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.
This month, Unreported World, a UK foreign affairs program, aired a documentary on the Beijing LGBT Centre’s coalition advocacy campaign to end gay ‘conversion’ therapy in China. The documentary attracted a global audience and is the latest platform utilized in a year-and-a-half long community-led advocacy campaign that has already resulted in China’s first accepted court case and ruling condemning the practice and affirming that homosexuality is not an illness.
Homosexuality has not been classified as a mental illness in China since 2001. However, stigma persists—including in the form of damaging, unscientific “cures” offered to LGBT individuals. Gay ‘conversion’ therapy includes techniques such as electroshock therapy and pills to induce nausea to purportedly “cure” homosexuality. Such practices have been condemned since a Beijing court ruled in December 2014 that a clinic in Chongqing must pay compensation and publicly apologize to a man who was given such treatment. A direct result of community-led advocacy, the court ruling was monumentally important in affirming LGBT rights in China, but has not yet been successful in eradicating ‘conversion’ practices completely.
The continued advocacy by Chinese LGBT activists like John Shen and the Beijing LGBT Centre, in the face of shrinking space for activism in China, is significant, and forms part of a one-and-a-half year community led campaign to highlight discriminatory and regressive practices against the LGBT community in China. The court case and subsequent media coverage highlight that community led advocacy can be successful.
In day-to-day life, gay people in China face less homophobic aggression than their counterparts in many other countries, and a major Pew study in 2013 found a growing minority of the population is inclined to answer “yes” to the question “Should homosexuality be accepted?” But, as Unreported World explores, such advocacy on LGBT rights still requires comprehensive risk mitigation strategies in order to be successful, and many LGBT activists still face stigma from family members as well as increased surveillance and harassment from security forces.
Human rights activists have called for the immediate repeal of new laws passed in Indonesia’s conservative Aceh province that make gay sex punishable by 100 lashes of the cane, calling it “an enormous step backwards”. As reported in thismonth’s installment of “Beijing LGBT inAsia,” life for LGBT people in Indonesia is incredibly restrictive.
The World Post. “‘We Were Treated Like Animals’: The Story of Indonesia’s LGBT Activists”
Human Rights Watch. “Dispatches: The Courage to Combat Indonesia’s Homophobia.”
ABC. “Gay sex made punishable by public caning in Indonesia’s Aceh province.”
Indonesia’s government has a long way to go to eradicate pervasive discrimination and violence against its LGBT community. Earlier this year, the country made headlines when its most influential Muslim clerical group issued a fatwa calling for same-sex behavior to be punishable by the death penalty. The country also has one of the worst records in the world when it comes to violence against transgender people; 85% of the country’s transgender community reported experiencing violence between 2011 and 2012. In addition, when Pew Research Center asked if homosexuality should be “accepted by society,” ninety three percent of Indonesians said ‘no.’
Despite negative attitudes and practices, homosexuality is not illegal in Indonesia. The new laws in Aceh are specific to the province, which is the only area allowed to implement Islamic sharia law somewhat autonomously in the country. Notably, the bylaws concerning homosexuality will be the first to be applied to non-Muslims and foreigners. With the situation for LGBT people in Indonesia bleak and getting worse over the past year, Indonesia’s national government should stand up for the rights and dignity of its LGBT community and oppose Aceh’s new regulation.
Activists and community leaders have long argued that personal drug use should be treated as a health issue, rather than a criminal offense. According to UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé in a UNAIDS Feature Story this month, “the criminalization of people who use drugs is fueling the HIV epidemic…investment in harm reduction is a crucial foundation of an efficient drug policy.” Reportedly, between 5-10% of new HIV infections worldwide result from sharing needles for personal drug use, jumping up to 80% in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The criminalization of drug use and possession hinders attempts to reach people who use drugs with HIV-prevention services and other important health services.
In Asia drugs possession and use is criminalized across the region, with several countries mandating compulsory detention for treatment, often in violation of international human rights law. This month, several UN agencies discussed the links between public health, human rights, and the world drug situation. Controversially, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) withdrew its paper calling for the full decriminalization of personal drug possession and use. The policy, already endorsed by UNAIDS, UNDP, UN Women, the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights and WHO, has long been seen as the best response to both combatting HIV and for protecting the rights of people who use drugs.
Officials and activists should now work towards increased attention and acceptance of harm reduction at the upcoming UNGASS meeting, using UNAID’s endorsement of the strategy as a solid platform for future growth. Activists should also continue to urge UNODC to publicly clarify its position on decriminalization, as the UN Office will be a major influencer in the formation of revised drug policies going forward.
After a rural Cambodian village experienced an unprecedented number of HIV diagnoses last year, Yem Chhrin—the village’s unlicensed medic—was arrested. Chhrin faces three charges, including: murder, intentionally spreading HIV, and practicing medicine without a license. His trial began this month.
The Hindu. “Cambodian quack on trial for infecting over 100 with HIV.”
The Guardian. “Unlicensed Cambodian medic on trial for infecting more than 100 people with HIV.”
Radio Free Asia. “‘No Intention to Infect,’ Cambodian Health Worker Says at HIV Outbreak Trial.”
Activists and UN agencies have long taken the position that the overly broad application of criminal law to HIV non-disclosure, exposure and transmission raises public health and human rights concerns. In this instance, Yem Chhrin is charged with murder, intentionally spreading HIV, and practicing medicine without a license, as a result of a large number of people being diagnosed with HIV in Roka village in Cambodia at the end of 2014. Prosecutors in the case argue the outbreak was a result of Chhrin re-using unclean needles; Chhrin denied this during his trial, stating he always sterilized needles before use and later used disposables when they became affordable.
Over the years, HIV advocates, researchers, and people living with HIV have expressed serious concerns about the impact of criminalization of HIV on prevention efforts. In their 2013 Guidance on HIV criminalization, UNAIDS recommends States to instead focus their resources on “expanding the use of proven and successful evidence-informed and rights-based public health approaches to HIV prevention, treatment and care, and limit any application of criminal law to truly blameworthy cases where it is needed to achieve justice. States should strengthen HIV programs that enable people to know how to protect themselves from HIV and to avoid transmitting it, and they should help people access the services and commodities they need for HIV prevention, treatment, care and support.”
As Cambodia’s rural health facilities are limited, the government should focus on expanding its, otherwise successful, HIV prevention programs to more of the country, ensuring the human rights of PLHIV and medical practitioners are protected. Increasing education around HIV transmission methods and providing support to people living with HIV, including those in Roka village, will be a good first step, as well as ensuring that medical practitioners across the country are properly trained and supported.