Protection from arbitrary killing should be a minimum standard not an aspiration

10.12.2014

The right not to be arbitrarily killed ought to be the absolute floor for any understanding of human rights. However, for many of of those working on LGBT rights, basic safety and security seems more like an aspirational goal than a minimum standard.

By Marianne Møllmann, Director of Programs at the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission

The right not to be arbitrarily killed ought to be the absolute floor for any understanding of human rights.

However, for many of our colleagues and the people they work with, basic safety and security seems more like an aspirational goal than a minimum standard. The offices of our partners are broken into. Private work meetings are cancelled by authorities. Our colleagues are arrested or harassed by police. A number are severely beaten, whether by public officers or by private individuals, often acting in groups.

And then there are those who are killed. The Transgender Murder Monitoring Project has tracked at least 226 reported murders of trans persons from November 2013 to November 2014 worldwide.  In New York City in the month of May 2014 alone, the Anti Violence Project reported 11 high-profile cases of anti-gay violence. Most likely, these are but the tip of the iceberg. Most cases of violence or murder directly against lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and intersex (LGBTI) persons are not reported to the police, or highlighted in the media. Justice for this violence is hardly ever forthcoming, even where the incidents are reported.

But perhaps more to the point, though we know for sure that LGBTI persons, as a group, are more exposed to violence than our straight counterparts—all other things being equal—it is not always possible to say whether a specific incidence of violence or harassment is motivated by the victim’s real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

This is why it is paramount that governments pay specific attention to the violence directed at those identifying as or suspected of being LGBTI. For more than a decade, United Nations members states have pledged to do just in their biannual resolution on extrajudicial and arbitrary executions and killings. Since 2000, this resolution has included a reference to the need for states to pay specific attention to those killed because of real or perceived sexual orientation, and since 2012 also gender identity.

This resolution does not, of course, overcome the discrimination and abuse faced by LGBTI persons—and those suspected of being LGBTI—worldwide. However, the explicitly acknowledgement that violence against LGBTI persons is arbitrary, and that states must work to prosecute this violence where it happens, lends weight to the pushes for adequate legislation and policies to counter hate crimes everywhere.

Even more importantly, the resolution highlights those targeted because of real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity as particularly vulnerable to arbitrary killings, implicitly acknowledging states’ failure to prevent this violence. Even if each individual murder motivated by homophobic or transphobic hatred were classified and prosecuted as a hate crime, this would still not, by itself, eliminate the societal prejudice that fuels these crimes.  The most important contribution the passage of this resolution could make is by implicitly calling out the need for cultural change.

The right not to be arbitrarily killed—or killed at all—for any reason whatsoever should not even be up for discussion. What we should be talking about is how to change the stereotypes that lead to abuse.