Blog: Sexual and Reproductive Rights
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June 3, 2021
Posted by Dana Walters
In Panama, Peru, and Colombia, gender-based quarantine schedules created a culture of fear and risk for transgender individuals. With men allowed out of the house on certain days of the week and women others, gender-diverse persons faced an increased threat of persecution and discrimination by the state and the public. Human Rights Watch and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights were but some of the groups to note alarm. Just a few months after they were enacted, many of these laws were wiped from the books.
These gendered pandemic measures were an example of the practices and laws up for discussion at a February workshop hosted by the Human Rights Program (HRP) at Harvard Law School. The event, which focused on indirect discrimination resulting from the pandemic, with a particular emphasis on sexual orientation and gender identity, was one in a series of indirect discrimination workshops HRP has convened in the last year. In spring 2020, HRP hosted a virtual convening exploring indirect discrimination on the basis of religion with several former and current members of the UN Human Rights Committee. During the 2020-2021 academic year, HRP hosted two additional workshops drawing on other categories of indirect discrimination. Convened with Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute, the October 2020 workshop addressed indirect discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, laying the foundation for February’s discussion on the pandemic.
“One way to think about the purpose of indirect discrimination norms,” said one expert at the October convening, “is that they compel government, or other actors subject to the norms, to actively think about or know about the lives of people who are not like themselves.”
Indirect discrimination is a term that encompasses rules or laws whose intent may not be to discriminate against one group “on the face of it” but has the effect of doing so. In the workplace, for instance, a policy that requires employees to work on Saturdays may have severe effects for those of the Jewish faith, who observe Saturday as a holy day of rest. Indirect discrimination affects a range of protected groups on the basis of race, religion, and other factors.Continue Reading…
October 13, 2020
Building Momentum: IHRC and ASP Launch Principles on the Prevention of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence in Detention Settings
Posted by Zac Smith JD'21
Sexual violence is all too common in conflict and post-conflict settings, causing horrific physical and psychological damage and preventing peace building efforts. As recognized in United Nations Security Council Resolution 2467 (2019), all individuals are at risk of sexual violence in conflict, and detention settings are a particular context of risk, especially for men and boys.
Taking up Resolution 2467’s call to increase international attention and coordination on the issue, the All Survivors Project and the International Human Rights Clinic partnered to author the Principles on the Prevention of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence (CRSV) in Detention Settings. Drawing from existing sources of international law and authoritative guidance, the document’s ten principles and accompanying commentary outline the international community’s responsibility to prevent and respond to CRSV.
On Wednesday October 7, academic experts, policy makers, and diplomats came together at a virtual side event to the UN Human Rights Council to officially launch the Principles and highlight their significance. (Watch a recording of the event here.) Moderator Lara Stemple, Assistant Dean for Graduate Studies and International Student Programs and Director of the Health and Human Rights Law Project at UCLA School of Law, prefaced the conversation by underlining the driving motivation for the All Survivors Project’s work — including these principles — that “human rights protections must be afforded to all people, regardless of their individual characteristics.” Panelists included Anna Crowe, Assistant Director of the International Human Rights Clinic, who supervised the Clinic’s work on the project; HE Premila Patten, UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict; Professor Manfred Nowak, former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and leader of a recently completed global study of children in detention; and Sophie Sutrich, Head of Addressing Sexual Violence for the International Committee of the Red Cross.
The event began with opening remarks from representatives of three states that have championed CRSV prevention. Situating the place of the Principles in wider efforts to cultivate international peace and prosperity,Ambassador Jürg Lauber of Switzerland and Ambassador Peter C. Matt of Liechtenstein underlined their importance and timeliness. As Ambassador Lauber observed, “the Principles are clearly intended to be of practical use, as they contain specific recommendations for implementation.”Ambassador Tine Mørch Smith of Norway explained that “the physical hurt suffered from conflict related sexual violence does not discriminate between male and female victims.”She committed that CRSV prevention, including a focus on men and boys, would be a priority when Norway takes its seat as a non-permanent Security Council member in 2021.Continue Reading…
July 6, 2020
UN Independent Expert Victor Madrigal-Borloz to provide public highlights from report to UN Human Rights Council
Please scroll down for translation into French, Spanish, and Portuguese.
This month, Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the UN Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, will present his report on the practices of so-called “conversion therapy” to the UN Human Rights Council. Shortly after, he will conduct two online sessions to elaborate on key findings of his report and engage in further conversation with all interested stakeholders. These events will take place via Zoom and be livestreamed to Facebook.
Check the starting time in your region and register at the time now to attend a session:
- July 10, 11:00 am EDT / 05:00 pm CET: Launch in English (with French interpretation)
- July 14, 11:00 am EDT / 05:00 pm CET: Launch in Spanish (with Portuguese interpretation)
The events will also feature UN representatives as guest speakers. After the presentations, there will be a Q&A (questions and answers) session with the audience for which participants will be able to submit questions to the moderator during the event. Thanks to Égides for providing strategic support to this event.Continue Reading…
October 22, 2019
By Liz Mineo / Harvard Staff Writer
Costa Rican magistrate Victor Madrigal-Borloz has served for the past 21 months as the U.N. independent experton protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. He will present his report on how laws and cultural norms adversely affect LGBT individuals to the U.N. General Assembly on Thursday. The Gazette interviewed Madrigal-Borloz, who is the Eleanor Roosevelt Senior Visiting Researcher with the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School, to talk about his work and his hopes for the future.
Q&A: Victor Madrigal-Borloz
GAZETTE: Why did you decide to take on this role?
MADRIGAL-BORLOZ: I have been working in the field of human rights for over 20 years and I saw the possibility to bring about substantial change. The topic bears a lot of significance to me, as a gay man myself. I have been working on these issues for over a decade, first at the Inter-American Commission [on Human Rights] and now at the global level. I have seen many people suffer as a result of stigma and discrimination, and this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something about it and put my skills at the service of a cause.
GAZETTE: What did your report find in terms of the root causes of violence and discrimination against LGBT people?
MADRIGAL-BORLOZ: There are primary and secondary root cases. First, there is the notion that societies are structured around certain power relations, which have been designed in relation to a person’s sex. Your role in society is determined by your genital configuration. That’s a very basic construction, and all forms of violence and discrimination come from a defense of those power relations. The other factors come from mechanisms that aim to protect those power relations, such as the idea that gay, lesbian, or trans people don’t exist, and the stigma around them, which is enabled through the message that gay, trans, bisexual, and lesbian people are sick or mentally ill. The other aspect is criminalization. Same-sex relations are still criminalized in 69 countries, which means that, as of today, over 2 billion people live in countries where being gay or lesbian is illegal. Another factor is demonization expressed in the notion that somehow LGBT lives are sinful, immoral; that gays or lesbians cannot be good citizens. The idea is that at the end of the day, there’s something immoral about our existence, and that’s what all of us need to fight against.
GAZETTE: Of your findings, which ones struck you the most?
MADRIGAL-BORLOZ: What disturbs me is that in 2019 there are countries that are considering bringing back the death penalty for same-sex relations. There was a discussion in Uganda about it, and early this year Brunei Darussalam enacted legislation allowing the stoning of gay men. That, to me, is shocking. What I also find surprising is that there are environments that are actually extremely progressive when it comes to gender identity, but can be very restrictive when it comes to sexual orientation and vice versa. In Pakistan, for example, there is an extremely forward legislation on the recognition of gender identity, but sexual orientation is very much criminalized. Sexual orientation has always been a more challenging notion for societies, which in general have used the notion of a traditional binary, hetero-parental family as the nucleus of society, and this has been recognized in public discourse and in the law. But what we also know is that homosexuals, lesbians, and bisexuals have existed and sought happiness all throughout history.
GAZETTE: What policies or practices have been the most successful in the protection of LGBT rights?
MADRIGAL-BORLOZ: Anti-discrimination legislation with the words sexual orientation and gender identity is very important because it allows for all actors in the system to understand that a red line has been drawn and that shouldn’t be crossed. This creates the belief that lesbian, gay, trans, bisexual, or gender-diverse people are entitled to protection. Other good practices are policies aiming at promoting integration of LGBT people in society and campaigns to change hearts and minds.
Let me give you an example. About a year ago, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued an advisory opinion, OC-24, which determined that Costa Rica and other countries in the continent must implement same-sex marriage, and it gave a time frame for that. Despite the fact that this created great polarization in Costa Rica, the Costa Rican state has now put together a campaign called “Yes, I do,” or in Spanish, “Si, Acepto,” which focuses on the parents of gay and lesbian children and their reasons why they support gay marriage and why their children are entitled to happiness.
Another good measure is access to justice, and this means that judges have to actively seek to implement the principle of nondiscrimination when it comes to LGBT rights. That’s what the Supreme Court of India, the Supreme Court in Botswana, and the High Court in Trinidad and Tobago did when they voted to decriminalize gay sex in their respective countries.
GAZETTE: How do you explain the dramatic advances in the protection of LGBT rights in regions such as Latin America, where same-sex marriage is now legal in five countries?
MADRIGAL-BORLOZ: It’s the work of civil society and human-rights defenders and advocates who have fought relentlessly for their rights. I began working on these issues over a decade ago, and at that time the trans movement in South America was strong. An extraordinary trans activist in Argentina, Lohana Berkins, used to say that trans women must expose the audacity of their bodies to the society that fails to understand the fragility of their lives. The average life expectancy of a trans woman in Latin America is 35 years, and that’s what Berkins was talking about. It was her voice and those of other great fighters in the LGBT movement that forced people to see their humanity, and ensured that Argentina, Uruguay, and other countries in the continent have the most advanced legislation on legal recognition of gender identity.
GAZETTE: Which countries are the worst and best performers in terms of LGTB rights?
MADRIGAL-BORLOZ: I have a lot of resistance to ranking countries, because things change very fast. Most of these rights are not necessarily enshrined or written in stone; there are forces in societies that are quite keen on seeing them taken back. We live in times in which rising populism uses certain categories of people, such as LGBT communities, as pawns for their political objectives. But I can say that the most problems arise in the countries where gay sex is criminalized, and they are roughly distributed along the Caribbean, sub-Saharan Africa, some regions of Asia, and the Middle East. It’s not a small part of the world. Criminalization forces people to live underground, and often the situation of those whose existence is considered criminal is devastating. The killing of trans women, for example, has been invisible from public records because they are classified as men. And the levels of violence against lesbian women and gay men all over the world is worrisome.
GAZETTE: Why have there been more gains in protection of sexual orientation than gender identity, and what does it say about the possibility of social change?
MADRIGAL-BORLOZ: There is a certain concentration of power and influence within gay and lesbian, or cisgender, urban populations. They have been able to represent their valid agendas in the political debate. On issues of concern for the gay and lesbian urban upper and middle class, there has been more progress than on those concerning trans women or trans men coming from the countryside. But those gains show that social change is possible within one generation. Those of us who were born in the ’60s have seen the world change from a majority of countries criminalizing and pathologizing LGBT identities to a majority of countries embracing the richness that comes from diversity.
Social change is possible when the prime minister of Luxembourg speaks at the General Assembly last week, and declares “I was never hoping to be the gay prime minister. I just happen to be the gay prime minister.” When political leaders take part in a pride parade, they are changing the views that people have about LGBT people. I’ve had the honor of marching alongside Justin Trudeau in Vancouver, and the first lady of Costa Rica in pride parades. That makes me hopeful, but also the fact that the new generations have changed their paradigm of thinking; they embrace the notion that their existence is not determined by rigid notions of gender. That is a great source of inspiration.
But I worry that for some, the change will not come fast enough. Elderly LGBT people are suffering enormous health disparities, and after living their lives in inclusive environments, they are being forced to go back into the closet as they move to retirement communities that are not prepared to cater for their needs. They deserve happiness now.
GAZETTE: What would you like to see happening before your tenure as the U.N. independent expert ends in 2020?
MADRIGAL-BORLOZ: My dream is to see a world free of criminalization of same-sex relations by 2030. Given the fact that international human rights law considers criminalization of same-sex relations a violation of human rights, I see no reason why states would actually get away with continuing this practice past 2030. That’s what I like to dream about.
This interview has been edited for clarity and condensed for length. This article first ran in the Harvard Gazette on October 22, 2019.
October 21, 2019
On October 17, 2019, Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the Eleanor Roosevelt Senior Visiting Researcher with the Human Rights Program and the UN Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity, spoke to the Harvard Law School community, previewing his October 24 address to the United Nations General Assembly.
Mr. Madrigal-Borloz shared findings from his recent report on socio-cultural and economic inclusion for LGBT individuals. The report provides an overview of LGBT access to education, employment, housing, health, public spaces, and religious and political discourse. The talk was organized by the Human Rights Program at HLS and co-sponsored by HLS Advocates for Human Rights and the Harvard Human Rights Journal.
Watch the full October 17 address above or on the Harvard Law School YouTube site.
You can read more about Mr. Madrigal Borloz’s HLS residency as a senior visiting researcher on the Harvard Law Today website.
June 17, 2019
The Human Rights Program is pleased to announce that Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the United Nations Independent Expert (IE) for the protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI), will be joining HRP as a Senior Visiting Researcher. Mr. Madrigal-Borloz will be in residence at Harvard Law School from July 2019 to December 2020 while carrying out his mandate as Independent Expert. He will build a team of students to support his research agenda, take part in HRP’s prestigious Visiting Fellowship Colloquium, present his research publicly to the HLS community, and join the larger human rights community at Harvard University.
“The Human Rights Program is honored to welcome Victor Madrigal-Borloz to Harvard Law School while he carries out his mandate,” said Gerald Neuman, Co-Director of the Human Rights Program and J. Sinclair Armstrong Professor of International, Foreign, and Comparative Law at Harvard Law School. “His work demonstrates his nuanced understanding of the issues and his sophisticated approach to dialogue with governments in order to achieve progress. Even as homosexuality is decriminalized in India, we see the world take steps backward elsewhere. Advocacy on these issues is more timely than ever.”
The United Nations Human Rights Council appointed Mr. Madrigal-Borloz for a three-year term beginning January 2018. As Independent Expert, he is pursuing two overarching objectives: 1) heightening awareness of the violence and discrimination people experience due to sexual orientation and gender identity and 2) identifying measures that States may undertake to eradicate such violence and discrimination. He pursues these objectives via a variety of mechanisms: writing thematic reports, reviewing allegations of human rights violations, and evaluating country-specific situations, among others.
“I am delighted to have found an ideal match in the Human Rights Program for three key reasons: its resolve to pursue excellence to ensure the furtherance of human rights, the commitment of its faculty to the eradication of violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and the intellectual curiosity and contagious enthusiasm of its students,” said Mr. Madrigal-Borloz.
Until recently, Mr. Madrigal-Borloz was the Secretary-General of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (ICRT). He was previously Head of the Registry of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, in addition to serving as a member of the UN Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture. In the latter role, he was Rapporteur on Reprisals and oversaw a draft policy on the torture and ill-treatment of LGBTI persons.
Mr. Madrigal-Borloz previously visited HRP in February 2019 for a public talk. He participated in a live Q&A with Zhadé Long JD’20, which can still be viewed on our Facebook page.
April 9, 2018
April 10, 2018
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the Protection of LGBTQI Rights
12:00- 1:00 p.m.
Lunch will be provided
Please join HLS Lambda for a discussion with Ana Helena Chacón, Vice President of Costa Rica, on the landmark Advisory Opinion 24 issued last January by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights regarding same-sex marriage and transgender rights. The Court resolved that same-sex couples should be recognized and guaranteed “all the rights that are derived from a family bond between people of the same sex” and that governments must guarantee access “to all existing forms of domestic legal systems, including the right to marriage, in order to ensure the protection of all the rights of families formed by same-sex couples without discrimination.” The Opinion sets precedent for 19 other Latin American and Caribbean countries that have agreed to abide by the Court’s decisions.
In addition to being the Vice President of Costa Rica, Madame Chacón acted as the Representative of Costa Rica in the case before the Inter-American Court and is globally recognized as a vocal champion for LGBT rights.
This event is being co-sponsored by La Alianza and the Harvard Women’s Law Association.
March 12, 2018
Earlier this month, we welcomed Carol Sanger, Visiting Professor at HLS and Barbara Aronstein Black Professor of Law at Columbia Law School, and Mindy Roseman, Director of International Programs and Director of the Gruber Program for Global Justice and Women’s Rights at Yale Law School, for a timely and compelling conversation about human rights and the criminal punishment of abortion. Below is the full audio of their conversation.
February 28, 2018
March 1, 2018
“Criminal Abortion in the U.S.”
11:45- 12:45 p.m.
Please join us for a lunch talk on human rights and the criminal punishment of abortion with Carol Sanger, Austin Wakeman Scott Visiting Professor of Law at HLS and Barbara Aronstein Black Professor of Law at Columbia Law School, and Mindy Roseman, Director of International Programs and Director of the Gruber Program for Global Justice and Women’s Rights at Yale Law School.
Despite Vice President Pence’s pledge to consign Roe v. Wade to the “ash heap of history,” there are signs that many Americans would not support the re-criminalization of abortion. Professor Sanger will discuss this evidence and raise questions about the criminal punishment of abortion, such as why pregnant woman have not been subject to criminal abortion laws in the U.S. and whether the current administration and red state politicians actually want Roe V. Wade to be overturned. Dr. Roseman will situate the U.S. experience within a global context by discussing criminal abortion in other countries and examining the treatment of criminal abortion under international human rights law.
This event is being co-sponsored by the HLS Criminal Justice Policy Program, the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology and Bioethics, and HLS Students for Reproductive Justice.
January 31, 2018
Thursday, February 1, 2018
“A Road Less Traveled: Feminism and Advocacy in Saudi Arabia”
A talk by Saudi scholar and activist Hala Aldosari
12:00- 1:00 p.m.
Lunch will be served
Saudi activist and scholar Hala Aldosari will discuss the status of women’s rights advocacy in Saudi Arabia, drawing lessons for feminists who choose to tread an uncharted, less traveled road. In this talk, Aldosari will draw personal insights and reflections from women’s rights campaigns and the ongoing journey to organize thought and action in a country where activism continues to be criminalized.
Co-Sponsored by the Middle Eastern Law Students Association, HLS Advocates, and the Islamic Legal Studies Program: Law and Social Change.
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