UN Human Rights Committee Tackles LGBT Rights Violations with Turkish Government

“We are working on hate crime legislation to provide legal protection against all vulnerable groups in Turkey.”
-- Ambassador Erdoğan İşcan

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Şevval Kılıç after delivering remarks to the Human Rights Committee

(Geneva)—The United Nations Human Rights Committee completed its first periodic review of the Republic of Turkey’s compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in Geneva this week. A shadow report, entitled “Human Rights Violations of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) People in Turkey,” was submitted to the Committee by a coalition of lesbian gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) human rights activists including the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC),Istanbul LGBTT, Siyah Pembe Ucgen, Kaos GL,Pembe Hayat, and Social Policies, Sexual Identities, and Sexual Orientation Studies Association (SPoD).

Şevval Kılıç, a transgender activist representing Istanbul LGBTT and four other LGBT groups in Turkey, presented formal remarks to the Human Rights Committee on the condition of the LGBT community and human rights violations in her country. The government delegation of 10 representatives from various branches of government was headed by Ambassador Erdoğan İşcan from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

During the interactive dialogue with the State, members of the Human Rights Committee expressed concern about reports of LGBT rights violations received from NGOs, especially on the following issues:

  • The Committee noted “the persistent unwillingness of the state party to add sexual orientation and gender identity as grounds for non-discrimination in domestic law,” including the draft constitution.
  • The Committee asked questions about measures taken by the state party to protect the LGBT community from violent hate crimes, specifically mentioning the issue of the “high rate of transgender murders” and the “killings of gay men in hate crime incidents.”
  • The Committee requested answers regarding the mistreatment of gay men in the army, the classification of homosexuality as a “psycho-social disorder,” and the demand to provide “photographic evidence of their engagement in homosexual activity” in order to “receive [military] exemption on the basis of their disorder.”
  • Committee members also raised several questions regarding “the manner in which public prosecutors are invoking civil law [against LGBT individuals] with regard to violations of Turkish morals and family structure.” In particular, the community members asked questions about the police arrests of transgender activists, including the members of Pembe Hayat, an LGBT group based in Ankara.

The State responded to many but not all of the LGBT-specific questions by the Committee.

  • Regarding the military’s classification of homosexuality, the state claims that in order to protect gay people, the practice is not to have them in military service. Ambassador İşcan responded, saying LGBT people “are not appropriate for the service. This is also true for other misappropriate people (such as disabled people). This exemption is to protect them from possible dangers during the service.”
  • Regarding protection from hate crimes, Ambassador İşcan responded that his government is “working on hate crime legislation. Hate crime is a rising issue in Turkey, and we are working to provide legal protection against all vulnerable groups in Turkey, including LGBT people.”
  • Regarding the arrest of trans people and trans activists, Ambassadorİşcan told the Committee “the police invited them to the police station,” but after they refused the invitation, the police had to use force to bring them in. “During the course of the struggle, a police officer was injured and his equipment was damaged.” Subsequently the prosecutor pressed charges against them.
  • Regarding the sexual orientation and gender identity non-discrimination clause in the draft constitution, Ambassador İşcan responded, “the [re-writing of the draft of the constitution] process is already being launched, it is the beginning of the process, this legislation process requires social compromise.” He continued, saying, “Turkey is open to monitoring mechanisms, including from UN and EU human rights systems, and if there are violations of law, and if they find us in violations, we will take measures to rectify the issue.”

LGBT rights advocates responded to the session.

“It was a valuable experience for me to personally see how the international diplomacy works. The UN Human Rights Committee was aware of the situation of LGBT people in Turkey, and they asked very strategic questions,” said activist Şevval Kılıç, of Istanbul LGBTT. “But at the same time, it is discouraging to see how the Turkish government approaches LGBT issues by avoiding an honest and clear discussion regarding the questions. As a whole, I feel this was a wonderful opportunity for the LGBT community in Turkey to raise international awareness about our struggle, which helped the Committee to articulate questions for the Turkish delegation.”

“IGLHRC stands at the ready to work with the Turkish Government on comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation that will effectively protect the LGBT community–please call on us!” said Hossein Alizadeh, Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator at IGLHRC. “We will also continue working closely with the LGBT community in Turkey to ensure the successful implementation of the Human Rights Committee’s concluding observations.”

The shadow report submitted to the UN Human Rights Committee documented cases of violent hate crimes against members of LGBT community, legal loopholes that allow perpetrators of hate crimes to receive reduced penalties, absence of an anti-discrimination law that protects individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity, and censorship of LGBT materials that are viewed as "obscene and against morality" by the government. It also included cases of police harassment and brutality against LGBT activists and members of the transgender community and inadequate protection for LGBT refugees and asylum seekers.

Additional Background

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) is an international treaty that outlines a set of fundamental rights guaranteed to all individuals regardless of race, color, sex, language, religion, opinion, nation, property, birth or other status. The ICCPR was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1966. 166 states, including Turkey, are parties to the Covenant. The Human Rights Committee is responsible for monitoring the implementation of the treaty by States Parties. The 18-member committee also has the authority to interpret the treaty by issuing general comments.

The ICCPR requires all state parties to submit Periodic Reports about the implementation of the treaty’s principles to the United Nations Human Rights Committee. Based on the state reports and information gathered by Committee experts, the Committee develops a list of questions (List of Issues) regarding the status of civil and political rights in that country. State Parties often provide a written response to those questions ahead of the official review session. The Committee also accepts reports from non-governmental organizations regarding the human rights situation in that country, known as Shadow Reports.

Based on the State report, the State’s written answers to the List of Issues, shadow reports, the State presentation to the Committee, and the interactive dialogue between the State and the Committee, the Committee releases it’s Concluding Observations with a list of concerns and recommendations based on the State’s compliance with it’s treaty obligations. The State then formally acknowledges which of the Committee recommendations and concerns it will abide by. The Concluding Observations and the State response are powerful tools for domestic advocates seeking to advance human rights and governmental accountability.

The Committee is scheduled to meet for Concluding Observations on Turkey on November 1, 2012.

For more information, contact:
Şevval Kılıç, Istanbul LGBTT, deeplysubmissive@gmail.com
Hossein Alizadeh, Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator, IGLHRC, halizadeh@iglhrc.org