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Report of the Special Rapporteur on the question of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, interim report, A/56/156, July 3, 2001

18. The Special Rapporteur has received information according to which members of sexual minorities have been subjected, inter alia, to harassment, humiliation and verbal abuse relating to their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity and physical abuse, including rape and sexual assault. He notes with concern that, according to the information received, the rape of a man or of a male-to-female transsexual woman is often subject to the lesser charge of “sexual assault”, which carries lighter penalties than the more serious crime of rape in a number of countries. It is also reported that male-to-female transsexual women have been beaten intentionally on their breasts and cheek-bones which had been enhanced by silicone implants, causing the implants to burst and as a result releasing toxic substances into their bodies. Ill-treatment against sexual minorities is believed to have also been used, inter alia, in order to make sex workers leave certain areas, in so-called “social cleansing” campaigns, or to discourage sexual minorities from meeting in certain places, including clubs and bars.

19. While no relevant statistics are available to the Special Rapporteur, it appears that members of sexual minorities are disproportionately subjected to torture and other forms of ill-treatment, because they fail to conform to socially constructed gender expectations. Indeed, discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or  gender identity may often contribute to the process of the dehumanization of the victim, which is often a necessary condition for torture and ill-treatment to take place. The Special Rapporteur further notes that members of sexual minorities are a particularly vulnerable group with respect to torture in various contexts and that their status may also affect the consequences of their ill-treatment in terms of their access to complaint procedures or medical treatment in state hospitals, where they may fear further victimization, as well as in terms of legal consequences regarding the legal sanctions flowing from certain abuses. The Special Rapporteur would like to stress that, because of their economic and educational situation, allegedly often exacerbated or caused by discriminatory laws and attitudes, members of sexual minorities are deprived of the means to claim and ensure the enforcement of their rights, including their rights to legal representation and to obtain legal remedies, such as compensation.

20. The Special Rapporteur is concerned that in a number of countries laws punish consensual same-sex relationships and transgendered behaviour by corporal punishment which, as stated by the Commission on Human Rights on several occasions, “can amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment or even to torture”.

21. Discriminatory attitudes to members of sexual minorities can mean that they are perceived as less credible by law enforcement agencies or not fully entitled to an equal standard of protection, including protection against violence carried out by non- State agents. The Special Rapporteur has received information according to which members of sexual minorities, when arrested for other alleged offences or when lodging a complaint of harassment by third parties, have been subjected to further victimization by the police, including verbal, physical and sexual assault, including rape. Silencing through shame or the threat by law enforcement officials to publicly disclose the birth sex of the victim or his or her sexual orientation (inter alia, to family members) may keep a considerable number of victims from reporting abuses.

22. Furthermore, the Special Rapporteur has received information according to which members of sexual minorities have received inadequate medical treatment in public hospitals — even after having been victims of assault — on grounds of their gender identity. As regards the provision of medical treatment, prisoners diagnosed as suffering from gender dysphoria, once detained, are often said to be denied medical treatment for gender dysphoria, such as hormone therapy.

23. When detained, members of sexual minorities are often considered as a sub- category of prisoners and detained in worse conditions of detention than the larger prison population. The Special Rapporteur has received information according to which members of sexual minorities in detention have been subjected to considerable violence, especially sexual assault and rape, by fellow inmates and, at times, by prison guards. Prison guards are also said to fail to take reasonable measures to abate the risk of violence by fellow inmates or even to have encouraged sexual violence, by identifying members of sexual minorities to fellow inmates for that express purpose. Prison guards are believed to use threats of transfer to main detention areas, where members of sexual minorities would be at high risk of sexual attack by other inmates. In particular, transsexual and transgendered persons, especially male-to-female transsexual inmates, are said to be at great risk of physical and sexual abuse by prison guards and fellow prisoners if placed within the general prison population in men’s prisons.

24. The Special Rapporteur has received information according to which members of sexual minorities have been subject to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in non- penal institutions. In a number of countries, members of sexual minorities are said to have been involuntarily confined to state medical institutions, where they were allegedly subjected to forced treatment on grounds of their sexual orientation or gender identity, including electric shock therapy and other “aversion therapy”, reportedly causing psychological and physical harm. The Special Rapporteur notes, in particular, that the World Health Organization removed homosexuality from its International Classification of Diseases-10 (ICD-10) in 1992. The Special Rapporteur has received information according to which, in a number of countries, persons suspected of homosexuality have been subjected to compulsory, intrusive and degrading medical examinations of anus and penis in order to determine whether penetration had taken place, inter alia, within the context of enlistment for military service.

25. Finally, the Special Rapporteur notes and shares the views of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on human rights defenders regarding “greater risks … faced by defenders of the rights of certain groups as their work challenges social structures, traditional practices and interpretation of religious precepts that may have been used over long periods of time to condone and justify violation of the human rights of members of such groups. Of special importance will be (…) human rights groups and those who are active on issues of sexuality, especially sexual orientation (…).  These  groups  are  often  very  vulnerable  to  prejudice,  to marginalization and to public repudiation, not only by State forces but other social actors.”[81]

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Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1.  Please  note that this is an interim  report and same or similar  information  could be found in the annual report to the Commission on Human Rights, E/CN.4/2002/76, December 27, 2001.