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SOGI and Freedom of Expression, Peaceful Assembly and Association

On 20-21 June 2024, Mr. Graeme Reid, the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI), presented his first report to the Human Rights Council. Key points from the discussion are summarized below.

Mr. Graeme Reid, Independent Expert on SOGI (Photo from Yale University, Jackson School of Global Affairs)

Participants: India, Nepal, Ghana, and South Africa, along with the SOGI Group of Friends and several Western and Latin American States, UNICEF, UN Women, UNFPA, UNAIDS, as well as several NGOs, such as ILGA, GIN SSOGIE NPC, COC Nederland, GATE, Asia Pacific Transgender Network, RFSL and ACLU. Most statements can be found on the Extranet.

Independent Expert’s observations: He highlighted the increasing restrictions on freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, and association based on SOGI. Restrictive laws had proliferated with at least 60 Member States restricting freedom of expression and 59 restricting peaceful assembly and association. Examples included Russia's "gay propaganda" law and Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Act. Companies have obligations to invest in monitoring and measures to make online spaces safe for persons of diverse sexual orientation and gender identity.

States echoed the IE’s concerns, noting that discriminatory restrictions included criminalizing public displays of same-sex affection, adopting policies against comprehensive sexuality education, refusing to register organizations that work on sexual orientation or gender identity and otherwise restricting advocacy for equality, including marching in the streets. Restrictive laws undermine democracy, marginalize LGBT individuals, and contradict international human rights obligations.

Notable States’ reactions:

  • Ghana: The Supreme Court was reviewing constitutionality of a Bill noted by the Independent Expert. Should it be passed into law, Ghana shall strive to reach a balance in enforcing the provisions of the Act and protecting everyone’s human rights.

  • India: Defended its long-standing regulations on foreign funding to CSOs.

  • Poland: Noted that discriminatory local resolutions were either repealed or invalidated and announced plans to amend the Penal Code to punish hate speech based on SOGI and introduce a civil partnerships bill recognizing same-sex couples.

Progress: Discernible global trend towards decriminalization, as evident in the 38 States that have done so in the past 25 years, and most recently in the Caribbean.

Country visits:

See links for reports. Conducted by predecessor, Victor Madrigal-Borloz.

  • United Kingdom: Concerns over toxic political discourse affecting transgender rights, among others.

  • Cambodia: Observed social rejection of LGBTI people, bullying, discrimination at work and challenges in access to health care.

  • United States: Protection gaps and exclusion in various areas at the federal level and negative effects of regressive State laws. However, Mr. Reid welcomed steps taken in to address book banning and promote inclusive education.

Additional visits are planned in Albania in July and in Poland later on.

Bullying and education: UNICEF noted that LGBTIQ+ children are especially vulnerable to bullying, violence, and stigma, affecting their educational outcomes and increasing the risk of suicide.

Conclusion: The Independent Expert ended by noting that the seats of some States were empty. He recognized that there are vastly different perspectives but also that there is a common ground that everyone is entitled to equal rights and protections. Failing to recognize this and excluding people on the basis of SOGI would be a loss for everyone, in terms of the vast diversity of human experience.


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