National Human Rights Institutions – A Bridge for LGBT Rights in Asia and Pacific

Contributed by: Ging Cristobal, Asia Project Coordinator

National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) are generally thought to be a bridge between their governments and civil society. . In countries where criminalization and social and cultural biases promote discrimination and even violence towards lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, NHRIs are sometimes the only institution that can advocate for promotion and protection of LGBTI rights.

On February 24 and 25 in Bangkok, I represented IGLHRC at a workshop organized by the Asia Pacific Forum (APF), United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and Asia Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health (APCOM) on the role of NHRIs in promoting and protecting the rights and health of LGBTI people in Asia and the Pacific.  

I listened to NHRIs from sixteen countries in the Asia Pacific region talk about their work and challenges they faced in implementing the recommendations of the Asia Pacific Forum’s Advisory Council of Jurists (ACJ) on how to incorporate sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) into the work of NHRIs in the region.  All sixteen NHRIs reported cultural, religious and political barriers that stalled advancement of this work.

Due to restrictive laws and traditions, and social stigma associated with LGBTI persons, NHRIs from Afghanistan, Samoa, Timor Leste, Kazakhstan and Sri Lanka did not engage with LGBTI groups because it’s not a priority in their national human rights action plans and/or LGBTI groups and individuals did not engage with their NHRIs.

NHRIs from Indonesia, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nepal, Australia, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines reported incorporating LGBT issues in their work.

  • The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has been conducting national consultations on issues faced by LGBTI persons and has submitted a position paper supporting a law on Marriage Equality[1] to the Australian Parliament.
  • Despite strong opposition from the government and conservative Islamic leaders in Malaysia, the NHRI of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) has included LGBT rights in its annual reports to Parliament and recommended that LGBT rights must be considered under human rights norms[2].  
  • The Mongolia Human Rights Commission and the Mongolia LGBT Center conducted a survey from June 2012 to January 2013 on “Implementation of the Rights of Sexual Minorities” that resulted in the inclusion of a chapter on LGBT rights in the NHRI’s 2013 annual report on status of human rights and freedom in Mongolia. This report was intrumental in the passage of the 2013 Resolution No. 13 by the Parliamentary Standing Committee in Legal Affairs, urging the Mongolian government to implement the LGBTI recommendations of the UN Human Rights Council and the Committee against Torture.[3]
  • The Commission on Human Rights Philippines (CHRP) has partnered with LGBTI groups since 2009 to bring attention to hate crimes. In November 2009, CHRP filed an Amicus Curiae with the Supreme Court in support of Ang Ladlad’s (LGBT political party) right to run in the national elections.[4] It has received and verified complaints of violence, and murder, against LGBT persons. CHRP also lobbied for anti-discrimination legislation, inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity, and has begun developing Gender Ombudperson Guidelines for human rights violations.
  • The National Human Rights Commission of India (NHRCI) produced a report on the right to health and sexual orientation and gender identity” in 2013, received and processed complaints from LGBT persons who had experienced employment discrimination, illegal detention and police abuses. The NHRCI took up a complaint filed by the Association of Tamil Nadu about denial of social welfare assistance to transgender applicants, resulting in approval of monthly pensions for transgender persons as of April 2014 in the Coimbatore district[5].
  • The National Human Rights Commission of Nepal since 2000 has reviewed and assisted with complaints filed by LGBTI persons, most of which involved torture, inhuman and degrading treatment by security personnel. The NHRI also included SOGIE issues in its 2010 to 2013 monitoring report on the National Human Rights Action Plan of Nepal[6], particularly human rights violations experienced by LGBTI people in detention and police custody .
  • The National Human Rights Commission of Bangladesh (JAMAKON) and the Law Commission of Bangladesh submitted to the government a draft of the first Anti-Discrimination Act, which included protections for LGBT people as a marginalized and vulnerable population. JAMAKON is in the process of preparing its next Strategic Plan for 2016-2020, which will include strategies to protect marginalized and vulnerable population including LGBT [7].
  • The Indonesia National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) conducted human rights trainings for LGBT people from 2009 to the present. It also conducted a training on LGBTI issues for government officials in 2011. From 2010 to 2012, Komnas HAM investigated a total of 23 cases related to police abuse of LGBT people, denial of freedom of expression, personal security and liberty, and one case of child rights violation.[8]
  • The National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRCT) together with the Sexual Diversity Network of Thailand drafted the Matrimonial Registration bill in September 2011 that seeks to provide marriage equality for LGBT persons.[9] It recommended to the Ministry of Defense in 2013 that the reason for military discharge on the military conscription records of LGBT persons be changed from “permanent sexual psychosis” to “the state of gender does not match the gender of birth.[10]
  • The Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC) was only established in 2011. In 2013, the Commission lodged a complaint against the Mandalay police for abuse of gay and transgender persons.[11]

At the conclusion of the workshop, the Asia Pacific Forum presented a plan of action and support for NHRIs that will cover capacity building to carry out LGBTI research, education and promotion of LGBTI rights, monitoring LGBTI rights violations, and LGBTI rights protection.

As one of the workshop moderators, Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn said[12], “It is work-in-progress and work-for-progress which demands and deserves our s


[1] https://www.humanrights.gov.au/lesbian-gay-bisexual-trans-and-intersex-equality-0

[2] http://www.asiapacificforum.net/support/issues/sexual_orientation/nhri-a... activities/Malaysia%20-%20Study%20on%20LGBTI%20rights.pdf

[3] 12th Report on Human Rights and Freedoms in Mongolia, 2013 (document attached)

[4] http://bulatlat.com/main/2009/11/16/chr-on-ang-ladlads-disqualification-homosexuality-does-not-equate-to-immorality/, http://www.chr.gov.ph/MAIN%20PAGES/news/PR_9Apr2010_LadladDeci.htm 

[5] http://www.asiapacificforum.net/support/issues/sexual-orientation/downloads/role-of-nhris-in-promoting-and-protecting-the-rights-and-health-of-lgbti-in-asia-and-the-pacific-february-2015/workshop-briefing-paper

[6] Nepal Report to the Regional Human Rights Institution Project on Inclusion, the Right to Health and Sexual orientation and Gender Identity. 2013 (document attached)

[7] http://www.asiapacificforum.net/support/issues/sexual-orientation/downloads/role-of-nhris-in-promoting-and-protecting-the-rights-and-health-of-lgbti-in-asia-and-the-pacific-february-2015/workshop-briefing-paper

[8] Indonesia Report to the Regional Human Rights Institution Project on Inclusion, the Right to Health and Sexual orientation and Gender Identity. 2013 (document attached)

[9] http://www.starobserver.com.au/news/thailand-commission-for-marriage-rights/61366 

[10] http://www.asiapacificforum.net/support/issues/sexual-orientation/downloads/role-of-nhris-in-promoting-and-protecting-the-rights-and-health-of-lgbti-in-asia-and-the-pacific-february-2015/workshop-briefing-paper

[11] http://www.asiapacificforum.net/support/issues/sexual-orientation/downloads/role-of-nhris-in-promoting-and-protecting-the-rights-and-health-of-lgbti-in-asia-and-the-pacific-february-2015/workshop-briefing-paper

[12] http://www.asiapacificforum.net/support/issues/sexual-orientation/nhri-activities