LGBTI Rights: Nepal’s International Image, Reality On The Ground And UPR

Sunil Babu Pant

Participants of the Gay pride festival 2012 on the occasion of Gaijatra festival in Pokhara, Nepal.

Nepal is often presented as a progressive country for having ratified equal rights and recognition for sexual and gender minorities. The state’s commitment to LGBT rights acquired international attention in 2007 when the Supreme Court issued a landmark decision to recognize the Third Gender, amend laws discriminating against LGBT people and ordered the government to establish a committee to draft same sex marriage law. Some progress has been made towards implementing the Supreme Court’s order. The Nepalese government has started issuing citizenship ID to those who do not wish to identify ‘man’ or ‘woman’, as ‘other’. Yet, they have failed to provide a passport to ‘other’ citizens, citing the pathetic excuse of lack of computer software. On the one hand, the government hosted a UN regional seminar on LGBTI rights in 2013, which was attended by other Asian countries. On the other hand, contrary to the Supreme Court decision, the government drafted new Civil and Criminal Codes. Under this code, homosexual relations were criminalized and marriage was restricted between man and women only, while peno-vaginal sex was considered the only natural form of sex.

With Blue Diamond Society’s relentless advocacy and lobbying, Nepal’s government included MSM/TG into its HIV interventions, but has failed to tackle other health issues faced by LGBTI and wide spread prejudices and discrimination in the health care settings. Many gender/sexual minorities do not get fair treatment at the health care settings.

Nepal’s government was the first to introduce the topic of diversity in terms of gender identities and sexual orientation into its high school curricula, but failed to respond to bullying and exclusion at school. Majority of the teachers do not know how to teach these subjects and discuss matters of gender and sexuality and make the educational environment safer. Many of the minority students drop out of school due to this.

The rape law does not recognize male or third gender rape, hence LGBTIs who are sexually abused and raped cannot get justice.

The government’s attitude and apathy towards this community is reflected every year in the national plan and budget as well.

There are some donations coming in to this cause, but the donors’ views about LGBTI rights in Nepal either shows their lack of understanding or the non-priority status of LGBTI population. I must say Norway has done a good job, it can be better; the Department for International Development (DFID), UK, have contributed a good amount through HIV programs but DFID may no longer be prioritizing HIV in its development focus. Many donors say, after 2007’s Supreme Court decision, Nepal is a ‘gay heaven’ and there is no need for funds. Many did not fund us before 2007 either. Now they have a good excuse not to fund as there is a Supreme Court decision, a gay politcian, an LGBT sports festival and a UN regional conference on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity hosted by Nepal government. They say that reality hurts, but it only hurts to those who are real to that reality.

I have heard that the DFID, Danish and Swiss are creating pool fund to support human rights and democracy. We can only wait and watch how much they really care about the LGBTI population (incidentally, the DFID has doubled its aid money to Nepal last year and become the largest bilateral donor to Nepal). USAID funded Blue Diamond Society’s first 5 years of HIV work under the Bush administration, but the ‘Yes We Can’ Obama administration says ‘No we can not’ help you anymore, you have other donors to support. When we meet them, these donors appear to be very friendly and they even give us good advice, sometimes they express their frustration about the fact that their headquarters in Washington or London or Berlin or in Geneva or NYC are not giving them any clear way on how to respond to the LGBTI community’s need in their recipient countries. This shows that even if LGBTIs are supported, for many donors, it’s still nominal support; or no support at all. The World Bank made a big news by putting on hold the loan to Uganda because of their government’s crimes against the LGBT community but failed to respond to the massive pro-poor youth vocation job training project in Nepal, which excludes third gender.

These are the donors (named) who are already working or interested in this issue. There are more donors who are blank on supporting LGBTI in the Global South. I wish there was a mechanism like UPR to hold Donors accountable towards their commitments and their action or inaction to support LGBTI rights.

With this mixed bag of little success but many obstacles in Nepal, Blue Diamond Society, along with other LGBTI CBOs and FSGMN (Umbrella Organization of all LGBTI CBOs in Nepal) wishes to continue to advocate and to engage both domestically and internationally. And we at BDS recognize the importance of engaging with UPR processes to make a difference.

Once every four years, the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) reviews the human rights record of all 192 UN member states. One of the central goals of the UPR (Universal Periodic Review) process is to document where improvements in protecting human rights are needed, and where countries have failed to live up to international commitments. Nepal is scheduled to be reviewed in 2015.

Sunil Pant