- Ian Mungall
- UNDP UN Teamworks
Human rights issues of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people are increasingly being included in Nepal’s National Human Rights Action Plan, released last month by the Prime Minister’s Office of Nepal. The development is significant in efforts to reduce the impact of HIV on key populations, namely men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender people, who as a result of stigma and discrimination are at higher risk of infection.
Inclusion of LGBT rights has been made possible in large part as a result of extensive advocacy, lobbying and coordination efforts by Blue Diamond Society (BDS) with the National Human Rights Commission of Nepal.
In Nepal, MSM and transgender people face particularly strong discrimination and stigmatization on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity. As marginalized populations, they are exposed to widespread violations of human rights, including physical violence, harassment, exclusion from family and society, and lack of access to sexual health care, including health information and services such as sexually transmitted infections (STI) clinics, voluntary counseling and testing centres, condoms and lubricants and antiretroviral medicines.
The 4th Five-Year National Human Rights Action Plan, which was released on 17 July 2014, specifically identifies and promotes the protection of human rights of sexual and gender minority communities. One of the primary objectives laid out in the plan is to “ensure rights to dignified life for sexual and gender minorities of Nepal". To fulfill this objective it proposes activities to identify discriminatory laws for amendment, and specifically names the responsible ministry, the Ministry of Woman Children and Social Welfare, and supportive ministries, Law & Justice Ministry and Constitutional Assembly & Parliamentary Affairs. The Plan also calls for awareness activities to reduce misconceptions towards sexual and gender minorities, steps to be take to provide citizenship, passports and education certificate documents that carry appropriate gender identity.
At a high level meeting in April 2014 organized by BDS with NHRC with representatives from five regional and sub-regional offices, commitments were made for inclusion of LGBT rights in the National Human Rights Action Plan – the core document guiding the National Human Rights Commission of Nepal – and on future cooperation in organizing law enforcement sensitization activities.
“The NHRC is ready to coordinate with the Ministry of Home Affairs to conduct a meeting with police personnel on issues regarding human rights violations committed by security forces, especially police.” said Mr. Bed Prasad Bhattarai, Acting Secretary of the NHRC, adding, “We will never give up on promoting and protecting rights of LGBT people.”
Furthermore, Mr Bhattarai pledged to take strong steps towards investigating claims of human rights violations against LGBT.
“The commitments made by the NHRC, especially the inclusion of LGBT issues in the latest National Human Rights Action Plan are very significant for the LGBT community in Nepal. LGBT people are now aware that if they experience rights violations they can file a complaint with the NHRC and there is a dedicated focal person to handle their cases.” said Manisha Dhakal, Deputy Director of Blue Diamond Society. “It is most encouraging that the NHRC is now appearing to more pro-active in seeking to address LGBT right issues on its own.”
Since its conception in 2001, the Blue Diamond Society has been a leader in responding to the HIV epidemic in Nepal through a human rights based approach, characterized by a strong emphasis on empowering the LGBT community and sustained efforts to raise awareness and advocating for LGBT rights. Over the past three years, BDS has received support from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria through the Multi-Country South Asia (MSA) Global Fund HIV Programme*. The United Nations Development Programme Asia-Pacific Regional Centre (UNDP APRC) serves the role of interim Principal Recipient.
Under the programme a number of activities have been implemented by BDS, which have resulted in impressive cumulative achievements in the lead up to the landmark National Human Rights Action Plan. Intensive lobbying efforts have resulted in placement of a LGBT Focal Person within the NHRC to specifically handle cases of human rights violations against LGBT people. LGBT people are now welcomed to participate in the NHRC internship programme, notably at the central (2012) and regional levels (2014). BDS also succeeded in having an ‘Other’ gender option added in the NHRC complaint form.
It is hoped that these accomplishments will contribute to further tearing down of barriers in Nepal that prevent MSM and transgender people from claiming their rights, especially in relation to access to HIV prevention, treatment and care.