International News: March 12, 2021

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Calls for nondiscrimination legislation ahead of Tokyo Olympics

Non-discrimination legislation must be instituted prior to the Summer 2021 Olympic Games, members a human rights group said. Seven members of the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (TOCOG) said that the TOCOG should support LGBT nondiscrimination legislation to protect everyone in Japan from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Committee members urged TOCOG, as well as the Japanese Olympic Committee and Japanese Paralympic Committee, to pass an anti-discrimination law in advance of the summer 2021 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.

“Japan’s national government should enact an anti-discrimination law in keeping with the Olympic Charter’s ban on ‘discrimination of any kind,’ including sexual orientation and gender identity,” said Kanae Doi, Japan director at Human Rights Watch and a member of the TOCOG Human Rights, Labor, and Participation Committee.

“TOCOG’s sustainability and human rights experts urge TOCOG’s new president to support passage of an LGBT Equality Law before the Tokyo Games to bring Japanese law in line with international standards,” Doi said.

Tokyo was slated to host the 2020 Summer Olympics, but the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Japanese government postponed the games for a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The Tokyo 2020 Summer Games are advertised as celebrating “unity in diversity” and “passing on a legacy for the future.” Advocacy groups and activists insist Japan must enact a national anti-discrimination law to protect LGBT+ people in accordance with international human rights standards. Human Rights Watch, along with 115 human rights and LGBT organizations, sent a letter to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on January 25 in support of such legislation.

On February 24, TOCOG president Seiko Hashimoto announced a new gender equality team at the TOCOG, and stated that “Gender equality and women’s empowerment is going to be something that will be promoted.”

But a 2020 study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) ranks Japan next to last for laws on LGBT Inclusiveness for developed countries. According to the study, “LGBTI-inclusive laws are particularly critical for creating a culture of equal treatment of LGBTI individuals. One cannot expect to improve the situation of sexual and gender minorities if, to begin with, the law does not protect them against abuses or excludes them from social institutions.”

There is an ordinance in Tokyo that protects LGBT+ people in accordance with Olympic Charter, but many of the Olympic competitions will be held in cities outside of Tokyo with no corresponding protections for foreign or Japanese athletes.

Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, opened Pride House in October 2020. The facility is intended to build awareness and support for LGBT rights. Bach said then that he hoped the facility would “be successful and become a legacy of the Tokyo Games.”

“The Tokyo Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games represent an unrivaled opportunity for Japan to bring its laws into compliance with international nondiscrimination standards,” said Kanae Doi, Japan director at Human Rights Watch and a member of the TOCOG Human Rights, Labor, and Participation Committee. “The TOCOG, Japanese Olympic Committee, and Japanese Paralympic Committee should act together to support Japan’s government to meet the expectations of the International Olympic Committee and thousands of visiting athletes and fans by passing an LGBT equality law.”

South Korean soldier found dead

Byun Hui-su, 23, was found dead by emergency officials at her home in the city of Cheongju, south of Seoul, on March 3. She had been dead for several days.

Byun Hui-su was South Korea’s first known transgender soldier. She had risen to the rank of staff sergeant before she underwent gender reassignment surgery in Thailand in November 2019. She was discharged in January 2020 and had been fighting her discharge ever since. Byun sued the Army, saying she still hoped to continue her service. The first hearing had been set for April.

Speaking about her decision to undergo surgery, Byun stated, “I thought I would finish serving in the army and then go through the transition surgery and then reenter the army as a female soldier. I want to show everyone that I can also be one of the great soldiers who protect this country.”

Reuters reported that Feb. 28 would have been Byun’s last day in the military if she had been allowed to stay in service.

Her tragic death drew outrage from advocacy groups and activists for better protections and acknowledgment of transgender people.

“Byun’s death resonated even more with the public because the military and this society refused to acknowledge the change,” Rainbow Action Against Sexual-Minority Discrimination of Korea, an umbrella association of group of 40 sexual minority groups, said in a

statement.

The National Human Rights Commission issued a statement honoring Byun’s “fight against deep-rooted discrimination and hatred.”

Prime Minister Chung Se-kyun offered condolences on Byun’s death when asked at a press briefing. The Prime Minister said further discussion of how to address transgender military personnel was needed.

South Korean men who are physically able are required to do two years of mandatory military service.

Office of LGBT+ rights raided in Ghana

Armed security forces in Ghana raided and closed the office of LGBT+ Rights Ghana, an advocacy and civil rights organization, after complaints from local Christian activists. The closure has prompted celebrities like Naomi Campbell and Idris Elba to protest the action.

Homosexuality is against the law in the West African country. LGBT+ people have reported assaults, harassment, marginalization and extortion. Lesbians have reported “corrective” rape and other violence.

The police raid was announced by the group on their Twitter account February 24.

“This morning, our center was invaded by National Security,” LGBT+ Rights Ghana wrote. The group posted a video of the raid. They said, “A few days ago, traditional leaders threatened to burn down our office but the police did not help. At this moment, we no longer have access to our safe space and our safety is being threatened.”

“We call on human rights organizations and our allies to condemn these attacks and the hate crimes against us,” the group added.

The founder, Alex Kofi Donkor, said in a Facebook post that he fears for his safety.

For weeks, religious leaders from the Christian-dominated country had been campaigning for authorities to close the center, which opened in Accra on January 31. Accra is the capital of Ghana with a population of nearly three million.

The owner of the property that housed the center, Asenso Gyambi, told Africa News that he did not know his house was rented by LGBT+ Rights Ghana.

“I was not happy about that… I had to report it to the security agencies for them to take action. I will not tolerate such activities on my property,” Gyambi said.

Ghana’s criminal code, criminalizes “unnatural carnal knowledge” in section 104 (1) (b) of its Criminal Offences Act, which the authorities interpret as “penile penetration of anything other than a vagina.”

Sarah Adwoa Sarfo, Ghana’s minister-designate for gender, children and social protection, declared in her recent confirmation hearings that the laws should remain in place and be enforced. “On the issue of its criminality, it is non-negotiable,” she asserted. “On the issue of cultural acceptance and norms, these practices are also frowned upon.”

Celebrities and politicians signed a letter decrying the actions. “We have watched with profound concern as you have had to question the safety of your vital work at the LGBT+ Rights Ghana Centre in Accra, and feared for your personal well-being and security. It is unacceptable to us that you feel unsafe,” the letter said. “As prominent and powerful advocates for this great country, we are beseeching His Excellency, the President of the Republic of Ghana, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, and political/cultural leaders to create a pathway for allyship, protection and support. We petition for inclusivity which will make the nation even greater and even stronger.”