LGBTI rights, Nepal's international Image, the reality on the ground, and UPR

Published: July 7, 2014

Sunil Pant/Kathmandu (Pahichan) 7 July -Every year delegates gather in Geneva to shake their fingers at governments and make not of where improvements in human rights are needed. Every fourth year, it’s Nepal’s turn. It’s an important mechanism, a cyclical reminder of progress and setbacks as we lurch as a country toward stability, cohesiveness, and most importantly political clarity. A year from now it will be Nepal’s turn again – it will take place just before the Blue Diamond Society celebrates its fifteenth birthday, and it’s exciting news BDS to see how our work, and the work of our partners in government and civil society, has added up.

Nepal is often presented as a progressive country for having, on paper, ratified equal rights and recognition for sexual and gender minorities. The state’s commitment to LGBT human rights acquired international attention in 2007 when the Supreme Court issued a landmark decision to recognize a third gender and amend laws that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. This country was taking legal steps never before taken – anywhere in the world.

Some progresses have been made towards implementing the Supreme Court’s order. The government has started issuingnagarikta citizenship certificates to those who do not wish to identify ‘man or woman’, but as ‘other’. The government has changed ‘departure and landing cards’ at the international border crossing points to list three genders (but has still failed to issue the passports – echoing the Central Bureau of Statistics’ claim in 2011 about the failed census count and blaming it on the computer software). At a deeper level, current rape law does not recognize male or third gender survivors of sexual justice, leaving many LGBTIs who are sexually abused and raped without any hope, let alone access, for justice.

However today the government includes men who have sex with men and transgender women in its national health plans, and the Ministry of Education has included sexual and gender diversity in its class 7, 8, and 9 curriculum – all gestures of genuine inclusion. In 2013 the Nepal government hosted a UN regional seminar on LGBTI rights, inviting activists from all over Asia to Kathmandu to discuss their issues. Our government officials sat proudly on stage and spoke fondly of this country’s incredible progress.

But in the shadows of this glory, the government has set out on a quest to replace the Muluki Ain, and draft new ‘civil and criminal codes.’ The draft is regressive, to put it lightly. It has introduced provisions to criminalize LGBTI people’s identities and behaviors; marriage is strictly defined as between men and women only; and penile-vaginal sex is the only natural sex defined in the code – leaving all other sexual acts deemed aprakritic, unnatural. The tiny amount of money allocated to sexual and gender minorities by the Baburam Bhattarai-led finance ministry in 2008 has remained stagnant – and only even at that level because we fight every year to keep it. And it’s the money, in fact, that does the talking.

Donors in Nepal love LGBTI rights. They come to the Gai Jatra celebrations; our photos are on their websites; we fly to their capitals to give speeches. But it’s clear again and again that this is more of a performance than genuine understanding of our needs and our lives.

I must say Norway have done good job, but it can be better; DfID has contributed good amount through HIV but we are worrying to get the sense that DfID may no longer be prioritizing HIV to its development focus. Many donors tell us that, after 2007′s Supreme Court decision, Nepal is a ‘gay heaven’ and there is no longer any need to fund our work. Even those who never funded us prior to 2007 now had an easy set of excuses: Nepal has a positive court decision; Nepal has a gay politician and a sports festival – so we don’t need to worry. They say ‘reality bites’ but it only bites to those who are real to that reality.

I heard DFID, Danish and Swiss are making pool fund (by the way DFID has doubled its aid money to Nepal last year and become the largest bilateral donor to Nepal) to support human rights and democracy, it will be interesting to see how much they really care about LGBTI populations. USAID funded Blue Diamond Society’s first 5 years HIV work under the bush administration, but ‘yes we can’ Obama administration says to us ‘no we cannot’ help you anymore –  you have other donors to support you.

When we meet them, these donors appears to be very friendly and they even give us good advices, sometimes they express their frustration with the fact that their headquarters in Washington or London or Berlin or in Geneva or NYC are not giving them any clear way-out how to respond to LGBTIs need in their recipient countries.

At headquarters, the reading of reality on the ground is not always correct, and can tend to focus on big-ticket items rather than the demands of local activists. The World Bank made a big news by putting  on hold the loan to Uganda after that country passed a notorious “Anti-Homosexuality Bill.” That same year they failed to respond to officially-issued complaints about their massive ‘pro-poor youth vocation job training project’ in Nepal which excluded third gender people. These are the donors (named) who are at least already working or interested on LGBTI, there are more donors who are ‘blank’ on supporting LGBTI in Global South.

I wish there was a mechanism like UPR to hold Donors accountable towards their commitments and their little or inaction to support LGBTI rights. That would level the playing field for countries like Nepal. So when our representatives travel to Geneva to listen to the successes and failures, they know that the governments telling them how to behave also have their own bureaucracies and double-speak.

With these mixed baggage of little success but many obstacles in Nepal, Blue Diamond Society, along with other LGBTI CBOs and FSGMN (Umbrella Organization of all LGBTI CBOs in Nepal) wish to continue to advocate and to engage both domestically and internationally. And We at BDS recognize the importance of engaging with URP processes to make difference. 

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