Legal and LGBT rights activists in Bangladesh have expressed dismay at the government’s refusal to decriminalize homosexuality though the state has long since accepted that homosexuality exists in the country and there is need to spread awareness among males having sex with males to combat the spread of HIV and AIDS.
The reaction came Friday after Bangladesh attended the 24th regular session of the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva, where it rejected the recommendation to abolish Section 377 of the national penal code which criminalizes consensual same-sex relationship.
“Decriminalizing Section 377 is important because it can help bring social change,” said Boys of Bangladesh, one of the country’s oldest gay rights organizations, and the International Lesbian and Gay Association in a joint statement issued Friday.
The gay rights groups say the state already has an extensive HIV/AIDS program which also includes men who have sex with men and hijras, transgenders or eunuchs.
‘Hence, this rejection indicates that it’s just to avoid acknowledging human rights violations of sexual and gender minorities,’ the gay rights activists said.
This is the second time since 2009 that the government of the Muslim-majority South Asian state once again turned down national and international organizations’ recommendation to decriminalize Section 377.
Two of Bangladesh’s peers in South Asia, India and Nepal, no longer have the ban on homosexuality, regarded as a colonial legacy inherited from the British.
Mohammad Abdul Hannan, Dhaka’s permanent representative to the UN office in Geneva, told the review session that homosexuality was not in accordance with the prevailing culture and social values.
‘Bangladesh considers that the law of the land should be in conformity with the prevalent socio-cultural norms and values of the country,’ Hannan said. ‘Activities subject to the concerned article are not generally accepted norm in the country.’
Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK), a leading legal and human rights organization known for also defending persecuted LGBT people, has also expressed concern at the continued rejection.
ASK member Bina D’Costa said, ‘We are dismayed to note that the government of Bangladesh has not agreed to accept several key recommendations on abolishing death penalty and repealing article 377.’
Gay rights activists also say that though the government accepted recommendations made in 2009 that the state provide orientation on sexual identities to police and security forces, the recent arrest of a lesbian couple is a matter of concern.
They have also urged the government to stop ‘intolerant groups from making inflammatory homophobic remarks, which have often resulted in violence towards the LGBT community’.
Other gay rights groups have also joined in the protests.
In a statement for Action Canada for Population, Pooja Badarinath from Sexual Rights Initiatives (SRI) said Section 377 was a colonial legacy in all South Asian countries.
‘Hence (it) does not necessarily reflect Bangladeshi society,’ she said, adding that the clause is actually invoked by law enforcement agencies to harass and incite many forms of violence towards those identified as LGBTIs.
‘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,’ Badarinath said.
Boys of Bangladesh says while a law can’t be changed overnight, the government should take concrete steps to protect all people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.