A series of threats and prolonged bureaucratic delays is jeopardizing Asia’s flagship LGBT rights movement, activists reported this week.
Nepal, a small landlocked country between India and China, is home to one of the most vibrant and successful LGBT rights movements in the world, but recent patterns of abuse threaten to undermine more than a decade of progress.
“It began with a smear campaign by a tabloid television station, and months later has grown into threats, intimidation, violence, even a kidnapping,” Sunil Babu Pant, the director of Nepal’s leading LGBT rights organization told 429Magazine.
According to Pant and his organization, Blue Diamond Society, the media attention emboldened some disgruntled former employees, leading them to file cases accusing Pant of corruption and mismanagement.
Pant says these accusations are baseless.
“We complied with the government’s requests, underwent investigations, submitted paperwork,” explained Pant. “But more than 6 months later, we remain in limbo,” he said, adding that salaries for his 750 staff across the country had not been disbursed since the investigations began.
Nepal’s LGBT rights movement, which formalized with the founding of the Blue Diamond Society in 2001, has been wildly successful. In 2007, Nepal’s Supreme Court issued a decision mandating the government scrap all laws that discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, and form a committee to study same-sex marriage policies. The government also officially recognizes a third gender category – marked ‘other’ – on official documents.
The current government investigation into allegations against Pant and Blue Diamond Society has dragged out for months. Despite repeated promises by officials to release their report, no written statements have been published, leaving activists to rely on hearsay.
“If I have broken the law, the government should arrest me, not delay like this,” Pant told 429 Magazine.
“The fact that they are staying silent on this matter while hosting big international LGBT events shows that they think we are a weak movement, that we can be pushed around and manipulated,” the 40-year-old activist said.
In March, Nepal hosted a United Nations seminar for the Asia-Pacific region to develop recommendations for the Human Rights Council on LGBT rights.
“The LGBT rights movement in Nepal is a regional and international leader but is under serious threat,” said Graeme Reid, director of the LGBT Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. “While Nepal has made immense progress on LGBT rights in the past decade, the government cannot afford to ignore the many problems facing LGBT people inside its borders.”
“It smacks of high hypocrisy for the government to host an LGBT seminar for the Asia-Pacific region, while ignoring the rights of LGBT people at home,” Reid said.
Pant, who in serving in Nepal’s first post-war parliament was Asia’s first openly-gay federal-level politician, said the government’s delay was causing interruptions in human rights activities and HIV prevention outreach.
According to a Human Rights Watch statement: “With accounts frozen pending the conclusion of the government investigation and salaries not disbursed, [Blue Diamond Society] staff living with HIV have reported that they cannot afford to eat nutritious food or travel to collect antiretroviral medications, which are disbursed only in monthly doses at central hospitals.”
Nepal emerged from a decade-long civil war between government forces and Maoist revolutionaries in 2006, and has lurched from one political crisis to the next over the past seven years. Plagued by political infighting and corruption, the country has operated without a legislature since last May when parliament dissolved without producing a constitution.
“Much of this behavior toward LGBT people these days is a symptom of the ongoing political situation,” explained Pant. “But that is no excuse for carrying out such human rights violations against sexual and gender minorities,” he said.
In March, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, wrote to the Nepal government saying she was “deeply concerned to learn of what appear to be unnecessary delays in the approval of a registration renewal application” by Blue Diamond Society.