Iran Called to Account on LGBT Repression at UN

Published: November 6, 2011

For the first time, Iran has been called to account for its repression of LGBT people at the United Nations.

In the Concluding Observations [PDF] on November 3 from its 3rd periodic review of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) has made clear that the government’s conduct amounts to a violation of the international laws that it has agreed to uphold.

“As a state that prides itself in tradition and morality, Iran must now take immediate action to ensure its definitions of tradition and morality are in accordance with the fundamental principles of international human rights law,” UNHRC said.

“For years, Iranian authorities have committed atrocities against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, incited violence by others, and refused to admit that LGBT Iranians exist,” said Hossein Alizadeh, Regional Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa at the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC).

The UNHRC meets three times a year for four week sessions to consider the five-yearly reports submitted by 162 UN member states on their compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, (ICCPR).

The Committee has asked the Iranian government to widely circulate their Concluding Observations to the Iranian judiciary, government and civil society. After consulting with civil society, the government must submit a progress report about the implementation of the recommendations included in the Committee’s Concluding Observations. The Committee has specifically asked the Iranian government to include detailed information on the enjoyment of Covenant rights by members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in its next periodic review.

The Committee urged the government of Iran to repeal or amend legislation that “could result in the discrimination, prosecution and punishment of people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.” There is a range of discriminatory laws in Iran, among them laws criminalizing homosexual sex and punishing it with death.

The number of executions of gay people in Iran is opaque because trials on moral charges are usually held on camera, so it is difficult to determine, Human Rights Watch said in a report last December, what proportion of those charged and executed for same-sex conduct are LGBT and in what proportion the alleged offense was consensual.  The Iranian government maintains that “most of these individuals have been charged for forcible sodomy or rape.” However, in just one report, by Doug Ireland in December 2009, twelve men were facing execution for sodomy and a joint appeal had been made for them by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), the Iranian Queer Organization (IRQO), and COC of the Netherlands. Iranian media reported the execution of three men for sodomy in September.

The Human Rights Committee said, however, that:

“Even one person incarcerated [on account of freely and mutually agreed sexual activities or sexual orientation] constitutes a violation of fundamental rights to privacy and non-discrimination.”

The questioning of whether LGBT people actually are executed — or even persecuted at all — has led those judging Iranian LGBTs seeking refuge in Western countries to argue that it is possible to ‘live discreetly’ there without suffering consequences.

IGLHRC and the Iranian Queer Organization (IRQO) submitted a joint Shadow Report to the UNHRC entitled Human Rights Violations on the Basis of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Homosexuality in the Islamic Republic of Iran and testified before the Committee.

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