On the Transgender Day of Remembrance, the ICJ calls on all South Asian States to fulfill their international obligations to respect, protect and ensure the right to life of all transgender persons, including by investigating alleged violations of their right to life promptly, thoroughly and effectively.
While there has been some progress in protecting the human rights of transgender individuals through legislation and judicial decisions, in South Asia rampant violence from both state and non-state actors continues to place their lives at risk.
Most governments do not collect data on violence against transgender persons.
Trans Murder Monitoring, which records cases of murder of transgender persons based on accounts from individuals and civil society organizations, reports 2609 unnatural deaths of trans and gender-diverse persons across 71 countries between January 2008 and September 2018.
In South Asia, between 2008 and 2016, 58 transgender persons were reported murdered in India, 37 in Pakistan, 2 in Nepal, and 2 in Bangladesh.
“It is laudable that Pakistan, India and Nepal have taken measures to end discrimination against transgender persons, and have recognized their right to self-identify,” said Frederick Rawski, ICJ Asia-Pacific Director.
“However, violence, harassment, extortion, rape and murder of transgender persons continue to be committed. Police frequently refuse to file complaints, and are often themselves complicit in violence against transgender persons,” he added.
The judiciary has played an important role in protecting transgender rights in India, Nepal and Pakistan.
The Supreme Courts in all three countries have issued decisions recognizing transgender persons’ rights, including the right to self-identity one’s gender.
These decisions have acknowledged that transgender persons are particularly targeted with violence by state and non-state actors, and that police have largely failed to protect them from violence.
In some cases, the courts have ordered that new remedies be created under the law, and sought the enforcement of existing laws protecting transgender rights.
However, many of these decisions remain unimplemented, and violence against transgender people remains rampant in South Asia.
“The ICJ calls on all governments in the region to ensure that laws, policies and practices affecting transgender persons comply with international human rights law and standards,” Rawski said.
“All human rights abuses against transgender persons must be investigated, and the perpetrators brought to justice, including law enforcement officials who harass or abuse persons based on their gender identity,” he added.
Frederick Rawski, ICJ Asia Pacific Director, t: +66 644781121 ; e: Frederick.rawski(a)icj.org
In India, in 2014, the Supreme Court in NALSA v. UOI recognized the right of transgender persons to self-identify their gender.
The Court has further acknowledged the existence of human rights violations against transgender persons at the hands of the police and private individuals and recommended that state and central government take steps to create public awareness about transgender persons’ rights.
Per a 2015 survey by the Kerala Government, “52% of the TGs [transgender people] are facing harassment from the police and “96% do not raise complaints against violence because of their gender identity”.
In Nepal, in 2007, the Supreme Court in Sunil Babu Pant v. Government of Nepal recognized the right of individuals to identify as male, female or “third gender”.
However, transgender persons continue to face arbitrary harassment and detention by security forces under laws like Public Offences Act, 1970, which allow for arrests without due process for up to 25 days.
This resulted in the Supreme Court of Nepal ordering law enforcement officials to desist from arresting persons based on their “personal interest or appearance,” though the decision remains largely unimplemented.
In Pakistan, in 2009, the Supreme Court directed the Government to recognize the human rights of transgender persons and subsequently, in 2018, the Parliament passed a law prohibiting discrimination against transgender persons.
The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2018 of Pakistan prohibits harassment of transgender persons, including sexual, physical, mental and psychological harassment, and creates new remedies for complainants in addition to those available under the criminal justice system.
The effectiveness of the law remains to be seen, as police are often complicit in violence against transgender persons, particularly in extorting money from transgender women sex workers.
ICJ Practitioners’ Guide No. 4: Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and International Human Rights Law, which provides legal practitioners, activists and policy-makers with detailed and practical references on international standards on sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and sexual characteristics.
ICJ Comparative Law Casebook: Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Justice, which provides legal practitioners, activists and policy-makers with a compilation of legal cases on sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics.
ICJ India 2017 Report: “Unnatural Offences” Obstacles to Justice in India Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, which provides a legal analysis of the discrimination and abuse faced by the LGBTI community in India based on over 100 interviews with LGBTI persons.