Thursday, 11 March 2010

US State Department human rights report: "Societal Abuses, Discrimination, and Acts of Violence Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity" in Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan

In past, gay rights were reflected within the US State Department annual human rights country reports very briefly under the "Other Societal Abuses and Discrimination" section (see e.g. 2007 and 2008 reports). In a remarkable shift of policy, this year's report which was published today and reflects 2009, features gay rights much more prominently under the separate section: "Societal Abuses, Discrimination, and Acts of Violence Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity" This may be the clearest yet indication of shift in Obama administration's policy and that gay rights in the region and elsewhere will be monitored and act upon more seriously.


Societal Abuses, Discrimination, and Acts of Violence Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

General societal attitudes towards homosexuality remained highly unfavorable. The country's endorsement of the UN December 2008 statement against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity caused a public outcry and increased the number of negative articles in the media about homosexuals. Society continued largely to view homosexuality as an affliction.

Persons who were openly gay were exempted from military service, purportedly because of concern that they would be abused by fellow servicemen. However, the legal pretext for the exemption was predicated on a medical finding of gays possessing a mental disorder, which was stamped in their documents and could affect their future. During the year there was at least one reported case of a young man, whose homosexuality was revealed during military service, being diagnosed and hospitalized with "homosexuality disease."

According to local human rights activists, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender persons experienced some of the most humiliating discrimination in prisons, where they were forced to do some of the most degrading jobs and separated from the rest of the prison population.

Societal discrimination based on sexual orientation continued to be a problem with respect to employment, family relations, and access to education and health care for sexual minorities.


Societal Abuses, Discrimination, and Acts of Violence Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

There are no laws that criminalize sexual orientation, male-to-male sex, or female-to-female sex; however, homosexuality was not widely accepted in society.

There were a few lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) organizations; however, they did not work exclusively as such and instead promoted tolerance more broadly. One reason for this was the strong societal stigma against homosexuality, including its denunciation by the Georgian Orthodox Church. The new public defender (see section 5) stated that among his priorities would be the protection of LGBT groups and individuals, and on July 31, in a debate with another nominee for the post, he said that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation was unacceptable.

On December 15, the office of an NGO that promotes LGBT equality was searched by police. Reportedly, officials used antihomosexual slurs, made unnecessary strip searches, unnecessarily damaged organizational posters, and unnecessarily ransacked offices. The Ministry of Internal Affairs denied that any procedural violations took place and maintained that the profile of the organization was irrelevant in terms of the law. The ministry reported that its General Inspection Office gave one officer a reprimand at the "severe" level in accordance with the police code of ethics, as his actions were determined to be nonethical and inappropriate for police officers. Two other officers were also given a reprimand at the "severe" level for not preventing the above-mentioned officer from making the unethical statements.


Societal Abuses, Discrimination, and Acts of Violence Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

There are no laws criminalizing sexual orientation. There were numerous incidents of police brutality against individuals based on sexual orientation. During the year there were no investigations into or punishments of those responsible for these acts, although this was largely due to victims' unwillingness to file claims due to fear of social stigma. In 2007, after an official complaint was made through the ombudsman's office, two police officers were removed from their positions.

During the year police raided gay bars on four occasions and arrested almost 50 persons. Police reportedly held the individuals and threatened to expose their sexuality publicly unless they paid a bribe. The human rights Ombudsman's Office intervened to resolve the incidents.

One NGO worked on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues in the country. This NGO worked to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, and provided legal advice, psychological assistance, and outreach activities. The NGO reported no official harassment of its work. There were no attempts to organize gay pride marches during the year; however, there was a small gathering on May 17 to commemorate International Anti-Homophobia Day.

There were no reported deaths during the year due to violence based on sexual orientation. However, domestic violence due to sexual orientation remained a large problem.

The government did not officially condone discrimination based on sexual orientation; however, there was societal prejudice against LGBT persons. While being fired from a job for sexual orientation remained illegal, LGBT individuals reported that employers found other reasons to fire them. Discrimination in access to healthcare was also a problem. In 2008 two transgender individuals died from injuries received from a car accident because physicians at Baku Hospital Number 1 refused to treat them.