Watchdog calls for end to state laws criminalising gender, sexual identity

A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report on Malaysia noted that attacks against trans women have become increasingly brutal. — AFP file pic
A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report on Malaysia noted that attacks against trans women have become increasingly brutal. — AFP file pic

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KUALA LUMPUR, May 27 — Malaysian laws criminalising activities like cross-dressing has led to increased discrimination and violence against transgenders and those of different sexual identities and orientations, an international human rights watchdog said.

In its latest report to the United Nations committee on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) on Malaysia released Wednesday, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) noted that attacks against these peoples, especially trans women, have become increasingly brutal.

It highlighted the February murder of a trans woman named Sameera in Kuantan, Pahang whose body was also mutilated as a recent example of the growing phobia taking against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in the country.

The organisation further noted the increased frequency of state-sanctioned raids, arrests and prosecution of transgenders who are subjected to rough treatment under detention, and added that these have far-reaching socio-economic repercussions.

“Discrimination against transgender women in education, employment, and health care is common.

“Criminalization combined with discrimination causes transgender women to avoid public health facilities, inhibiting the HIV response in a country in which HIV prevalence among transgender people is estimated at 5.6 per cent, compared to 0.4 per cent among the general population,” HRW said in the report.

In a list of recommendations, the watchdog urged the UN committee to pressure Malaysia to revise state Shariah enactments banning cross-dressing and to call for a halt to state-sanctioned raids against transsexuals, as well as to abolish laws prohibiting consensual homosexual relationships.

HRW also urged enacting an all-encompassing anti-discrimination law banning discrimination based on gender identities, gender expression and sexual orientation as well as a stop to “conversion therapy” that forces a person to change his or her sexual identity.

“Establish a legal gender recognition procedure that allows transgender people to change their names and the gender markers on their identity cards, based on self-declaration, without requiring medical or psychiatric intervention, ensure that HIV prevention efforts targeting transgender people and other key populations are inclusive and non-judgmental.

“Prohibit governmental use or endorsement of conversion therapy to try to change the gender identity or sexual orientation of LGBT people,” HRW said in its seven-point solution recommendation.

In its submission to CEDAW, HRW also focused on several other issues in Malaysia, such as child marriage, marital rape, foreign domestic workers, and education.

The report related to Articles 1, 2, 6, 10, 11, 12, 15, and 16 of the CEDAW, which Malaysia ratified in 1995, but with reservations.

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