Press Releases

UN Special Rapporteur on Torture confirms that criminalising LGBT people leads to violence and impunity

17 February 2016

In a ground-breaking report, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, recognises that the criminalisation of homosexuality, and other discriminatory laws applying to LGBT people leads to violence and impunity. The UN Special Rapporteur’s function is to interpret the UN Convention Against Torture. This statement will provide a new tool for activists and lawyers globally who are trying to undo the criminal laws against homosexuality which still exist in 78 jurisdictions worldwide.

The report states:

“States are complicit in violence against women and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons whenever they create and implement discriminatory laws that trap them in abusive circumstances.”

And explicitly condemns the criminalisation of homosexuality:

“(Criminalising) laws foster a climate in which violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons by both State and non-State actors is condoned and met with impunity.”

This confirms what activists and LGBT people living in these countries have witnessed all along: that these laws directly cause and exacerbate homophobic and transphobic violence and other egregious human rights abuses. It reaffirms that these laws force LGBT people to live in unbearable circumstances; alone, afraid, and unprotected by the rule of law.

This report should also raise substantial questions about the UK government’s duty to LGBT asylum seekers fleeing persecution, as it confirms that if they are hailing from criminalising countries they are trying to escape the worst possible circumstances.

This report reinforces and highlights the duty on states all over the world to condemn and contest any law which criminalises LGBT people on the basis of their identity. It poses the difficult but important question of what exactly are the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office and others doing to impart to criminalising governments that these laws will not be tolerated in the 21st century.

Bisi Alimi, LGBT activist from Nigeria, said:

“As someone who was forced to leave my home because of the constant and horrific levels of homophobic treatment I was subjected to in Nigeria, this report confirms what many from the LGBT community already knew from personal experience. I hope and believe that this report will give weight to the voices of the activist community who are working every day to challenge the barbaric laws which exist in my home country of Nigeria and elsewhere around the world, which do unspeakable damage to LGBT people like myself.”

Jonathan Cooper, Chief Executive of Human Dignity Trust, said:

“State’s complicity in violence and impunity will violate the UN Convention Against Torture. As the UN Special Rapporteur has established, criminalisation of homosexuality fosters and foments violence and impunity against LGBT people. That violence and impunity cannot end with these criminal laws in place. There is no way states can continue to defend their criminalising laws. The criminalisation of homosexuality is already prohibited under international human rights law. This report puts the matter beyond doubt. Criminalisation of homosexuality is a serious and systemic human rights violations. It causes persecution. It has to end.”

Notes to Editors:

1.       The Human Dignity Trust (HDT) is a charitable organisation which works to overturn criminalising laws wherever they exist in the world. HDT works with local activists and lawyers to try and repeal these laws through litigation. Laws which criminalise LGBT people induce serious and systematic human rights violations and violate international human rights law.

2.       To read the UN Special Rapporteur’s full statement please see A/HRC/31/57.

See our briefing on the report.

Read this article in the Guardian.

Bisi Alimi is an activist partner of the Human Dignity Trust and the founder and Executive Director of the Bisi Alimi Foundation.

4.       For more information on the laws criminalising homosexuality in Commonwealth countries and examples of torture, inhuman and degrading treatment please see our CHOGM 2015 report.

5.       For more information about the existing laws in Nigeria please see our country report.

6.       For more information on how these laws undermine democratic values and interfere with other areas of domestic and international policy please see this briefing series.  

7.       For further information or to request an interview with Jonathan Cooper or Bisi Alimi please contact:
Helen Lawless, HDT Communications & Fundraising Officer / +44 207419 3775 / +44 75080 26371



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