Welcome to Asia Catalyst’s monthly media roundup.
Public awareness is key to understanding and promoting human rights. Here is this last month’s news reflecting developments for some of the key affected populations that we work with.
LGBT communities around the globe held events for June’s annual LGBT Pride Month. In Asia, several countries organized public events, including marches, movie festivals, and anti-discrimination protests. However, Pride progress was not universal in the region; despite Malaysia’s landmark 2014 case declaring one state’s anti-cross-dressing Islamic law unconstitutional, this precedent has not been heeded by other states. On June 16, nine transgender women in Malaysia’s Kelantan state were arrested, and subsequently convicted, for being “a male person posing as a woman.”
Bangkok Post. South Korea court rules in favour of gay pride parade.
Human Rights Watch. Malaysia: Court Convicts 9 Transgender Women.
Merced Sun-Star. Gay activists in Asia upbeat about impact of US court ruling.
Although Pride Month provides a platform for many Asian activists to increase awareness and conduct advocacy around LGBT issues, discrimination remains pervasive throughout the region. Homosexuality is effectively illegal in at least twenty Asian countries, and homosexual acts can carry the death penalty in several. In the countries where homosexuality is not explicitly outlawed, widespread discrimination often prevents the realization of most LGBT human rights. Notably, Kelantan state’s decision to prosecute nine transgender women undermines Malaysia’s landmark November 2014 ruling that Negeri Sembilan’s anti-cross-dressing provision was unconstitutional. The ruling was a breakthrough victory for the country’s transgender community, as it protected their freedom of expression to dress according to their gender identities. Of the nine transgender women convicted this month, all face fines and two have been given one month prison terms.
In this landscape, the high number of June Pride rallies held in Asia this year is a small but important step towards greater recognition for the LGBT community; China, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Viet Nam and several other Asian countries all held widely publicized events. Asian LGBT activists often focus on marriage rights. However, to combat all rights abuses, activists must also urge governments in Asia to step up anti-discrimination laws and other rights protections for LGBT individuals facing dangerous, often deadly, discrimination across the board.
Kaohsiung and Taipei’s move to offer household registration to same sex couples is largely symbolic, rather than legal, as Taiwanese civil law still stipulates that only a man and a woman can lawfully marry. The two cities will issue “sunshine registrations” for same-sex partners, but provide no official certificates or documents recognizing the partnerships upon registration. The registration will have no legal effect and will not confer inheritance rights or legal status to the relationship, and will not appear on government IDs.
However, this action can be viewed as the potential first small step towards full legal recognition of same-sex unions in the country and are particularly significant as they respond directly to advocacy conducted by local LGBT groups. While LGBT communities are marginalized in Taiwan and around Asia, given the necessary skills and resources, they are powerful potential engines of change. International groups interested in promoting the rights of LGBT groups and advocating for marriage equality should work with rising LGBT activists to support community-led solutions to discrimination.
The State-ordered suspension of Cebu’s clean-needle exchange study represents a dangerous regression in efforts to protect the health of people who inject drugs in the Philippines. Cebu is ranked number one in terms of HIV prevalence among all Philippine cities, with the use of injectable drugs and needle sharing noted as the leading mode of HIV transmission. The now-suspended harm reduction study—which was sanctioned by the Philippines’ government, funded by the World Bank, and supported by local and international health-oriented NGOs—would have provided evidence of the effectiveness that such programs have in combatting the spread of HIV.
In 2014, a briefing paper prepared by the World Health Organization, the Department of Health (DOH), and the Cebu City Health Department called Cebu’s HIV epidemic “explosive” and in need of “urgent action.” Additionally, the Philippines is said to be one of nine countries whose rates of new HIV infections in the general population have grown by more than 25 percent since 2001. The pandering of politicians to increase popularity by demanding a “hard line” on drug use—as seems to be the case here—is, thus, deplorable. It directly blocks much-needed evidence on HIV prevention methods to the country, and will add fuel to the spread of HIV among people who use drugs, their families, and their communities nationwide.
There are an estimated 4.9 million people living with HIV (PLHIV) in Asia and the Pacific. According to the latest figures, the number of new HIV infections in the region has decreased since 2001. Governments’ unified endorsement this month of the Regional Framework for Action on HIV and AIDS beyond 2015 shows the strong commitment of Asian countries and territories to continue combatting the epidemic and to ensure that the health and human rights of PLHIV are protected.
The adopted framework consists of three distinct areas of action, the first of which will be especially important in protecting the health of PLHIV and in combatting the spread of HIV: “addressing legal and policy barriers for ensuring universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care, and support.” A myriad of barriers to prevention, treatment, care, and support still stand between Asian marginalized communities and the care that they require. Discrimination in healthcare settings, arbitrary detention for sex workers and people who use drugs, and the police practice of using the possession of condoms as evidence of prostitution and, thus, grounds for arrest rank among them. For Asia to achieve Michel Sidibé’s goal of becoming “the first region to end the AIDS epidemic,” these barriers must be demolished, with full support of Asian government leaders and high-level officials.