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Defend trans community rights: Bachelet tells Copenhagen forum

LZ is an advocate for women, trans people, and gender minorities in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.
UN Women/Dar Al Mussawir
LZ is an advocate for women, trans people, and gender minorities in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

Defend trans community rights: Bachelet tells Copenhagen forum

Human Rights

Amidst an “alarming rise in hateful discourse” against transgender people globally, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) warned that this community still lacks safeguards against abuse.

In her appeal to resist proposals that “roll back protections” against the trans community, UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet insisted that wherever they live, their rights should be respected in law and in practice.

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Speaking on Tuesday at the Copenhagen Human Rights Forum, Ms. Bachelet laid out what it means to be “truly included”, stating that “every country in the world” should recognize the gender of trans people “based on self-identification”. 

Limited advances in legal protections

Although there “have been advances” in legal trans rights protections since Argentina’s “pioneering” law in 2012, only a “small minority of countries” have taken similar steps, the High Commissioner said.

She cautioned that where laws recognizing the gender of trans people do exist, they are often accompanied by “deeply abusive and humiliating requirements”, from forced sterilization to medical certification and divorce.

“That it is not by any means inclusive”, she underscored.

The right to safety

Ms. Bachalet welcomed that “more and more States” are taking “steps against hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity” and noted that the law passed in Chile to address homophobic and transphobic crimes followed the killing and torture of Daniel Zamudio, a young gay man.

But, she warned that the reality “is still a systematic pattern of violence and abuse,  even killings, for millions of LGBTI people around the world – with many crimes not even being investigated”.

No regime immune

The High Commissioner drew attention to a landmark case from Honduras in June, where the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled that the Honduran Government was responsible for the 2009 killing of a transgender woman.

And in the European Union, “more than half of LGBT people have reported threats and harassment”.

No region is immune”, she said.

Violence and abuse can take many forms, from “harmful medical procedures on intersex children” and so-called “conversion therapy" targeted at lesbian, gay, bi and trans youth, she said.

Describing how young LGBTI people often face exclusion from their own families and communities, which can force them out of their homes and into a vicious circle of vulnerability, Ms Bachelet called for “urgent action to address abuses and hate crimes”.

No region is immune -- UN High Commissioner

Freedom to 'be who you are'

The OHCHR official called for both freedom to “be who you are without fear of persecution” and “to love.”

She welcomed the progress made in over 70 countries to decriminalize consensual same-sex relations, but warned that 69 countries continue to have discriminatory laws used to “arrest, harass, blackmail, and exclude”, on the grounds of perceived sexual orientation or gender identity of individuals.

 In five of these States, laws are so extreme that they include the death penalty.

 Efforts to repeal all laws that “deny the basic humanity, dignity, and rights of people, must be accelerated”, said Ms. Bachelet. 

Equal opportunities

 “There is no inclusion without equal opportunities”, the High Commissioner said.

 She pointed out that despite that more comprehensive national anti-discrimination laws are being adopted, “only one-third of countries ban discrimination based on sexual orientation”; just one in 10 against trans individuals, and only one in 20 against intersex people.

 Paying tribute to LGBTI human rights defenders who, “often at great personal risk, work tirelessly so that many LGBTI people around the world”, the UN rights chief called for their increased support, particularly those who receive the least funding.