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Report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, E/CN.4/2000/3, 25 January 2000

J. Violations of the right to life of members of sexual minorities

54. The Special Rapporteur has continued to receive serious reports of persons having been subjected to death threats or extrajudicially killed because of their sexual orientation. It has been reported that on 4 August 1998 in Brazil, four military police officers in the city of Salvador forced two transvestite sex workers to throw themselves into the sea, after having ill-treated and humiliated them. One of the two persons, Junior da Silva Lago, reportedly drowned and his body was found three days later. Local non-governmental sources have reportedly documented the murders of 1,600 homosexuals in Brazil in the period from 1980 to 1997. It is alleged that in only 5 per cent of these cases have the perpetrators been prosecuted. The Special Rapporteur has also been informed that in the last couple of years a number of homosexual men, bisexuals and transvestites have been murdered or subjected to death threats in El Salvador.

55. The Special Rapporteur has further been alerted to the murder of Stefan Itoafa, a lawyer and journalist in the city of Constanta in Romania. He was also the local coordinator of the League for the Defence of Human Rights in Constanta. His death has been linked to his alleged homosexuality and his journalistic work to uncover corruption and organized crime. On 13 October 1998, Mr. Itoafa was found murdered in his apartment. It is reported that he had been stabbed and his throat had been cut. His hands were apparently tied behind his back. The Special Rapporteur is concerned that the police, when investigating the murder of Mr. Itoafa, reportedly released information to the media about the victim’s alleged homosexuality, describing the murder as an “act of jealousy” by another homosexual. It is alleged that the information released by the police also included medical details supposedly suggesting that Mr. Itoafa had previously engaged in homosexual relations. The prejudiced attitude displayed by the police has given rise to fears that Mr. Itoafa’s case will not be adequately investigated.

56. During her mission to Mexico from 12 to 24 July 1999, the Special Rapporteur met with the Comisión Cuidadana contra los Crímenes de Odio por Homofobia, a non-governmental organization working against violence and so-called “hate crimes” against members of sexual minorities in Mexico. According to information provided by this organization, in the period January 1995-May 1997, at least 125 persons were murdered because of their sexual orientation, 120 of them men. It was reported that the majority of the victims had been killed in an extremely violent and brutal way: their bodies were often found naked with hands and feet tied and with signs of torture, stabbing, strangulation or mutilation. Concern was also expressed that the prejudiced attitude of the authorities, together with tendentious media reports had contributed to an atmosphere of impunity and indifference about crimes committed against members of sexual minorities. The Special Rapporteur brought these concerns to the attention of the Mexican authorities and the Human Rights Commission of the Federal District. They claimed that the authorities did not discriminate against anyone on the ground of sexual orientation, including in the sphere of criminal investigation and prosecution.[67]

57. It is a cause for great concern that in some States homosexual relationships are still punishable by death. It must be recalled that under article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights death sentences may only be imposed for the most serious crimes, a stipulation which clearly excludes matters of sexual orientation. In this context, the Special Rapporteur wishes to reiterate her belief that the continuing prejudice against members of sexual minorities and especially the criminalization of matters of sexual orientation increases the social stigmatization of these persons. This in turn makes them more vulnerable to violence and human rights abuses, including death threats and violations of the right to life, which are often committed in a climate of impunity.

70. Article 6, paragraph 2, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights stipulates that, “in countries which have not abolished the death penalty, sentence of death may be imposed only for the most serious crimes”. In its General Comment 6 on article 6 of the Covenant, the Human Rights Committee stated that the expression “most serious crimes” must be read restrictively to mean that the death penalty should be a quite exceptional measure. The Special Rapporteur shares this conclusion, and further believes that the death penalty should under no circumstances be mandatory by law, regardless of the charges involved. Paragraph 1 of the Safeguards guaranteeing protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty states that the scope of crimes subject to the death penalty should not go beyond intentional crimes with lethal or other extremely grave consequences. The Special Rapporteur is strongly of the opinion that these restrictions exclude the possibility of imposing death sentences for economic and other so-called victimless offences, or activities of a religious or political nature (…). This principle also excludes actions primarily related to prevailing moral values, such as adultery and prostitution, as well as matters of sexual orientation.

89. In most situations impunity is the result of a weak and inadequate justice system, which is either reluctant or unable to investigate and prosecute cases of human rights violations, including violations of the right to life. While in some countries the judiciary is strongly influenced by or directly subordinate to the executive authorities, in others court decisions are flatly overruled or ignored by the law enforcement authorities or the armed forces. Members of security forces are often prosecuted in military courts which in many cases fall short of international standards regarding the impartiality, independence and competence of the judiciary. Extrajudicial killings and acts of murder may sometimes also go unpunished because of the sex, religious belief, ethnicity or sexual orientation of the victim, which is used as a justification of the crime. […]

12. The right to life and sexual orientation

116. The Special Rapporteur encourages Governments to renew their efforts to protect the security and the right to life of persons belonging to sexual minorities. Acts of murder and death threats should be promptly and thoroughly investigated regardless of the sexual orientation of the victims. Measures should include policies and programmes geared towards overcoming hatred and prejudice against homosexuals and sensitizing public officials and the general public to crimes and acts of violence directed against members of sexual minorities. The Special Rapporteur believes that decriminalizing matters of sexual orientation would greatly contribute to overcoming the social stigmatization of members of sexual minorities, and thereby curb impunity for human rights violations directed against these persons. Matters of sexual orientation should under no circumstances be punishable by death.

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Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. For further details please see the mission to Mexico report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, E/CN.4/2000/3/Add.3,  November 25, 1999, Visit to Mexico.