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Human rights

Denial within one’s family

by Hans Dembowski

In brief

Members of a lesbian soccer team in South Africa, a country that allows same-sex marriages

Members of a lesbian soccer team in South Africa, a country that allows same-sex marriages

In theory, gay and lesbian people are entitled to human rights like everyone else. In practice, they often suffer from discrimination and suppression.

In all societies around the world there are prejudices against people who do not conform to heterosexual norms. Even in countries like Germany, where laws largely protect gay and lesbian persons from governmental discrimination, suicide rates among young gay or lesbian people are significantly higher than among their heterosexual peers. Anne Thiemann of the German Institute for Human Rights says that typical reasons include feelings of denial, insult and abuse by society in general and, depressingly, often even inside one’s own family.

Thiemann points out that human rights are universal, and that the freedoms of expression and pursuit of happiness apply to homosexual people too. Increasingly, she says, law experts consider “sexual orientation” a sub-category of gender, and gender-based discrimination is against human rights. Nonetheless, many countries still regard homosexuality as a crime, and in places like Saudi Arabia, Iran or Sudan, even death sentences are possible. The police and courts of many other countries, moreover, systematically fail to prosecute hate crimes against sexual minorities, as Thiemann reported at a conference in Bonn in November, which was organised by the Friedrich-Naumann-Stiftung für die Freiheit, a think-tank close to the Free Democratic Party of Germany’s Development Minister Dirk Niebel.

In 2006, international jurists met in Indonesia and drafted a document on safeguarding the human rights of homosexuals. Germany’s Federal Government is in favour of these Yogyakarta Principles. When Uganda planned to introduce the death penalty for homosexuals last year, Germany’s Development Ministry (BMZ) was among the international agencies that put pressure on that country’s government, making clear that the introduction of such a law would be considered a reason to at least reduce budget support. President Yoweri Museveni has since backed off from the law proposal.

Nonetheless, it is debateable to what extent western governments help gay and lesbian people by intervening in national politics on their behalf. Local civil-society groups that dare to tackle the issue often do not want to be associated with ideas of “western values”. To religious fundamentalists, that term is often synonymous with decadence, no matter that US-based evangelical churches are among the strongest force to argue that acceptance of homosexuals is decadent.

According to Thomas Mösch of Radio Deutsche Welle’s Africa desk the Ugandan probably improved the standing of homosexuals, because prejudices were addressed for the first time in public. Pakistani scholar Nadia Butt, however, warns that it is very difficult to promote the sexual freedom of gays and lesbians in countries like Pakistan, where there is no understanding of sexual freedom at all. (dem)