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.
On August 11, Amnesty International delegates from around the world passed a crucial measure authorizing the organization’s International Board to adopt a policy protecting the human rights of sex workers. The draft policy, which stirred highly discussed criticism from anti-trafficking groups and Hollywood celebrities last month, supports the full decriminalization of all aspects of consensual sex work.
Amnesty International. “Global movement votes to adopt policy to protect human rights of sex workers.”
TIME. “Amnesty International Votes to Recommend Decriminalizing Sex Work.”
The Guardian. “As sex workers we welcome Amnesty’s policy –it will help empower us.”
The New York Times. “Buying Sex Should Not Be Legal.“
While Amnesty International does not have the power to make or enforce laws, as an international human rights organization it has been hugely influential in shaping policies on global issues, including on the death penalty and political prisoners. The decision by the organization’s international decision making body, the International Council Meeting (ICM), to recommend a policy supporting the decriminalization of sex work is thus a landmark first step in protecting the human rights of sex workers, and in combatting stigma, discrimination, and violence against sex workers everywhere.
Globally, sex workers are among the most marginalized communities in every country. Persons involved in the commercial sex industry are highly stigmatized, and experience discrimination that prevents access to both basic and life-saving services and care. In the 110 countries where data is available, the HIV prevalence among sex workers is at least 12 times greater than among the general population. Stigma and discrimination, violence and punitive legal environments are key determinants of this increased HIV vulnerability. The full decriminalization of consensual sex work, as endorsed by this Amnesty International policy, will combat this vulnerability by promoting a human rights framework to sex work, advancing protections for all.
The Times of India. “Singapore allows HIV-positive foreigners on short-term visits.”Free District. “Dealing with HIV positive visitors in Singapore.”
According to UNAIDS, 15 countries, territories, and areas in Asia impose some form of restriction on the entry, stay, and residence of people living with HIV based on their HIV status. Singapore’s ban against foreigners living with HIV (PLHIV) from staying long-term in the country perpetuates both a stigmatizing and medically unsound fear of the disease and people who are living with it. It also represents a dangerous form of discrimination, which will legitimize social stigma and abuse. The President of local NGO, Action for AIDS, is quoted by the Guardian as saying “While things have improved slightly, we cannot forget that many are still being asked to leave their jobs and are ostracised by friends and family because of HIV infection. Many still suffer alone, and have trouble securing jobs and health insurance.”
In 2014, Singapore’s health ministry reported there were 6,685 residents living with HIV in the island country. By banning PLHIV from broadly visiting, working, or studying within its borders, Singapore sends a message that this community is unwanted and undesirable, structuralizing HIV-related stigma and discrimination. Singapore should look to remove its restrictions against entry, stay, and residence of PLHIV entirely, and implement anti-discrimination measures to protect the human rights of its PLHIV community. Such measures will also serve to end new-HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths around the region.
Members of the United Nations Security Council held their first ever official conversation about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues this month. The conversation by 13 of the 15 member states of the UN’s most powerful body was co-hosted by the United States and Chile, and was framed as an Arria-formula meeting—a type of unofficial, confidential and non-mandatory gathering of Security Council members.
Huffington Post. “The U.S. And Chile Got The UN Security Council to Talk LGBT Rights.”
Washington Blade. “Islamic State focus of U.N. Security Council’s first LGBT meeting.”
Medium. “Making History: The First UN Security Council Meeting on LGBT Rights.”
Although increasingly visible as a public policy issue, members of the LGBT community continue to experience discrimination—often State-sanctioned—worldwide, that hinders their ability to live, work, and access medical treatment and care. Furthermore, globally, homosexuality continues to be criminalized, with the death penalty or imprisonment still in place as punishment in some countries.
While this month’s discussion on LGBT rights by members of the UN Security Council focused mainly on extremist LGBT-rights abuses by the ISIL, it represents an important step in protecting the basic rights of LGBT people in countries around the world and giving political profile to the issue. According to U.S. Ambassador Samantha Powers, the discussion “is the first time we [the United Nations] are saying, in a single voice, that it is wrong to target people because of their sexual orientation and gender identity… it is, we all know, long over-due.”
Following this important first step, governments should continue discussions on how to end discrimination against LGBT people in their countries, and implement human rights protections to guard this community against violence and stigma.