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) for the first time in 2008. What convinced you and your organisation to participate in another UN monitoring system and take part in the (UPR) process by preparing a report on the situation of LGBTI people in your country?
I heard about CEDAW for the first time in 2002 at Winter gender school in Kyrgyzstan. It seemed so far away and unreal to be part of the reporting process. Next year I went to graduate school, where I felt safer to come out and talk about lesbian rights. I remember very vividly making a statement on lesbian rights in Ukraine in class. Our professor, who is an open lesbian from Costa Rica, did a lot of CEDAW reporting herself. I think she was one of the people who inspired me to start involvement with CEDAW. Bjorn van Roozendaal from COC-Netherlands got Labrys in touch with the International Women’s Rights Action Watch (IWRAW) Asia-Pacific, which was a huge leap in facilitating our access to the reporting process. Sexual Rights Initiative was key in facilitating Labrys’ access to the UPR process. They provided support with report writing, lobbying and participation in the UPR sessions. We prepared reports on sexual rights in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan with them.
What were the main challenges for your organisation in compiling the report and being involved in the UPR mechanism?
We were lucky, because there was so much support available. One big issue was lack of documentation of the situation of LGBTI people in countries like Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, where organizing is extremely difficult. For these two countries we had to go over a lot of secondary data and depend on the few testimonies from the region to supply information ‘from the field’. Sexual Rights Initiative and COC-Netherlands helped us be involved during the sessions where we delivered interventions. IWRAW-Asia Pacific supported lobbying efforts for Kyrgyzstan. I think getting the missions of different countries to include your recommendations is the biggest challenge, because they have their own political agenda. You may spend hours talking to a mission representative and not have your recommendation included. So, this is something that has to start at least one month and a half prior to your country’s review. They are interested in facts and precise recommendations.
The UPR NGO report for Kyrgyzstan specifically mentions the situation of trans people. Why do you believe that special attention needs to be given to trans issues in a context where so many LGBTI rights need to be respected?
Trans issues are left out from too many mainstream LGB(T) reports. Labrys is committed to making sure that our reports reflect on the situation of transgender people in Kyrgyzstan and Central Asia. I hope more reports will come out in other regions covering trans rights. I am really glad that in the former Soviet Union more and more LGBTI organisations address trans people’s rights and involve transgender people in decision-making. Transgender people experience severe human rights violations, such as sterilization to obtain something as simple as a state ID; homelessness; unemployment, widespread street and family violence. Trans issues are urgent and cannot wait until LGB communities ‘are more aware’. More information about transgender rights violations can be found here: http://www.transrespect-transphobia.org/en_US/countries/a-z.htm#k structured by country. ILGA World is also preparing a TransMap to serve as a resource to LGBTI activists worldwide.
There have been drastic political changes in Kyrgyzstan over the last year. How can one ensure that the committment obtained from the State on UPR recommendations is going to be respected?
This is a tricky question. The usual government response is that they have more important issues to worry about than LGBTI rights, especially with the political and economic instability and recent violence in the south of Kyrgyzstan. I think having a clear strategy and establishing friendly relations with the government will ensure success in cooperation between LGBTI organisations and the government to implement the UPR recommendations. We have disseminated UPR recommendations that include sexual orientation and gender identity among LGBTI and mainstream organisations in Kyrgyzstan. We will also join mainstream coalitions of NGOs for implementation of UPR recommendations. The current government, despite being very weak, is more attentive to gender equality issues and more likely to quietly work on sexual orientation and gender identity issues.
You have put your UN experience at the disposal of various countries in the Caucasus and Central Asia; and you have assisted activists from Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan to submit an NGO report on the situation of LGBTI people. How do you work with local groups in the countries that you are assisting for the UPR?
It depends on their context and the level of available documentation. The report on Azerbaijan with Gender and Development NGO was very easy to write, because they had a lot of information and very concrete recommendations. For the CEDAW report on Uzbekistan we had to start from scratch, because there was hardly any information. At the same time the report enabled Uzbek lesbian communities to structure their activism to address human rights violations. It was their first community effort of this kind. I had to present the report during CEDAW session, because the group feared political prosecution if they were visible to Uzbek government officials. Currently I am supporting Equal Opportunities NGO from Tajikistan in preparing a report on sexual rights there. Language is often an issue, because most groups do their work in local language and Russian. I help to translate and edit the reports and also add information on more mainstream issues like violence against women, gender inequality, etc. that missions are more likely to notice. Overall, we contact local groups in advance and work with them on preparing the report by gathering information, sharing other reports and editing/translating information once it is available. We also assist them in lobbying and speak on their behalf in situations where it is unsafe to be public. Right now we are working to put together a coalition of Central LGBTI NGOs and initiative groups that would focus on international and national advocacy efforts and documentation of human rights violations.
You have been involved in local, regional and international activism for several years now. What motivates you to keep on being present at those three levels of activism?
As a person who is used to paternalizing, distant governments, it is amazing to see how the power dynamics change at the UN or OSCE level. It is inspiring to be able to access the government through the international fora and communicate with high-level officials on the spot. For LGBTI communities in Central Asia, it is empowering to know that their struggles are visible and the government agreed to address violence against women based on sexual orientation (in case of Kyrgyzstan) or providing law enforcement officials with specific education/ sensitivity training towards the protection of LGBTI people (Azerbaijan). The commitments taken by the government during the Universal Periodic Review for us are often the only way to know about the government’s official position and getting them to commit to supporting us.
Read the UPR NGO report for Kyrgyzstan at:
Read the UPR report on Azerbaijan with Gender and Development NGO at:
Read the CEDAW report on Uzbekistan:
The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a new Human Rights peer review monitoring tool established by the United Nations in 2006. Each year 48 States are being reviewed by other States; in a timeframe of four years all the 192 UN member States in the world will have been reviewed. The review consists of four main steps: elaboration of reports; interactive dialogue with member States; adoption of the outcome of recommendations: implementation and follow-up. The various procedures involve States, international and national NGOs, national human rights institutes and other stakeholders.
In 2010 the 8th UPR session reviewed Kyrgyzstan together with 15 other countries. NGO reports have to be submitted seven months ahead of the Review session.
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