The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) today welcomed the recent judgment by the Court of Appeal of Malaysia that declared unconstitutional the criminalization of Muslim transgender women for cross-dressing.
“Every person has the right to dignity and to live life free from violence and discrimination – including transgender persons,” OHCHR spokesperson Rupert Colville told the press in Geneva this morning.
The Court of Appeal had been asked to examine the constitutionality of the law of section 66 of the Syariah Criminal Enactment of Negeri Sembilan State which criminalizes transgender women (people who were assigned as male at birth, but identify as female) for wearing women's clothes or presenting themselves as women, with fines and up to six months imprisonment.
“We have received reports of transgender women being arrested and convicted under this and similar laws in other Malaysian States and being subjected to violence, humiliation and discriminatory treatment by authorities,” Mr. Colville said.
Handing down its decision on 7 November, the Court found that section 66 infringes the constitutionally guaranteed rights of the appellants to live with dignity, to work, to equality before the law and equal protection of the law, to freedom from discrimination, to freedom of movement and to freedom of expression.
Laws that criminalize transgender people and discriminate against them on the basis of their appearance, gender identity or expression violate international human rights law. States have an obligation to repeal such laws, and to recognize the gender identity of transgender persons.
The Malaysian authorities should now implement this judgment and ensure effective protection of transgender persons from the violence and discrimination that they continue to face. Recent threats against human rights defenders advocating for the rights of transgender people must also be investigated.