Study reveals discrimination against LGBT people in Burma

Police use law that criminalizes gay sex to abuse and blackmail LGBT people

Study reveals discrimination against LGBT people in Burma
28 January 2013

Research from human rights activists in Burma has revealed the extent of discrimination against LGBT people in the Southeast Asian country.

Human Rights Education Institute Burma (HREIB) carried out focus groups and individual interviews with 24 LGBT people from five different cities.

The report from the research says that all respondents experienced ‘some level of discrimation’. LGBT people ‘are victims of numerous discriminatory acts and even crimes, committed both by ordinary citizens as well as law enforcement and state agents,’ it says.

In one case study, a 35-year-old beautician who lives in Rangoon, spoke about being arrested and held in a police station for 10 days where police made him take off his clothes and act ‘manly’ for them. He was raped by five police officers.

Another gay man from Rangoon said he was arrested in 2011 and kept at a police station for three days where he was forced to perform oral sex. He was taken to court and charged without being allowed access to a lawyer. He was sentenced to a month in prison where he was treated badly.

Another man was arrested for carrying condoms in his bag. Police officers physically assaulted him and he was sentenced to one month in prison. He said that the police target LGBT people when they want money.

HREIB’s report found that a British colonial era law that criminalizes gay sex, Section 377, ‘contributes to an unsafe and highly discriminatory environment for LGBT persons’ in the country.

‘The criminalization of one act pertaining to a specific group of individuals has contributed to the prejudice and now embedded discrimination against LGBT communities in the Myanmar [Burma] society,’ the report said.

‘Section 377 makes LGBT more vulnerable to harassment from law enforcement authorities,’ Aung Myo Min, founder and executive director of HREIB told Gay Star News.

‘The law itself is not enforced, but LGBT are harassed by police referencing this law, and other laws. LGBT are blackmailed so if they give the police money they are let off, if they don’t then they are detained and are subjected to sexual humiliation and violence.’

Last month Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, told Gay Star News that the British government should take more responsibility for laws that create suffering for LGBT people in former colonies.

‘They should be actively trying to persuade governments to take these laws of the books,’ said Robertson.  

Gay Star News contacted the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office for a response to Robertson’s call for the government to publicly denounce the laws. 

‘The UK works through our embassies and high commissions and through international organisations, including the UN, the Council of Europe and the Commonwealth, to promote tolerance and non-discrimination against LGBT people and to address discriminatory laws, in particular those that criminalise homosexuality,’ said a spokesperson.

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