In the 24th regular session of the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR), the Government of Bangladesh (GoB) has rejected the recommendation to abolish Section 377 which criminalises consensual same-sex relationships despite the recommendation underlining how decriminalisation will help bring social change. This has led to massive outrage among the over 4.5 million LGBT population in the country.
This is the second time after 2009, that a-Bangladesh-in-denial has rejected such a UNHRC recommendation. In the review session Mohammed Abdul Hannan, currently serving as Permanent Representative (PR) to the UN Office in Geneva said “Bangladesh considers that the law of the land should be in conformity with prevalent socio-cultural norms and values of the country.
Activities subject to the concerned article in the panel code are not generally accepted norm in the country.”
Since the Bangladeshi government already has an extensive HIV/AIDS programme including men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgenders, this rejection has led to allegations by local LGBT rights activists and organisations that this is being done to avoid acknowledging human rights violations of sexual and gender minorities.
Activist Bina D’Costa of Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK) said, “We’re dismayed the GoB has not agreed to accept several key recommendations on abolishing death penalty and repealing article 377 of the penal code.”
A joint statement of International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) and Boys of Bangladesh too brought up the instance of Shibronty Roy Puja, a 16-year-old Hindu, and Sanjida Akter, 21-year-old Muslim, arrested in Dhaka on 23 July.
They were arrested and given life terms for getting married. “Despite government accepting recommendations of UPR 2009 to train law enforcers in sexual orientation and gender identity, we are concerned about how Sanjida and Puja, a lesbian couple, has been treated recently. We also ask the GoB to proactively stop intolerant groups from making inflammatory homophobic remarks, which have often resulted in violence towards LGBT community.”
In a statement for Action Canada for Population, Pooja Badarinath from Sexual Rights Initiatives (SRI) said “Section 377 of the Penal Code of Bangladesh is colonial legacy in all South Asian countries and hence does not necessarily reflect Bangladeshi society. Section 377 is invoked by the law enforcement agencies to harass and incite many forms of violence to hijra, kothi and LGBT identified communities. Gross violations of rights have been reported in the forms of abductions, arbitrary arrests, detentions, beatings and gang rapes administered by the law enforcement agencies and local thugs.”
How UPR helps?
The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) aims at improving the human rights situation on the ground in each of the193 United Nations (UN) member states.
The reason UPR is important for Bangladesh, or any state, is the opportunity for stakeholders to submit their own reports along with the one from the government. The mechanism has hence proved to be very popular and powerful in upholding human rights of marginalised and disenfranchised groups.