National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) have the potential to serve as gatekeepers for the advancement of human rights in their countries. They are considered the “cornerstones of human rights protection systems.” 1
On May 5-7, 2009, nine NHRIs of the Asia Pacific Forum (APF) made history when they gathered for a workshop in Yogyakarta, Indonesia to consider the role of such institutions in the protection and promotion of the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. They were from Australia, Indonesia, Jordan, Malaysia, Nepal, New Zealand, Palestine, Republic of Korea and Thailand, reflecting the breadth of the Asia Pacific region, with its wide political, economic, religious and cultural diversity.
The outcome of the workshop was a consensus statement that lists several actions that NHRIs can take to use their mandates and powers to address discrimination and violence on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, including the promotion and adoption of the Yogyakarta Principles.2
Grace Poore, IGLHRC’s Regional Coordinator for Asia and Pacific Islands was invited by the APF to present a paper at the workshop. She noted, “LGBT people who experience violence and discrimination lose several inter-related rights such as freedom of expression, personal security, and effective legal remedies. They face intersecting discriminations, often held in place by interlocking barriers from multiple institutions—such as legal, medical, law enforcement, judicial, education, religion, family, etc. Abuses against LGBT people frequently involve both state and non-state violators. The APF and its members can be important partners with civil society groups that are working to change how LGBT people are treated in Asia… It can ensure that its member governments meet the accountability benchmark, thus leading by example to facilitate the progress of human rights for all in the region.” For a PDF version of her paper, click here.
Asia Pacific Forum
Started in 1996, the APF has 15 full members who must comply with the Paris Principles, which require an NHRI to be guaranteed independence and autonomy from the government, to cultivate a membership reflecting the diversity of that country’s people (plural membership) and to have powers and resources for investigating human rights violations and violators brought to its attention. The APF is likely the only pan-Asian organization that comes close to being a regional human rights monitoring body like the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, and the Council of Europe.
Issues relating to human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity were first raised by the APF in 2006. In 2008, the APF Councilors agreed to include sexual orientation and gender identity into the APF work plan, beginning with a regional workshop.
Chris Sidoti, one of the key organizers of the APF workshop, says, “The APF statement affirms the most important principle at the heart of human rights law—all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and that everyone is entitled to the enjoyment of human rights without distinction of any kind. It also ‘deplores all forms of stereotyping, exclusion, stigmatization, prejudice, intolerance, discrimination and violence directed against peoples, communities and individuals on any ground whatsoever, wherever they occur.’ It recognizes the widespread violations of human rights that occur in the Asia Pacific region on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.”
Sidoti explains that the APF statement has important implications for the work of national institutions all over the world since it provides a basis for them to examine their work of protecting the rights of LGBT people, and to identify measures they can take to be more effective. “Hopefully, NHRIs in other regions and at the international level will follow the APF’s lead,” he adds.
In addition to the recommended actions for NHRIs, the Yogyakarta workshop also recommended action by the APF itself, such as making sure that laws on the books of its member NHRIs are consistent with international human rights law regarding sexual orientation and gender identity, and requesting its Advisory Council of Jurists to review and if necessary recommend changes to laws that are not consistent.
The APF has established a webpage about its work on human rights and sexual orientation and gender identity. All papers from the Yogyakarta workshop are included on this website, which can be accessed at: http://www.asiapacificforum.net/issues/sexual_orientation.
The conclusions of the Yogyakarta workshop will be discussed by the full body of the APF at its annual meeting in 2010. At that time, a decision will be made on whether the APF and its member institutions will recognize the diverse sexual orientations and gender identities of people in the Asia Pacific region, whether it will promote and protect their human rights, and what actions will be taken to implement these commitments. Read the full statement released at the conclusion of the Yogyakarta workshop here.
2- The Yogyakarta Principles directs national institutions to “promote respect for these Principles by state and non-state actors, and integrate into their work the promotion and protection of the human rights of persons of diverse sexual orientations or gender identities.” For more information, see http://www.yogyakartaprinciples.org/principles_en.htm.
3- The 15 member institutions of the Asia Pacific Forum are from Afghanistan, Australia, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nepal, New Zealand, Palestine, Philippines, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Timor Leste.
4- Asia Pacific Forum is not to be confused with the newly created ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), which has 10 member states—Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam—all in Southeast Asia. ASEAN stands for Association of Southeast Asian Nations and is a regional trade and economic bloc with a policy of non-interference in the “internal affairs” of its member states. Four countries (Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines and Malaysia) with national human rights institutions in the Asia Pacific Forum are also members of the AICHR.
Published on August 10, 2009 | OutRight Action International an LGBT human rights organization