In March this year, the UN Human Rights Council held the first ever meeting to discuss discrimination and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. At the meeting, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on all countries around the world to decriminalize same-sex relationships and end discrimination against LGBT people. This was an important step for the United Nations in efforts to end discrimination and violence against LGBT in all member state countries, including Cambodia. Addressing the Human Rights Council, the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon said: “To those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, let me say — you are not alone. Your struggle for an end to violence and discrimination is a shared struggle. Any attack on you is an attack on the universal values the United Nations and I have sworn to defend and uphold. We must tackle the violence, decriminalize consensual same-sex relationships, end discrimination and educate the public.” The UN family in Cambodia stands 100% behind this statement. We want this message to resonate in Cambodia, not only this week but throughout the year.
Cambodian law does not criminalize same-sex relationships and the LGBT pride movement in Cambodia has made great strides in the last few years. The first gay pride parade was held in in 2004, and Cambodian Pride Week began in earnest in 2009, gaining more and more support, attention and interest in the few years that have followed. Community organizations such as Rainbow Community Kampuchea (RoCK) and the National Men who have Sex with Men Network (Bandagn Chaktomuk) continue to grow, adding strength and diversity to Cambodia’s civil society voices. Recent studies show that while discrimination and harassment of Cambodian people based on their sexual orientation has diminished, further efforts are required eliminate discrimination altogether. Pride week is an opportunity to increase awareness and intensify dialogue among Cambodians on these issues.
The marginalization of groups of people can lead to negative outcomes for a country’s social development. As Cambodia progresses economically, efforts to prevent marginalization and inequalities become a key imperative. A society’s value must be measured by the way it values people, regardless of their sexual orientation or social status. A prosperous society is one that ensures inclusiveness and respects all people.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are particularly vulnerable to discrimination and infringements of their civil and political, and economic, social and cultural rights. Seventy-nine countries, territories and areas still have laws that criminalize same-sex relations between consenting adults. These laws are serious barriers to an effective AIDS response and are driving lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people underground where they cannot access life-saving services.
We must also consider the human dimensions of discrimination faced by the LGBT communities as discrimination is not only perpetuated by institutions, but is often tolerated within communities, at the workplace or in homes. Despite the limited availability of data or research on the situation of LGBT rights protection in Cambodia, there is a need to listen to the voices of those from the LGBT community. As we approach Gay Pride week it is a key time to listen and learn from the community.
In the realm of public health, discrimination, lack of awareness by health providers and the absence of services that meet the real and diverse needs of people from LGBT communities can prevent them from exercising their rights to access sexual and reproductive health care. This increases vulnerability to HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, especially for young gay and transgender people who often miss out on vital information and services as a result of barriers that silence discussion and restrict decision-making about sexuality and sexual health.
The UN in Cambodia lends its support to the strong and vibrant civil society groups that promote lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights. We would like especially to congratulate the efforts of RoCK, an organization formed following the success of Pride Week 2009. RoCK has been instrumental not only in ensuring a fantastic line up of events during the course of this week, but they are also a group of dedicated activists working to improve the lives of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community through improved recognition and respect of their rights in Cambodian society and through improved livelihoods.
This year, under the theme “Different but the same” RoCK has organized a series of events include art exhibitions, film festivals, a blessing ceremony, various social events and workshops on issues such as media sensitivity and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights as human rights according to the Yogyakarta Principles on the application of international human rights law in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity. The Principles affirm binding international legal standards and they aim to deliver a future where all people are born free and equal.
Douglas Broderick is the UN Resident Coordinator; James Heenan is the Deputy Representative and Officer-in-Charge of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); Wenny Kusuma is the UN Women Country Director; Tony Lisle is the UNAIDS Country Coordinator; and Marc Deveeuw is the UNFPA Representative.