Bangladesh refuses UN demand to axe gay law, pushing millions back into closet

Published: September 23, 2013

On Friday the Bangladeshi Government accepted 164 of 196 recommendations from the UN after a session of the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review.

It came as no surprise to me it had not accepted the recommendation to abolish Section 377 of the national penal code criminalizing consensual same-sex relationships.
Abdul Hannan, a permanent representative of Bangladesh to the UN Office in Geneva, had told the council that Bangladesh would not accept any recommendations conflicting with ‘socio-cultural values of the country’ or its ‘constitutional and legal provisions’.
The UN Population Fund and some non-governmental organizations have been accused of ‘pressuring’ Bangladesh to accept ‘thorny and sensitive issues’ like gay rights.
Abdul Momen told the Dhaka Tribune: ‘We told them that we cannot accept the issues as they are against our social norms.’
He said the UNFPA had tried to ‘sell the idea of rights’ for LGBTs but Bangladesh had ‘opposed it as it also had not supported extramarital sexual rights’.
Apparently gay rights are ‘too contentious’. According to Foreign Secretary MM Shahidul Haque these issues will not be discussed at the current 68th UN General Assembly but would come up next year at the International Conference on Population and Development meeting.
He declined to comment when asked about the briefing note for the Bangladesh delegation which suggested they should ‘refrain from voting against any motions in favor of services for LGBT’.
Tanvir Alim, of Boys of Bangladesh (BOB), one of the country’s oldest gay rights organizations, said: ‘We regret the government has rejected [the] recommendation to abolish Section 377 which criminalizes consensual same-sex relationships.
‘The government already has an extensive HIV and AIDS program including men who have sex with men. This rejection indicates it’s just to avoid acknowledging human rights violations of sexual and gender minorities.’
As Gay Star News reported, BOB and the International Lesbian and Gay Association in a joint statement issued Friday said: ‘Decriminalizing Section 377 is important because it can help bring social change.
‘We also ask the Government of Bangladesh to proactively stop intolerant groups from making inflammatory homophobic remarks, which have often resulted in violence towards LGBT community.’
Pooja Badarinath from Sexual Rights Initiatives (SRI) said: ‘Section 377 of the Penal Code of Bangladesh is colonial legacy in all South Asian countries and hence does not necessarily reflect Bangladeshi society.
‘Section 377 is invoked by the law enforcement agencies to harass and incite many forms of violence to Hijra, Kothi and LGBTI identified communities.
‘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.’
To return to Hannan, the Bangladeshi UN diplomat, his statement ‘Bangladesh considers the law of the land should be in conformity with the prevalent socio-cultural norms and values of the country’ indicates homosexuality is considered a taboo subject – by ignoring it the country is merely burying its head in the sand.
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