Thursday, 30 October 2008

Azerbaijan: Sexual orientation and gender identity-based discrimination

Universal Periodic Review, UN Human Rights

Sexual relations between men in Azerbaijan were decriminalized since January 2001 possibly due to it being a pre-requisite for Council Europe membership.[1]

Transgender women who sell sex on the streets are the group which has the highest level of abuse from both law enforcement bodies and society. Gender reassignment surgeries and hormonal therapy are not possible in Azerbaijan which considerably limits transgender women’s access to employment. Organizations working on LGBT issues in Azerbaijan report constant police abuse of transgender sex workers including arbitrary detention, blackmailing, physical and sexual violence. Sex work is not criminalized in Azerbaijan but police frequently conducts raids. In May 2007 28 transgender sex workers aged 18 to 37 were forcibly detained and taken to a police station were they were forcibly tested for STIs and HIV. During the raid they were severely beaten and there were two gun shots made into the air to scare them. The next day they were tried in court for ‘not following police orders’ and sentenced to three days of prison detention. Their parents were not allowed to be in the court during the trial and the NGO representatives had difficulty accessing the detention facility. Personal belongings taken during the raid were not returned to their owners. The case was reported to Azerbaijani Ombudsman’s office but no response was received or action taken.

Transgender women are forced to use self-harm as a means to avoid detention and sometimes agree to cooperate with police by providing phone numbers and personal data of their clients. Police uses this information to blackmail the clients and clients beat the sex workers angry that their ‘secret’ was discovered. NGOs report at least one case of a murder of transgender sex worker in retaliation.

Most lesbian, gay, bisexual and (LGBT) people live with their families because of family pressure and social norm that a child should live with their natal family until they found their own family. Very few LGBT people tell their families about their sexual orientation or gender identity fearing being disowned or forcibly married. Many migrate to the capital city to escape family pressure and control.[2] In case of their sexual orientation or gender identity is revealed by police or by accidental situation, there were cases of violence and kicking out of the house or forced marriage.

Until now there is no place for LGBT people to gather except for the office of an NGO that focuses its work on LGBT issues. Society largely believes that LGBT people are sick and immoral. It would be unsafe to run an LGBT-friendly venue because the general public could use violence against the clients of the venue.

LGBT organizing is very limited. The only LGBT NGO in the country reports that they have to use HIV as a cover-up for their work with LGBT communities and are not able to register officially as an LGBT organization which limits the scope of their work significantly. The staff of the NGO cannot appear in public speaking about LGBT rights due to fear of violence and retaliation. The NGO outreach workers working on HIV prevention who go to parks and clubs where LGBT people gather are constantly harassed by the police. Police also monitors websites which LGBT people use for meeting. There were cases reported of police officers meeting with LGBT people through a personals website and blackmailing them or detaining them.

Some state officials used homophobic attitudes of the society to discredit their political opponents. They use mass media to create more homophobic and transphobic attitudes and associate these attitudes with a particular public person.

- Conduct proper investigations on police blackmailing of the LGBT people, duly punishing those responsible and setting up administrative and legal frameworks to eradicate such practices
- Develop legislation to address family violence and hate crimes against LGBT people
- Develop legal and medical system which would allow transgender people to change their bodies and legal papers in accordance with their gender identity

UPR report on Sexual and Reproductive Rights in Azerbaijan (via GenderStan)

[1] Dennis Van Der Veur ‘Forced Out’, Report on Azerbaijan ILGA-Europe/COC-Netherlands fact-finding mission on LGBT situation in Azerbaijan ILGA-Europe, COC-Netherlands (2007)
[2] ‘Forced Out’ Report and communication with LGBT NGO in Azerbaijan

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