May 17 – International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia

Over the past few years on the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia Anti-Discrimination Centre “Memorial” together with its partner organizations has drawn attention to repressions, which take place in a situation of de facto lawlessness and arbitrariness: in the East of Ukraine (in the so-called People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk) and in Chechnya. However, in the countries of Central Asia and Southern Caucasus, which have formally declared their adherence to human rights, LGBTI people are also still regularly subjected to harassment because of both legislative norms and homophobic attitudes prevalent in these societies.

For more than 85 years, same-sex voluntary sex of adult men in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan was considered a criminal offense punishable by prison terms ranging from one to several years. During the investigations men are subjected to a humiliating procedure for rectal examination, which is an integral part of the evidence base of the prosecution. They are sentenced to horrible conditions of imprisonment afterwards, where they face undoubtedly harmful consequences for their health and safety because of the prejudiced attitude towards their sexual orientation on the part of both prison personnel and other inmates. Serving prison term for “sodomy” critically affects further life of these men, both because of the horror experienced during the deprivation of liberty, and in their further attempts to re-organize their own lives and find work after liberation.

Illegal detention and deprivation of liberty on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) is not uncommon in the post-Soviet countries. Although the existence of secret prisons for LGBTI was discovered and reported in Chechnya only, raids to identify gays, lesbians and transgender people are regularly held in other countries of the post-Soviet region. For instance, in autumn of 2017 in Tajikistan and Azerbaijan during special operations conducted by law enforcement agencies under the pretext of HIV prevention, a total of more than 500 gays and lesbians were illegally detained and taken to police stations, where their personal data were subsequently taken down. During these operations, many people were not only subjected to psychological assaults, but also to physical violence, and some were arrested for a period of up to several weeks.

Contacts between LGBTI persons and the representatives of law enforcement agencies in these countries are fraught with blackmail, disclosure of information about SOGI and reporting it to relatives, extraction of bribes, requests for contacts of other members of lesbian and gay communities, threats of and actual use of psychological, physical and even sexual violence (as was seen in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan).

Transgender people find themselves in a particularly vulnerable situation, they most often become subjected to increased attention of law enforcement officers and fell victims of unacceptable treatment, they regularly report violence and coercion to comply with unlawful demands of the authorities, including extraction of bribes or provision of services (including sexual services).

Homophobic stereotypes and views are widespread in the countries of the former USSR, they are often openly supported by government officials, political leaders and widely replicated in the media. Aggressive condemnation by the LGBTI community leads to disclosure of information about people’s SOGI, which in turn can lead not only to their dismissal from work, eviction from the apartment, psychological pressure, but also to physical violence, including violence by their relatives. LGBTI persons are often forced to leave their city or country because of fear of their family members, which can cause serious damage to their health and in some cases ends with murders. Some people, who are unable to withstand homophobic and transphobic pressure from the society and their families turn to committing suicide.

As a result of that discrimination has become an everyday norm of life for LGBTI persons in many countries of the region, which have only nominally declared the priority of protection of human rights. International bodies, including various UN Committees, have repeatedly pointed to the inadmissibility of bringing adults into criminal liability for voluntary same-sex relations, as well as the inadmissibility of prosecuting LGBTI persons and organizing police raids in order to identify them.

Anti-Discrimination Centre “Memorial” calls on the authorities of the countries of Eastern Europe, Southern Caucasus and Central Asia to comply with the norms of international and national legislation, which declare prohibition of discrimination and equality of citizens, to enact anti-discrimination legislation and enforce it, to stop all prosecution on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, and also to implement systemic measures to combat homophobia.