Chay Brown, director of TransActual, said: “These findings are shocking but in no way unexpected. They merely put figures to a perilous situation that almost every trans person in the UK is well aware of.
“Transphobia feels unescapable, whether we’re at home, at work or when we go to the doctors.”
Transphobic discrimination in healthcare worse for trans people of colour and disabled trans people
Alongside prejudice and discrimination against trans people trying to access healthcare, problems also persist in the workplace.
In the workplace, high numbers of trans people have experienced transphobia while trying to get a job (63 per cent), or from their line manager or colleagues. Seventy-three per cent of trans men and women have experienced transphobia from their colleagues, as have 80 per cent of non-binary people.
While anti-trans discrimination affects the majority of trans people, for trans people of colour and disabled trans people the situation is even worse. Seventy-three per cent of Black people and people of colour (BPOC) have experience transphobia while seeking employment, and 88 per cent have experienced transphobia from colleagues.
In healthcare, a greater number of disabled trans people reported that healthcare services are inadequate than non-disabled trans people. Sixty per cent of disabled respondents to TransActual’s survey reported experiencing ableism when trying to access trans-specific healthcare services.
Trans people with disabilities are also more likely to experience delayed treatment, with 93 per cent having done so compared with 85 per cent of non-disabled people.
Additionally, 53 per cent of BPOC said they have experienced racism when trying to access trans-specific healthcare services.
Outside of work and healthcare, trans people face other serious issues: 27 per cent of British trans people have been homeless at some point in their lives, rising to 36 per cent of BPOC and disabled trans people.
jane fae, chair of Trans Media Watch, said of the report’s findings that the “real scandal” is “how comprehensively the media have conspired to ignore this situation, preferring, instead, to produce tens of thousands of words on the largely imagined consequences of reform to the Gender Recognition Act”.
fae added: “We are not at all surprised to find that 70% of respondents said that media transphobia has impacted their mental health. In addition, 93% reported that media transphobia had an impact on their experience of transphobia from strangers on the street, while 85% said it has impacted how their family treat them.
“The bottom line is: transphobia impacts all aspects of daily life for trans people, from relationships with our friends and families, to healthcare, and even listening to the radio. This report is essential reading for anyone working in healthcare or in the media, as well as for policy makers and employers, and we hope that it provides food for thought.
“Your actions (and inactions) have a profound impact on all of us.”
Members of France’s National Assembly on Tuesday unanimously approved a bill that would ban so-called conversion therapy in the country.
Têtu, a French LGBTQ magazine, reports conversion therapy practitioners would face two years in prison and a €30,000 ($34,652.55) fine. Those who administer the widely discredited practice to a minor would face three years in prison and a €45,000 ($51,978.82) fine.
Practitioners could also lose their medical license for up to 10 years.
The bill, which a member of President Emmanuel Macron’s party introduced, now goes to the French Senate.
Malta is one of the handful of countries that ban conversion therapy.
Fifty-two countries have signed a statement that urges the U.N. Human Rights Council to protect the rights of intersex people.
“We call on all member states to take measures to combat violence and discrimination against intersex persons, develop policies in close consultations with those affected, ensure accountability, reverse discriminatory laws and provide victims with access to remedy,” said Amb. Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger, Austria’s permanent U.N. representative in Geneva, in a statement she read to the council on Monday. “We also call on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and on the Special Procedures of this Council to continue addressing and to scale up action against violence and discrimination based on sex characteristics within their mandates and in their work.”
The U.S., India, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Fiji, Brazil, the Marshall Islands, Namibia and Uruguay are among the countries that have signed the statement.
“Discrimination, stigmatization, violence, harmful practices in medical settings and several other human rights violations continue to occur around the world for people born with diverse sex characteristics. Actions have to follow those statements,” reads a statement that interACT: Advocates for Intersex Youth, Intersex Asia Network, Intersex Human Rights Australia, Brújula Intersexual, SIPD Uganda, Organisation Intersex International (OII) Europe, OII Chinese, GATE and ILGA World released on Monday.
“States need to take strong and urgent action to uphold their obligation to ensure that intersex people live free from all types of violence and harmful practices, including in medical settings,” they added. “Irreversible medical interventions (such as genital surgeries, hormonal interventions and medical procedures intended to modify the sex characteristics of infants and children without their full, prior, and informed consent) continue to be the rule — not the exception — in the majority of U.N. member states.”
The U.S. in 2018 withdrew from the council. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in February announced the U.S. will “reengage” with it.
California became the first state to prohibit “stealthing,” or removing a condom without permission during intercourse, after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill into law Thursday.
The new measure amends the state’s civil code, adding the act to the state’s civil definition of sexual battery. That makes it clear that victims can sue perpetrators for damages, including punitive damages.
It makes it illegal to remove condoms without obtaining verbal consent.
Democratic Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia originally tried to make it a crime in 2017 after a Yale University study that year said acts of stealthing were increasing against both women and gay men.
Legislative analysts said then that it could already be considered misdemeanor sexual battery, though it is rarely prosecuted given the difficulty in proving that a perpetrator acted intentionally instead of accidently.
The Erotic Service Providers Legal Educational Research Project supported the bill, saying it could allow sex workers to sue clients who remove condoms.
Lawmakers in New York and Wisconsin previously proposed related legislation.
“This law is the first of its kind in the nation, but I urge other states to follow in California’s direction and make it clear that stealthing is not just immoral but illegal,” Garcia said.
Newsom also approved a second Garcia bill, this one treating the rape of a spouse the same as the rape of a non-spouse, removing an exemption to the rape law if the victim is married to the perpetrator.
“Rape is rape,” she said. “And a marriage license is not an excuse for committing one of society’s most violent and sadistic crimes.”
The exemption dates to an era when women were expected to obey their husbands. California had been one of 11 states to distinguish between spousal rape and other forms of sexual assault.
There is no difference in the maximum penalties, but those convicted of spousal rape currently can be eligible for probation instead of prison or jail. They must register as sex offenders under current law only if the act involved the use of force or violence and the spouse was sentenced to state prison.
Administrators this week in the Davis School District, which is Utah’s 2nd largest school district with 72,987 students, banned LGBTQ Pride and Black Lives Matter flags, saying they are ‘politically charged.’
According to the Salt Lake City Tribune, Davis Schools spokesperson Chris Williams told the paper; “No flags fly in our schools except for the flag of the United States of America.” Williams later walked that statement back adding a clarification that some of the Districts schools have flags from sports team or international countries which are considered “unrelated to politics.”
“What we’re doing is we’re following state law,” said Williams. “State law says that we have to have a classroom that’s politically neutral.”
Amanda Darrow, Director of Youth, Family, and Education at the Utah Pride Center in Salt Lake City, told multiple media outlets the school district is “politicizing the rainbow flag” which doesn’t belong on a political list.
“That flag for us is so much more,” said Darrow. “It is just telling us we’re included in the schools, we are being seen in the schools, and we belong in these schools.”
KUTV CBS2 News in Salt Lake City checked with the Utah State Board of Education. In an email, spokesman Mark Peterson said, “There is nothing in code that specifically defines a rainbow flag as a political statement so it would be up to district or charter school policies to make that determination.”
The local Utah chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union also weighed in saying in a statement;
“Whether or not a school district has the legal ability to ban inclusive and supportive symbols from classrooms, it is bad policy for them to do so,” the advocacy organization said in a statement. “Utah schools have an obligation to ensure that all students, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identify, feel welcome inside a classroom. We urge school administrators and teachers to adopt policies that make all students feel safe and included.”
Williams insisted the policy is not meant to exclude anyone and that all students are loved and welcomed – they just want to keep politics out of school he told the Tribune and KUTV.
“We have to have a politically neutral classroom, and we’re going to educate the students in the best possible way that we can,” said Williams.
A Utah based veteran freelance journalist, writer, editor, and food photographer weighed in on Twitter highlighting the negative impact of the Davis Schools decision on its LGBTQ youth.
The director of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Colombia mission says he and his colleagues remain committed to the implementation of the country’s LGBTQ-inclusive peace agreement.
“The entire portfolio that we have and all of our work here in Colombia is really to support a durable and an inclusive piece,” Larry Sacks told the Washington Blade on Sept. 21 during an interview in Bogotá, the Colombian capital. “The core principles of what we do are based on equality, inclusion, rights and justice.”
The agreement then-President Juan Manuel Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia Commander Rodrigo “Timochenko” Londoño signed in Cartagena on Sept. 26, 2016, specifically acknowledged LGBTQ Colombians as victims of the decades-long conflict that killed more than 200,000 people. The accord also called for their participation in the country’s political process.
Wilson Castañeda, director of Caribe Afirmativo, an LGBTQ group in northern Colombia with which USAID works, is one of three activists who participated in the peace talks that took place in Havana.
Colombian voters on Oct. 2, 2016, narrowly rejected the agreement in a referendum that took place against the backdrop of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric from religious and conservative groups. Santos and Londoño less than two months later signed a second peace agreement — which also contains LGBTQ-specific references — in Bogotá.
“That was a very progressive move,” said Sacks in describing the inclusion of LGBTQ Colombians in the agreement.
President Iván Duque, who campaigned against the agreement ahead of his 2018 election, spoke to the U.N. General Assembly hours before the Blade interviewed Sacks. Duque described it as “fragile.”
“Peace accords worldwide tend to be made or broken within the first five years of implementation, and Colombia is right at that point,” Sacks told the Blade when asked about Duque’s comments. “There are certain people deep in the territories and others and high governments who are really helping and making sure that it’s successful, and that there’s continuity, and that the gains that have been made are irreversible. And there’s others who may question, but at the end of the day, I think that from our analysis, it’s on pace with what we’ve seen of the implementation of other peace accords worldwide.”
“At least from USAID’s perspective, we’re doing everything that we can to help support the implementation on multiple chapters of the peace accord,” he added.
USAID specifically supports the implementation of rural development programs through the agreement, efforts to reintegrate former child soldiers into Colombian society and expand the government’s presence into “violence-affected areas.” USAID also works with the Truth Commission, the Unit for the Search of Disappeared Persons, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, the government’s Victims’ Unit and NGOs that support the conflict’s victims.
USAID’s fiscal year 2021 budget for Colombia is $212.9 million. Upwards of $50 million of this money is earmarked for human rights work that specifically focuses on indigenous Colombians and Colombians of African descent, security, access to the country’s justice system and victims of the conflict.
More than 200 LGBTQ Colombians reported murdered in 2020
Sacks said USAID’s LGBTQ-specific work in Colombia focuses on four specific areas.
“The first is really to kind of shine a light on, raise the visibility, raise the profile on issues of discrimination and violence and stigma and all the issues that this population is facing,” he said.
Colombia Diversa, a Colombian LGBTQ rights group, on Sept. 15 issued a report that notes 226 LGBTQ people were reported murdered in the country in 2020. This figure is more than twice the number of LGBTQ Colombians — 107 — who Colombia Diversa said were known to have been killed in 2019.
Sacks acknowledged anti-LGBTQ violence is increasing in Colombia.
He said the mission works with Ombudsman’s Office of Colombia, an independent agency within the Colombian government that oversees human rights protections in the country, to provide additional support to LGBTQ rights groups. Sacks noted USAID also works with the Interior Ministry to “support the development of their LGBTQI-plus policies” and the country’s attorney general “to hold those accountable.”
Sacks told the Blade that USAID also works to provide “technical and legal support to help” LGBTQ Colombians and other vulnerable groups “access public goods, services and justice.”
USAID-supported groups assist Venezuelan migrants
The Colombian government earlier this year said there were more than 1.7 million Venezuelan migrants in the country, although activists and HIV/AIDS service providers with whom the Blade has spoken say this figure is likely much higher. Duque in February announced it would legally recognize Venezuelan migrants who are registered with the country’s government.
The Coordination Platform for Migrants and Refugees from Venezuela notes upwards of 5.4 million Venezuelans have left the country as of November 2020 as its economic and political crisis grows worse. The majority of them have sought refuge in Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and Chile.
Venezuelan migrants are among the upwards of 570,000 people who have benefitted from a USAID program that provides direct cash assistance — between $49-$95 per family — for six months in order to purchase food and other basic needs. USAID also supports Americares, a Connecticut-based NGO that operates several clinics along the Colombia-Venezuelan border and in northern Colombia that specifically serve Venezuelan migrants with the support of the Colombian Health Ministry.
Sacks noted USAID has an “agreement with” Aid for AIDS International, a New York-based group that serves Venezuelans with HIV/AIDS. Aid for AIDS International has used this support to conduct a survey of 300 sex workers in Maicao, Medellín and Cali.
USAID is also working with the Health Ministry to provide health care to Venezuelan migrants with HIV/AIDS, among others, who are now legally recognized in Colombia.
Caribe Afirmativo has opened three “Casas Afirmativos” in Maicao, Barranquilla and Medellín that provide access to health care and other services to Venezuelan migrants who are LGBTQ and/or living with HIV/AIDS. Medellín officials have also invited Caribe Afirmativo staffers to speak with LGBTQ migrants in the city’s public schools.
“Colombia has shown a generosity that you don’t see in many other countries with regard to migrant populations,” Sacks told the Blade. “They really open their borders, their homes, their hearts, to migrants, including the LGBTI community.”
Biden global LGBTQ rights memo is ‘tremendous benefit’
Sacks said the memo “gives us the political framework with which to operate and obviously sends a message from the highest levels of the U.S. government about LGBTQI-plus rights and equality and inclusion.”
“So for us, it’s a tremendous benefit,” he told the Blade.
USAID Administrator Samantha Power — a vocal champion of LGBTQ rights — has yet to visit Colombia, but Sacks said she has spoken with Vice President Marta Lucía Ramírez.
Thursday, October 21 6:00–7:30 p.m. PT Online program $75 suggested donation
Hosted by Sister Roma and Juanita MORE!, the GLBT Historical Society’s annual Gala, “Reunion,” will be an evening of fabulous entertainment, inspiring presentations and a heartfelt celebration of LGBTQ history-makers. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, our Gala will again be virtual this year, with a broadcast that attendees can watch from home. The show is being hosted by Sister Roma and Juanita MORE!, and entertainment will be provided by the Sean Dorsey Dance Company. The proceeds directly support our mission of preserving and sharing LGBTQ history. More information and tickets are available online here.
Attendees who purchase copies of The Queens’ English from the GLBT Historical Society’s Bookshop.org page will receive a personalized autographed bookplate from Davis. Please send an email with your ticket confirmation and Bookshop.org receipt to firstname.lastname@example.org, with information on how you would like yours personalized, by October 25.
Friday, October 29 6:00–7:30 p.m. PT Online program Free | $5 suggested donation
Sally Gearhart (1931–2021) was a teacher, feminist, science-fiction writer, and political activist who passed away in July. This panel discussion and celebration of Gearhart’s life brings together four women who worked closely with Gearhart. They will explore topics including Gearhart’s contributions to feminism and gay rights; her academic work; her literary and creative output, including the 1978 work The Wanderground; her interventions on the subject of religion and communications; and how her background in theater and communications shaped her activism, with an overall emphasis on capturing Gearhart’s delightfully quirky and humorous personality. Donations will be earmarked to support a documentary currently in progress about Gearhart’s life. Tickets are available online here.
Books about sex, LGBTQ issues and how to have a baby have public library employees in a deeply conservative Wyoming city facing possible prosecution after angry local residents complained to police that the material is obscene and doesn’t belong in sections for children and teenagers.
For weeks, Campbell County Public Library officials have been facing a local outcry over the books and for scheduling a transgender magician to perform for youngsters, an act canceled amid threats against the magician and library staff.
The books are “This Book is Gay” by Juno Dawson, “How Do You Make a Baby” by Anna Fiske, “Doing It” by Hannah Witton, “Sex is a Funny Word” by Corey Silverberg, and “Dating and Sex: A Guide for the 21st Century Teen Boy” by Andrew P. Smiler, according to Susan Sisti, a local pastor who has been raising concerns about those and other books in the library.
“It’s really easy to go into the library and look around a little bit and find a filthy book that should not even be in a public library,” said Sisti, pastor of Open Door Church in Gillette. “These books are absolutely appalling.”
Now, after a complaint filed with the sheriff’s office, prosecutors are reviewing the case. They will seek appointment of a special prosecutor to weigh in as well before deciding whether to pursue charges, County Attorney Mitchell Damsky announced Friday.
Investigators haven’t contacted library officials about the case, leaving them unsure which books got the library in potential legal trouble, said the library’s executive director, Terri Lesley.
Told the list provided by Sisti, Lesley said library officials had reviewed a complaint about “This Book is Gay” and determined it belonged in the library’s Teen Room. The decision was being appealed to the library board while library officials review pending complaints about the other four.
In all, the library has been working through 35 recent complaints about 18 books, she said, a situation she said appeared to be quite unusual for a public library.
“It’s unexpected,” Lesley said. “We are trying to be the force of reason, trying to work through these things using the policy we have in place — review these books and do our due diligence.”
The LGBTQ advocacy group Wyoming Equality said it’s up to parents to decide when their children should have access to such books.
“Maybe the answer is never. If it’s never, that’s fine. But do you get to make that choice for other families?” said the group’s executive director, Sara Burlingame.
The book dispute has “gotten contentious and out of hand” when it may have been resolvable by putting the books among material for adults, said Damsky, the prosecutor.
“Personally, as a parent, I find the material to be just inappropriate for children and disgusting. But as a lawyer I’m sworn to uphold the Constitution and that’s why we are dealing with it with a fine-toothed comb,” Damsky said.
Sisti has been working with Hugh and Susan Bennett, who went to the Campbell County Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday with concerns that the five books may have violated state child-sex laws. Sheriff’s officials reviewed the complaint and referred the case, which was first reported by the Gillette News Record, to prosecutors.
“It’s very challenging to imagine how a child who’s sexually immature, physically immature, if there’s any reasonable purpose for exposing them to sexual behavior that’s far beyond their physical and mental and emotional and intellectual abilities to understand,” Hugh Bennett said.
He called the books “hard-core pornography to children.”
“This Book is Gay,” Sisti pointed out, includes illustrations of male and female genitalia and descriptions of oral and anal sex. But child access to all kinds of material on the internet might be pertinent to the case, suggested Damsky.
“What 9-year-old kid today can’t access Pornhub or whatever they want, you know what I mean?” Damsky said.
The library already faced protests and threats last summer over plans for a performance by a transgender magician. The magician canceled the show due to the threats.
The furor over the magician and the books prompted Wyoming Equality to talk with local officials about the threats and offer support to library staff. Local leaders had left Burlingame hopeful the rancor over the library would tone down, she said.
“It seemed like there was some kind of opportunity to put the brakes on this and can we talk to each other,” Burlingame said. “It seems like the train has jumped the tracks.”
Gen Suzuki, a Japanese trans man, has filed a request with a Japanese court legally change his gender without having to undergo surgery and be sterilised.
Suzuki, 46, filed a request on Monday (4 October) with the Hamamatsu branch of the Shizuoka Family Court to alter his family registry to align with his gender identity, Mainichireported.
Currently, Japanese law requires transgender people to get sterilised before they can legally change their gender. According to Mainichi, any changes to family registers in Japan, which record information about an individual including their gender and familial relationships, require permission from family courts.
After filing the request, Suzuki held a news conference with his female partner, saying they intended to get married. He said he found it “nonsensical that transgender people cannot enjoy marriage equality in Japan” unless they switch genders in their family registers.
The Human Rights Watch (HRW) previously called on the Japanese government to revise Law 111 to “bring it into accordance with international human rights standards and medical practices so that individuals’ gender marker in the family registry can be changed without having to satisfy any medical conditions”.
It said the government needed to abolish the “current conditions of sex reassignment surgery and irreversible infertility” and the “requirement that applicants have no underage children”.
He added that he cannot legally “get married to my partner” and doesn’t have “any legal ties with our children”.
“It’s okay when everything is all right,” Sugiyama told the BBC. “But if she becomes ill, or if something were to happen to our child, I might not be able to visit them in the hospital or sign a waiver.”
Japan implemented the Gender Identity Disorder (GID) special case law in 2004. Under the law, transgender people must meet five requirements before they can legally change gender. The individual must be at least 20 years old, not presently married, not have any underage children (under 20), must be sterilised and have genitalia that “closely resemble the physical form of an alternative gender”.
In 2019, the Japanese supreme court unanimously upheld the law requiring trans people seeking to legally change their gender to be sterilised. Takaito Usui, a trans man, appealed to the court to overturn Law 111, but the supreme court rejected his case, ruling the law was constitutional.
However, according to the AFP, the court acknowledged “doubts” were emerging on whether the rule reflected changing societal values in Japan.
According to Mainichi, Suzuki previously told reporters that he would be willing to appeal his case to the supreme court if it is rejected.
Rwandan authorities rounded up and arbitrarily detained over a dozen gay and transgender people, sex workers, street children, and others in the months before a planned June 2021 high-profile international conference, Human Rights Watch said.
They were held in a transit center in Gikondo neighborhood of the capital Kigali, unofficially called “Kwa Kabuga,” known for its harsh and inhuman conditions, which appear to have deteriorated further due to the increase in the number of detainees held there and the pandemic. The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), first scheduled for June 2020 and rescheduled for June 2021, was eventually postponed indefinitely in May.
“Rwanda’s strategy to promote Kigali as a hub for meetings and conferences often means continued abuse of the capital’s poorest and most marginalized residents,” said Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “As the meeting is rescheduled, Rwanda’s Commonwealth partners have a choice: either speak up for the rights of the victims or be silent as the crackdown is carried out in their name.”
Following reports on abuses at the Gikondo transit center in 2015, 2016, and 2020, this practice was condemned during Rwanda’s review by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, a Geneva-based treaty body, in February 2020. Between April and June 2021, Human Rights Watch interviewed via telephone 17 former detainees from Gikondo. Interviews with nine people who identified as transgender or homosexual, three women who were detained with their babies, four men who worked as street vendors at local markets, and a 13-year-old boy living on the streets in Kigali, confirmed that patterns of abuse that Human Rights Watch documented previously are ongoing. Due to fear of reprisals against interviewees, Human Rights Watch has withheld all identifying information.
At Gikondo, detainees are held in overcrowded rooms in conditions well below standards required by Rwandan and international law. The former detainees said they have inadequate food, water, and health care; suffer frequent beatings; and are rarely allowed to leave filthy, overcrowded rooms. People were detained there without basic due process standards. None of the former detainees interviewed were formally charged with any criminal offense and none saw a prosecutor, judge, or lawyer before or during their detention. There were no measures to protect people from Covid-19, and former detainees said they did not have access to testing, soap, masks, or basic hygiene and sanitation amenities.
People interviewed who identified as gay or transgender said that security officials accused them of “not representing Rwandan values.” They said that other detainees beat them because of their clothes and identity. Three other detainees, who were held in the “delinquents’” room at Gikondo, confirmed that fellow detainees and guards more frequently and violently beat people they knew were gay or transgender than others.
In the past, round-ups have been connected to high-profile government events, ahead of which security forces may ramp up efforts to “clear up” Kigali’s streets. Human Rights Watch documented a similar round-up in 2016 before an African Union Summit held in Kigali. Ahead of the now postponed 2021 Commonwealth meeting, several former detainees said the police told them they did not want them on the streets during the event.
A civil society activist in Kigali said: “The streets were empty before the meeting. You couldn’t see any street children in town. Even the fruit vendors were taken [to Gikondo]. But now you can see them in the streets again.” Sources in Kigali confirmed that fewer people were living or working on the streets in the month preceding the date for the meeting. Several former detainees said the conditions at Gikondo had worsened in the lead-up to the meeting due to severe overcrowding.
An 18-year-old woman, a street vendor arbitrarily detained for two weeks with her 9-month-old baby, said: “[The police] said the government wanted to clear the city because of CHOGM. They said they would detain us until CHOGM has happened without our filth on display.”
Rwanda is one of a few countries in East Africa that does not criminalize consensual same-sex relations. Vagrancy, begging, and sex work are not criminalized either. Yet the authorities continue to use Gikondo Transit Center to imprison people accused of “deviant behavior that is harmful to the public,” including street vending and homelessness.
Rwanda should urgently close the transit center in Gikondo and amend the legal framework governing the National Rehabilitation Service. The authorities should promptly investigate all reported cases of ill-treatment and beatings of detainees by police and transit center personnel – including reports of detainees dying in detention – and prosecute the suspected abusers, Human Rights Watch said.
“Based on past experience, there is every likelihood that similar patterns of abuse will occur ahead of whatever new date is set for the Commonwealth meeting,” Mudge said. “Locking up marginalized people and abusing them simply because the authorities believe they tarnish their country’s image violates human dignity, and Commonwealth leaders should not tolerate this.”
Gikondo Transit Center
Since 2017, legislation and policies under the government’s strategy to “eradicate delinquency” have sought to legitimize and regulate so-called transit centers, presenting them as part of a “rehabilitation” process aimed at supporting poor and marginalized people. The authorities acknowledge that there are 28 “transit centers” in Rwanda, including “Kwa Kabuga,” the unofficial name of Kigali’s transit center situated in the Gikondo residential suburb of Kigali.
A January 2020 Human Rights Watch report found that the 2017 legislation provides cover for the police to round up and arbitrarily detain people accused of so-called “deviant behaviors” at Gikondo in deplorable and degrading conditions, and without due process or judicial oversight. Detainees are released with very little formal procedure, reflecting the arbitrary manner in which they were initially arrested.
Based on the 2017 legal framework and statements by Rwandan authorities, the broader objective of Gikondo is to serve as a short-term screening center to allow authorities to process detainees to send on to rehabilitation centers. However, in practice, there is no judicial process to determine the length of time people spend at the center or whether they are released or transferred. Some people interviewed said they were released when the center was overcrowded. Two said they were released in June 2021, after the decision to postpone the Commonwealth meeting was announced.
The 13-year-old boy said he was held for two weeks in late April and May, in a room with over 200 other street children, and was released after the announcement: “The police told us: ‘Don’t be afraid, children. The meeting isn’t happening; you’ll be released tomorrow.’” He said that district authorities collected all children detained at Gikondo and returned them to the streets of Kigali. He was not offered support to rejoin his family or return to school.
The civil society activist confirmed that, “Children were detained, moto-taxis had to stop working, street vendors were harassed – all because of the Commonwealth meeting. Since it’s been postponed, the abuse has calmed down.”
Former detainees said police told them that they were “trash,” and that they would be detained during the meeting and released in August. “Before the [Commonwealth] meeting, they would arrest us and seize our goods,” said a 20-year-old street vendor, who was detained for two weeks in April with her 9-month-old baby. “With this meeting coming up … Gikondo [was] very overcrowded.”
Arrest and Transfer to Gikondo
Round-ups by police or officers from the District Administration Security Support Organ (DASSO), a local state security body, are often the first step toward arbitrary detention at Gikondo. The arbitrary nature of the detention is reflected in the complete absence of due process once people are taken to Gikondo. In most cases, detainees are held in various police stations or sector (local government) offices across Kigali before being transferred to Gikondo. None of the interviewees were taken before a judge or given access to a lawyer before being transferred to Gikondo.
Detention of Gay and Transgender People
The detention of transgender people at Gikondo was reported in the media in November 2020. The nine transgender or gay people interviewed by Human Rights Watch were detained at Gikondo between December 2020 and April 2021. They said they had been targeted due to their sexual orientation or gender identity and treated worse than other detainees.
Several said the police or local security officers detained them after members of the public reported seeing them with their partners and other lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, or wearing women’s clothing if they were perceived not to be female. At Gikondo, police officers or guards accused them of being homeless, thieves, or delinquents and held them in a room reserved for “delinquent” men. One 27-year-old transgender woman said:
They took me at Kabuga and said I was causing problems in Rwanda…. When I arrived, police asked why am I looking like this? Why am I looking like a girl? They asked: ‘Are you a prostitute?’ I said, ‘No, I am a Rwandan.’ They jailed me with other people who were [accused of being] thieves.
One said he was arrested in late December 2020, after leaving a bar in Nyamirambo neighborhood in Kigali: “When we were about to get on motorbikes, local patrol men came and asked us who we are and what we are doing here … they said we don’t represent Rwandan customs. My friend [a transgender woman] has long hair and was wearing a skirt.” Another former detainee was arrested by local security officials in February 2021 after kissing his same-sex partner in a bar. He said customers from the bar insulted them and called the security patrol, who took them straight to Gikondo transit center.
Transgender and gay people interviewed described being harassed, insulted, and beaten by security officials during their arrest and detention. A former detainee who was arrested by DASSO officials in December 2020 said she was taken to the Nyabugogo police station. “They asked me what I was doing … if I am a girl or a boy,” she said. “I said I am a girl and that’s when the problems started … At Kabuga, we were beaten by the leaders. They asked if we were boys or girls.”
A transgender woman detained at Gikondo in February 2021 said: “Police said we were cursed, and asked how we could behave in this way, having sex with people of the same sex as us. They said we’re delinquents and put us in that room. But in the room, we were badly beaten by other detainees and police did nothing despite our cries.” Another gay former detainee who was arrested with a group of transgender people said a policeman beat his feet and told him he should be “rehabilitated.”
Several other former detainees confirmed these patterns of abuse. An 18-year-old street vendor accused of “delinquency” was detained with about 1,000 other men, where he said “men who dressed as women” – referring to transgender people – “were beaten more than the others. We were all beaten but they were really badly beaten.” All transgender women interviewed were housed in male facilities.
Beatings often begin as soon as people are rounded up and taken to a nearby police station or post. A 30-year-old woman with a 3-year-old child said:
I was taken to the police, where they kept us in a room with others who had been arrested. At that point we were violently beaten. I had a baby with me, but they still beat me, although they didn’t beat him. At 2 a.m. they transferred us to “Kwa Kabuga.” They told me: “Your baby is none of our business. Get in with the others.” I insulted them, so they beat me badly. They said they don’t want me to do this kind of business [on the streets].
Once detainees arrive at Gikondo, they are registered and often beaten by other detainees. Long-term detainees at Gikondo, known as “counsellors,” are often in charge of daily life in the rooms and beat other detainees. The 30-year-old street vendor said that other detainees in the women’s room beat her and her child: “An adult woman is hit twenty times, whereas her child will be beaten four times. It’s only babies under one year old that are not beaten.”
Interviewees detained in the women’s room also said they were beaten when their child defecated or cried: “We were beaten every day. We were also beaten when we asked for permission to use the toilet. If a baby cried, or urinated, its mother would pay the price,” said the 23-year-old mother of a 2-year-old child, who was detained at Gikondo for three weeks in April.
Guards or “counselors” also regularly beat detainees in the children’s room or rooms for adult men. Children are often beaten when they make noise or play together. “We were beaten a lot…. If you fight, if you make a mistake, or if you shout, they beat you with sticks,” the 13-year-old boy said. A 21-year-old street vendor held in the room for “delinquents” said that detainees are beaten for spending too long in the bathroom, for talking too loudly, or “for any fault you commit.”
Conditions at Gikondo
Conditions in Gikondo Transit Center, as Human Rights Watch has extensively documented since 2006, fall well below international standards and violate Rwandan law.
In March 2020, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the UN Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture called on governments to “reduce prison populations … wherever possible by implementing schemes of early, provisional or temporary release.” Yet Rwandan authorities continued to detain people in Gikondo transit center, without due process or judicial oversight. Overcrowding and poor hygienic and sanitary conditions at Gikondo put people at greater risk of contracting Covid-19 due to close proximity, inability to practice “social distancing,” a lack of adequate sanitation and hygiene, and lack of adequate medical care, including a lack of Covid-19 testing.
During their arrest and transfer to Gikondo, people interviewed said, they were not tested for Covid-19, were not given masks to wear, and were not given the space to maintain distances from other detainees. Many were taken to Gikondo in an overcrowded truck with windows closed. Some said that upon arrival, they washed their hands with water, but were not given soap. One former detainee said hand sanitizer was confiscated by the authorities upon arrival.
Former detainees who were held at Gikondo between 2019 and 2021 estimate that between 50 and 200 girls and boys detained together at a time in the “children’s room,” in deplorable and degrading conditions. But they described conditions in the room for male “delinquents” – which also holds teenage boys – and facilities for adult women with their infants as far worse.
In those two rooms, some children were held together with adults in severely overcrowded conditions and many detainees were forced to sleep on the concrete floor. Former detainees held in the room for “delinquents” estimated that over 1,000 people were held together. One person interviewed said it was not possible to see the floor at night when the detainees attempted to lay down to sleep on the concrete floor.
Most former detainees said they were given food once a day, in insufficient quantities and with poor nutritional value. Food is particularly insufficient for young children and babies, who regularly get sick. One woman said she was released after her baby got so ill he had blood in his stool, while another said her baby had to be transferred directly to a hospital due to malnutrition.
Detainees in the rooms for women and “delinquents” had irregular access to drinking water, sometimes only once a day. “Sometimes we go an entire day without drinking water, and then they give a tiny amount that we all have to share,” said one interviewee who was held at Gikondo for almost all of April.
Sanitation and hygiene conditions are very poor, and many interviewees reported being allowed to wash at most once a week. One former detainee said: “When it’s time to wash, they take a 20-liter basin and around 20 to 30 people wash at the same time.” Former detainees said they were rarely given soap. The mother of a 3-year-old said: “We only washed once a day with filthy water that had worms in it, mostly without soap … we didn’t change our clothes.”
Three interviewees said that during their time at Gikondo, they saw or heard of detainees who had died due to the poor conditions and lack of appropriate medical care. “In the two weeks I spent [at Gikondo] there were three nights where we couldn’t sleep because there were too many people in the room,” said a 40-year-old street vendor detained at the transit center in April. “Two people died because of this treatment and illnesses…. They were ill and had diarrhea and skin rashes. They were refused permission to see a doctor, and one morning they were found dead. I don’t know what caused their death or what their names are.”
Human Rights Watch requested information on these allegations from the Justice Ministry and the National Rehabilitation Service but received no response and was not able to independently verify them.
Lack of Government Response; Criticism by Regional and International Entities
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which reviewed Rwanda’s record on January 27 and 28, 2020, said it was concerned that the reference to “deviant behaviors” in Rwanda’s legislation was leading to “the deprivation of liberty of children in need of protection.” The committee said the abusive detention should end and that the government should change the law.
During the committee’s review, the Rwandan government denied that the detention of street children in transit centers is arbitrary. The government also claimed that children in transit centers are either placed with a family or transferred to a “rehabilitation center” within 72 hours. These claims contradict reports by the National Commission for Children and the National Commission for Human Rights, as well as Human Rights Watch findings.
In response to the Human Rights Watch January 2020 report, then-Justice Minister Johnston Busingye was quoted in KT Press saying: “These children have been redeemed…. We believe they can become useful citizens…. HRW [Human Rights Watch] can come and interview them if they wish.” During Rwanda’s review by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the gender and family promotion minister, Soline Nyirahabimana, also said that independent observers should visit the center.
On December 4, 2020, the African Court on Human and People’s Rights held that states’ laws enabling the detention of people who, often because of poverty, are forced to live on the street, violate human rights law. The opinion issued in response to a request by the Pan African Lawyers Union, upheld the rights of people deemed “vagrants” by the state. The opinion concluded that laws permitting the forcible removal or warrantless arrest of a person declared to be a “vagrant,” violate the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and other human rights instruments.
On February 6, 2020, December 14, 2020, and August 23, 2021, Human Rights Watch wrote letters to then-Justice Minister Busingye following up on these statements, requesting access to Gikondo and other transit centers in Rwanda, and asking about steps taken by the Rwanda authorities to remedy the abusive legal framework governing its National Rehabilitation Service. He has not responded.