Nepal: Police Detain Lesbian Youths In Nepal; Protection Against Mob Violence Urgently Needed

IGLHRC, in cooperation with Community Promote--an NGO which advocates for the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in Nepal--urgently requests letters protesting the police detention of two young women involved in an emotional relationship with one another. The two women face a mounting threat of violence as news of the incident and of their relationship spreads throughout the country. IGLHRC demands that authorities move quickly to protect the two women against the possibility of violence.

ADDRESSES:

Letters of protest should be addressed to the following authorities:

Mr. Basudev Bhattarai
Assistant Sub-Inspector. Pathari
Biratnagar Police Office
Biratnagar, Nepal
The Hon. Mr. Girija Prasad Koirala
Prime Minister
Government Offices
Singha Durbar, Kathmandu, Nepal
The Hon. Mr. Chakra Prasad Bastola
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Shitwal Niwas, Kathmandu, Nepal
mofa@mos.com.np
The Hon. Jayaprakash Prasad Gupta
Minister of Information & Communication
Singha Durbar, Kathmandu, Nepal
moic@usa.net
The Hon. Mahantha Thakur
Minister of Law & Justice
molaw@wlink.com.np
The Hon. Govinda Raj Joshi
Minister of Home Affairs
Singha Durbar, Kathmandu, Nepal
moha@mos.com.np
H.E., Mr. Narendra Bikram Shah, Ambassador
Mr. Hira Bahadur Thapa, Counsellor
Permanent Mission of Nepal to the U.N.
820 Second Avenue, Suite 17B
New York, NY 10017
nplun@undp.org
H.E., Mr. Damodar Prasad Gautam, Ambassador
Royal Embassy of Nepal to the United States
2131 Leroy Place NW
Washington, DC 20008
nepali@erols.com

Please send copies of letters to:

Community Promote
P. O. Box 13188
Kathmandu, NEPAL
Phone: 977-1-231256
E-mail: rajendra@jhapa.info.com.np

BACKGROUND INFORMATION:

On March 27, 2000, Maya Tamang, 18, and Indira Rai, 17--9th-grade classmates in high school who had vowed their love for and intention to live with one another--were handed over by their own relatives to police authorities of the Pathari Village Development Committee (VDC). Unable to convince them to separate, Prem Tamang, a male relative and guardian of Maya, forcibly took them from Indira's elder sister's home in Pathari, while a crowd of relatives and neighbors derided their behavior as shameful to their culture and religion. At the station, the two reportedly made a statement to their guardians and the police officials that they "were happy with one another" and "will live together." It continued: "We will not marry with boys in the future, too. No one will separate us, and no one will stop us from loving each other."

The Police Sub-Inspector at Pathari VDC, Basudev Bhattarai, told an investigator from Community Promote that he did not formally arrest the women or charge them with any crime. Nonetheless, at the request of Prem Tamang and Indira's elder sister, Bhattarai detained them at the police station, reportedly saying, "This kind of activity spreads a bad impression in society, so we wish to stop such activity in society," and further arguing that no provision in Nepalese law permits same-sex marriage. While in custody, the two women were reportedly subjected to rude and insulting comments about their relationship by police staff. Two days later, the Sub-Inspector allowed their release--only after the two signed a statement agreeing to separate.

At present the two young women--one of whom reportedly dresses in boys' clothes and wears her hair short, rare behavior among women in Nepal--now live separately under the custody of these relatives. As news of their relationship spreads locally and throughout the country, the two women have separately emerged as targets of a potentially violent backlash from neighbors and other local people. Community Promote fears for their safety, as several neighbors, aware that the women wish to live together in the future, have said in investigative interviews: "They are garbage in our society, and we must clear them."

IGLHRC and Community Promote protest the arbitrary detention of the two young women by the Police at Pathari VDC. IGLHRC and Community Promote call on authorities in Nepal immediately extend police protection to guarantee the women's safety. Such protection should respect their freedom of movement, rather than constituting a further incarceration or detention. The women should be permitted to correspond and to meet when they so desire.

The actions of the police constitute a breach of Nepal's obligations as a state signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Articles 2 and 26 of the ICCPR recognize that all persons are equal before the law and are entitled to protection from discrimination on any ground including race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status; the United Nations Human Rights Committee has held this definition to include sexual orientation as a status protected from discrimination. The arbitrary detention of the two women--unsupported by any allegation of criminal conduct--stands in gross violation of Article 9 of the ICCPR, ensuring the right to liberty and security of person. In forcing the women to disavow their relationship and to separate, police also imposed unacceptable restrictions on their rights to liberty of movement (Article 12, ICCPR), freedom of expression (Article 19, ICCPR), and freedom of association (Article 21,ICCPR).

CEDAW calls, in its Article 16, for states "to eliminate discrimination against women in all matters relating to family and marriage," and in particular to ensure "the same right freely to choose a spouse and to entire into marriage only with their free and full consent." Nor are states permitted to support arbitrary exercise of parental authority by their own extralegal action--whether the appeal for such support comes from parents proper or (as in this case) from other guardians. An 18-year old is understood to have attained majority in international law, in particular by the first Article of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), to which Nepal is signatory; many legal systems would grant majority to a 17 year-old as well. Yet the CRC also protects children, equally with adults, against discrimination (Article 2) and against arbitrary detention (Article 37); it protects the child's rights to freedom of expression (Article 13) and of association (Article 15). And the actions of both relatives and police in this case violate Principle 10 of the 1959 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Child, which states, "The child shall be protected from practices which may foster racial, religious and any other form of discrimination . . . [and] shall be brought up in a spirit of understanding, tolerance, friendship among peoples, peace and universal brotherhood."

International human rights instruments place obligations on states not only to respect human rights--that is, to not violate them--but also to protect them. Tasked with enforcing the law and preserving the peace, the police have a duty to protect all persons in the county. Signatory States to the human rights treaties commit themselves to guarantee the right of all persons to equal protection of the law, "without discrimination." Since the two girls stand as targets of mounting discrimination, hatred, and potential violence, the situation demands immediate and unconditional police protection.