• JAPAN: ‘Links between politics and the religious right have impeded progress on LGBTQI+ rights’

    Akira NishiyamaCIVICUS speaks with Akira Nishiyama, executive officer of the Japan Alliance for Legislation to Remove Social Barriers based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (Japan Alliance for LGBT Legislation, J-ALL).

    J-ALL was founded in 2015 to advocate for legislation to remove the barriers LGBTQI+ people experience due to their sexual orientation or gender identity in Japan. It focuses on raising awareness among the public, producing research and convening consultations, developing policy proposals and lobbying with government officials and legislators.

    What is the situation of LGBTQI+ people in Japan?

    LGBTQI+ people are estimated to make up between three and 10 per cent of Japan’s population. Many are closeted for fear of discrimination and prejudice. According to recent research, over half of teenagers who identify as LGBTQI+ have been bullied, and only about 10 per cent of LGBTQI+ people are able to come out at their workplace. The rate of LGBTQI+ people who have considered suicide is about twice as high as among their heterosexual counterparts and the rate of those who attempt suicide is six times higher – and 10 times higher among transgender people.

    Such a vulnerable status is caused by the absence of a law at the national level that prohibits discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) and raises awareness of LGBTQI+ and SOGI issues. We believe that an anti-discrimination law would enable us to solve social problems such as bullying and SOGI-based discrimination due to prejudice or misunderstanding and effectively deter and remedy human rights violations. It would force governmental agencies, educational institutions and private companies to prepare preventive schemes so that SOGI-related human rights violations would not take place, and make consultation services available.

    Additionally, Japan’s Act on Special Cases in Handling Gender Status of Persons with Gender Identity Disorder sets strict conditions to change one’s legal gender status. Under this law, a person with a so-called ‘gender identity disorder’ must be diagnosed by two or more psychiatrists and must fulfil five conditions to request the family court to make a ruling towards change of their gender status, which is still thought of in binary terms: they must be above 18 years of age, not be married at the time of the gender change, have no children who are still minors, have no reproductive glands, or only reproductive glands that have permanently lost their function, and have body parts that appear to resemble the genitals of the other gender.

    These conditions are considered too strict compared to those of other countries. In 2015, 12 United Nations organisations issued a joint statement asking the Japanese government to ensure the legal recognition of the gender identity of transgender people without such abusive requirements, but the Japanese government has not yet made any moves in that direction.

    What work does J-ALL do?

    J-ALL was established in April 2015 in response to a call from politicians and the LGBTQI+ community to reach a consensus and make effective policy recommendations. For the previous decade or so, civil society organisations (CSOs) in Japan had been lobbying separately on LGBTQI+ and SOGI-related issues.

    J-ALL is an umbrella organisation with 96 member CSOs from throughout Japan. It is run by directors who are leaders of CSOs in various regions. Its secretariat is managed by executive officers who specialise in lobbying, public relations and international affairs, as well as student interns.

    Our lobbying activities have succeeded in pushing forward several SOGI-related laws. For instance, in October 2018 the Tokyo Metropolitan Government adopted an ordinance that protects LGBTQI+ people from SOGI-based discrimination in line with the Olympic Charter. This ordinance clearly stipulates anti-discrimination based on SOGI and was the first ordinance of its kind at the prefectural level.

    In addition, in May 2019 the Japanese government amended the law on harassment. The amended version requires private entities and municipal governments to set guidelines to prohibit harassment and outing based on SOGI in the workplace.

    As the only CSO aimed at proposing SOGI-related bills, J-ALL is pushing politicians and governmental officers at both national and municipal levels by working together with Rengo – the Japanese Trade Union Confederation and a member of the International Trade Union Confederation – eminent scholars and researchers of labour law and international human rights law, and activists fighting to eliminate all kinds of discrimination, including discrimination against women. In recent years, around 40 companies have signed a statement to support the LGBT Equality Law, which would ban anti-LGBTQI+ discrimination. Economic federations have also declared the necessity for legislation on SOGI.

    Have you faced any anti-rights backlash?

    As the social movement to promote the rights of LGBTQI+ people has grown, backlash by religious right-wing groups, ultra-conservative politicians and trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERF) groups has also grown. For instance, several politicians gave discriminatory speeches against LGBTQI+ people in response to discussions regarding the anti-discrimination bill agreed on by LGBT Giren, a nonpartisan political caucus set up to discuss SOGI-related human rights violations in 2021. Bashing against transgender women and LGBTQI+ people based on heteronormativity, conventional understandings of the family and stereotypical images of women are prevalent in both the real world and the internet.

    Japan has not made much progress on gender inequality, let alone LGBTQI+ rights and SOGI-related issues. This is because the Japanese government is closely connected with religious right-wing groups based on the values of male chauvinism and a patriarchal view of the family. Because of these close ties, ruling politicians have long ignored the existence of people with diverse sexualities and gender identities and have sustained a social system that lacks SOGI-related education and allows for SOGI-based human rights violations. As a result, LGBTQI+ people face wide-ranging challenges such as prejudice, bullying and harassment, and victims of SOGI-related human rights violations are not protected by the law.

    We believe that Japanese civil society needs to recognise this connection between mainstream politics and the religious right in order to tackle human rights issues in earnest. It is also important to learn about which groups of people are marginalised by the current social systems built by the majority and what kind of human rights violations they face, and to take actions such as electoral participation and making public comments based on these concerns.

    How is civil society working to achieve marriage equality, and what was the significance of the recent verdicts of the Sapporo and Osaka district courts?

    There is a CSO, Marriage For ALL Japan, that has been working actively and specifically to achieve the legalisation of same-sex marriage in Japan. In 2019 this organisation filed lawsuits in five districts – Fukuoka, Nagoya, Osaka, Sapporo and Tokyo – and has been conducting awareness-raising activities across the nation.

    In March 2021, the Sapporo District Court ruled that not allowing same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. After a careful scrutiny of the scientific and medical arguments currently used to deny legal benefits to same-sex couples, the Sapporo District Court reasoned that the failure to allow ‘even a certain degree’ of legal benefits to same-sex couples based on their sexual orientation is against Article 14 of the Constitution, which stipulates equality under the law. Although the court dismissed the plaintiffs’ claim for compensation, its verdict was viewed as a step that would surely accelerate the movement to legalise same-sex marriage in Japan.

    But then in June 2022, the Osaka District Court concluded that not allowing same-sex marriages does not violate Article 14, given that the legal disadvantages faced by same-sex couples can be compensated by wills or other means. In addition, the court emphasised that the gap between the benefits enjoyed by heterosexual and same-sex couples has been minimised by the recognition of same-sex partnerships at the municipal level. This, however, overlooks the fact that the municipal system of partnership recognition is not legally binding.

    The Osaka District Court also claimed that the ‘true’ elimination of discrimination and prejudice should be achieved by constructing a social system through the democratic process of free discussion by the people. This was criticised by civil society as an abdication of the judiciary’s crucial role as the bastion of human rights. Also under fire is the court’s claim that marriage is purely for the purpose of reproduction.

    How can the international community support LGBTQI+ people fighting for their rights in Japan?

    Since 2020 J-ALL has been running a global campaign, Equality Act Japan (EAJ), alongside Human Rights Watch and other global human rights organisations. We would like you to sign the petition found in our website to ask the Japanese government to enact the LGBT Equality Act.

    If you are a private company, we will appreciate your cooperation in adhering to the Declaration of Business Support for LGBT Equality in Japan, which we promote as a part of the EAJ campaign.

    Last but not least, we would be happy if you could join us by checking out the current situation in Japan, follow our activities through our website or social media, and support us through a one-time or a monthly donation.

    Civic space in Japan is rated as ‘narrowed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with J-ALL through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@lgbthourengokai on Twitter. 


  • NATIONS UNIES : « Le pouvoir des groupes anti-droits s’accroît ; des temps difficiles nous attendent »

    CIVICUS échange avec Tamara Adrián, fondatrice et directrice de DIVERLEX-Diversité et égalité par le droit, au sujet de la fructueuse campagne de la société civile pour le renouvellement du mandat de la personne experte indépendante des Nations Unies (ONU) sur l’orientation sexuelle et l’identité de genre.

    Tamara Adrián est avocate et professeure d’université, et la première femme transgenre à être élue dans un parlement national en Amérique latine.

    DIVERLEX est une organisation de la société civile vénézuélienne qui se consacre à la recherche, à la formation, au plaidoyer et aux litiges stratégiques sur la diversité sexuelle. En raison de la crise humanitaire complexe qui touche le Venezuela, la quasi-totalité de ses dirigeants se trouvent actuellement hors du pays, où ils continuent de travailler pour l’amélioration des conditions de vie des personnes LGBTQI+ en exil.

    Tamara Adrian

    Pourquoi le mandat de l’expert indépendant des Nations unies sur l’orientation sexuelle et l’identité de genre est-il si important ?

    Il s’agit d’un mandat extrêmement important. L’arme préférée de toute intolérance est l’invisibilisation de certains groupes et la violation de leurs droits. C’est une constante en ce qui concerne les femmes, les peuples autochtones, les minorités raciales et les minorités religieuses. Tant que les intolérants peuvent dire que le problème n’existe pas, les relations de pouvoir restent penchées en leur faveur et rien ne change. Dans le système universel des droits humains, ce que les intolérants veulent garder invisible ne peut être rendu visible que grâce au travail des experts et des rapporteurs indépendants.

    Le premier expert indépendant, Vitit Muntarbhorn, a été en fonction pendant moins de deux ans et a produit un rapport sur la violence fondée sur l’orientation sexuelle ou l’identité de genre, qu’il a partagé avec le bureau du Haut-Commissariat des Nations Unies aux droits de l’homme. Il a commencé à mettre en évidence les injustices, les inégalités et les violences dont sont victimes les personnes LGBTQI+ dans tout le monde.

    Les trois rapports de l’actuel expert indépendant, Victor Madrigal-Borloz, pointent du doigt de nombreux pays qui manquent à leur devoir de protéger tous leurs citoyens. La Haut-Commissaire aux droits de l’homme elle-même a souligné l’obligation positive des États de garantir l’égalité des droits pour tous et toutes.

    Nous sommes conscients qu’il reste beaucoup à faire et que les rapports - de l’expert indépendant, du Haut-Commissaire et des organismes régionaux tels que l’Organisation des États Américains - sont importants pour ce processus.

    Si importants sont-ils, en effet, que ces travaux ont suscité une forte réaction de la part de groupes fondamentalistes. Ceux-ci se sont réorganisés sous le format d’« organisations non gouvernementales » et ont cherché à obtenir un statut consultatif auprès du Conseil économique et social des Nations Unies pour pouvoir intervenir dans ces processus.

    Comment ces groupes opèrent-ils au sein de l’ONU ?

    Les acteurs anti-droits ont changé de stratégie. Plutôt que de se montrer comme des organisations religieuses, ils ont cherché à se présenter comme des défenseurs de la liberté religieuse et, surtout, de la liberté d’expression. Ils ont promu des stratégies d’unité religieuse, réunissant des fondamentalistes catholiques et des représentants du Saint-Siège avec des fondamentalistes néo-évangéliques et les groupes musulmans les plus rétrogrades.

    Ils ont également affiné leurs arguments. Premièrement, ils affirment que le concept d’orientation sexuelle et d’identité de genre est un concept occidental et non universel, et qu’il ne peut donc pas être protégé par l’ONU. Deuxièmement, ils disent qu’il n’existe aucun traité ni instrument international qui protège contre la discrimination fondée sur l’orientation sexuelle ou l’identité de genre. Troisièmement, ils soutiennent que les pays ayant des valeurs traditionnelles devraient avoir la liberté de préserver leurs lois discriminatoires et criminaliser les relations homosexuelles ou les diverses identités de genre.

    Ces trois arguments ont été implicitement présents dans l’argumentation des pays qui se sont opposés au renouvellement du mandat de l’expert indépendant ou ont proposé des modifications, de même qu’un quatrième, qui soutient qu’aucun pays ne peut protéger des criminels. Selon cette vision, la détermination de ce qui constitue un acte criminel est soumise au droit pénal de chaque pays et non susceptible d’être vérifiée par le système international des droits humains.

    Historiquement, la réponse à ces questions a été fournie par la reconnaissance du fait que chacun a droit à ses propres croyances, et que personne ne peut imposer sa croyance ou priver les autres de leurs droits sur la base de leur foi. Les fondamentalistes cherchent à renverser cette situation afin que les croyants puissent discriminer et refuser des droits aux autres.

    Le pouvoir des acteurs anti-droits a-t-il augmenté ces dernières années ?

    Le pouvoir des acteurs anti-droits est en hausse, ce qui est peut-être lié à la régression qui a lieu aux États-Unis. En effet, lors du vote pour le renouvellement du mandat, nous avons vu deux groupes de pays qui ont résisté : d’une part, les pays qui n’ont jamais avancé dans la reconnaissance des droits et dans lesquels il y a beaucoup de résistance au changement, et d’autre part, les pays qui reculent, comme les États-Unis.

    Aux États-Unis, depuis au moins une décennie, les liens entre le suprémacisme blanc, les groupes néo-pentecôtistes et les secteurs les plus radicaux du parti républicain se sont resserrés. Les groupes anti-droits ont pris de l’espace dans les tribunaux, allant des plus bas à la Cour suprême, ainsi que dans les gouvernorats et les législatures des États, ce qui a donné lieu à de plus en plus de décisions, de lois et de politiques contre les personnes transgenre, l’éducation sexuelle et renforçant la liberté religieuse. Ils n’ont pas caché leur intention de revenir sur le droit à l’avortement, de combattre le concept de genre et de rejeter les droits à l’éducation sexuelle et reproductive et à la contraception, et même les droits des femmes, le mariage pour tous et les protections contre la discrimination raciale.

    Les États-Unis ont également joué un rôle clé dans le financement international du mouvement anti-droits et dans le développement de nouvelles églises néo-pentecôtistes dans le monde, notamment en Afrique et en Amérique latine. Ils ont également influencé la formation d’un phénomène auquel on n’a pas accordé suffisamment d’attention : les courant du féminisme fixés sur la biologie, qui nient le concept de genre avec les mêmes arguments que les églises les plus conservatrices.

    Cette communauté d’argumentation est très suspecte, d’autant plus lorsqu’on observe les flux de financement en provenance des États-Unis qui alimentent ces groupes au Brésil, en Amérique centrale, en Espagne, au Royaume-Uni ou en République dominicaine. Ces groupes ne ciblent plus les personnes LGBTQI+ en général, mais spécifiquement les personnes transgenre. En affirmant le caractère biologique et naturel des différences, ils cherchent à détruire toute la structure de protection fondée sur le genre.

    Honnêtement, il me semble qu’il s’agit d’un plan très réfléchi. Ils ont imité la stratégie que nous avions initialement adoptée pour rendre notre lutte visible, mais ils ont l’avantage d’être au pouvoir. Le nombre de pays qui ont signé une résolution « pro-vie » à l’ONU et se sont déclarés « pays pro-vie » montre que leur objectif n’est plus seulement de s’opposer aux droits des personnes LGBTQI+ mais à tous les droits fondés sur le concept de genre.

    Comment la campagne pour le renouvellement du mandat de l’expert indépendant a-t-elle été organisée ?

    Les organisations qui ont exercé de la pression pour le renouvellement du mandat sont celles qui travaillent ensemble depuis la campagne pour la nomination du premier expert indépendant. Chaque fois, le processus commence longtemps avant la nomination. Cette fois-ci, nous avons commencé il y a environ trois ans : l’année suivant le renouvellement du mandat, nous travaillions déjà à la création d’un groupe central qui travaillerait vers ce nouveau renouvellement.

    Pour les organisations latino-américaines, une limitation récurrente est le manque de connaissance de la langue anglaise, qui restreint la capacité des militants à internationaliser leurs luttes. Pour surmonter ce problème, notre groupe central est composé à la fois de militants hispanophones et de militants anglophones. Cela a été crucial car la coalition était principalement composée de groupes latino-américains.

    Le processus s’est avéré très difficile, et si bien le vote a fini par être favorable, les résultats des sessions au fil des mois ne suscitaient pas une grande confiance. Nous avons constaté une résistance croissante de la part des pays plus fondamentalistes, de plus en plus attachés à l’idée de supprimer des droits.

    Quelles sont les prochaines étapes après le renouvellement du mandat ?

    Je pense que nous ne devrions pas nous détendre. Des temps difficiles nous attendent. De nombreux droits qui semblaient être conquis risquent d’être annulés aux États-Unis, notamment ceux liés à l’égalité raciale. Il ne s’agit même plus de reculer vers une vision du XXe siècle, mais plutôt vers une vision du XVIe ou du XVIIe siècle.

    Cela aura un fort impact au niveau mondial, notamment dans les pays dont les institutions sont moins développées. Les pays dotés d’institutions plus fortes pourront certainement mieux résister aux tentatives de renversement des droits sexuels et reproductifs.

    Pour les prochaines étapes, je pense que les capacités d’organisation seront primordiales. Souvent et dans divers endroits les gens me disent : « ne vous inquiétez pas, cela n’arrivera jamais ici », mais j’insiste sur le fait que nous ne pouvons pas nous détendre. Nous devons nous concentrer sur la construction de coalitions et l’organisation d’alliances plus fortes pour mettre fin à l’avancée des groupes néoconservateurs et reconquérir les espaces de pouvoir qu’ils ont occupé. 

    Contactez Tamara Adrián sur sonsite web ou son profilFacebook et suivez@TamaraAdrian sur Twitter. 


  • UNITED NATIONS: ‘The power of anti-rights groups is growing; difficult times lie ahead’

    CIVICUS speaks with Tamara Adrián, founder and director of DIVERLEX-Diversity and Equality Through Law, about the successful civil society campaign for the renewal of the mandate of the United Nations’ (UN) Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity.

    Tamara Adrián is a lawyer and university professor, and the first trans woman to be elected to a national parliament in Latin America.

    DIVERLEX is a Venezuelan civil society organisation dedicated to research, training, advocacy and strategic litigation on issues of sexual diversity. Due to the complex humanitarian crisis affecting Venezuela, most of its leaders are currently based outside Venezuela, where they continue to work to improve the living conditions of LGBTQI+ people in exile.

    Tamara Adrian

    Why is the mandate of the UN Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity so important?

    This is an extremely important figure. The weapon of choice of all bigots is to make certain groups and the violation of their rights invisible. This has been a constant in relation to women, Indigenous peoples, racial minorities and religious minorities. As long as the intolerant can say a problem does not exist, their power system remains active and nothing changes. In the universal human rights system, what bigots want to keep invisible is made visible through the work of independent experts and rapporteurs.

    The first Independent Expert, Vitit Muntarbhorn, was in office for a couple of years and produced a report on violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity, which he shared with the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. He kicked off the process of shedding light on the injustices, inequities and violence against LGBTQI+ people globally.

    The three reports submitted by the current Independent Expert, Víctor Madrigal-Borloz, pointed at many countries that are failing in their duty to protect all their citizens. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights highlighted that states have a positive obligation to ensure equal rights to all people.

    We understand there is still a long way to go and that reports – those by the Independent Expert, the High Commissioner and regional bodies such as the Organization of American States – are important to this process.

    So important are they that this work triggered strong backlash from fundamentalist groups that reorganised in the form of ‘non-governmental organisations’. These sought to obtain consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council in order to interfere in their processes.

    How do these groups operate within the UN?

    Anti-rights groups have been changing their strategy. Rather than identify as religious organisations, they have sought to present themselves as defenders of religious freedom and, above all, of the freedom of expression. They have promoted strategies of religious unity, bringing together Catholic fundamentalists and representatives of the Holy See with neo-evangelical fundamentalists and the most regressive Muslim groups.

    They have also refined their arguments. First, they argue that the concept of sexual orientation and gender identity is a western concept and not a universal one, and therefore should not be protected by the UN. Second, they claim that no existing treaty or international instrument provides protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Third, they say that countries with traditional values should be able to maintain discriminatory laws or criminalise same-sex relationships or diverse gender identities.

    These three claims were implicit in the arguments of the countries that opposed the renewal of the Independent Expert's mandate and proposed amendments, alongside a fourth: that no country should protect criminals, and the determination of what is a criminal act is subject to the criminal law of each country and is not subject to verification before the international human rights system.

    Historically, this issue has been resolved on the basis of the recognition that everyone has a right to their own beliefs, but no one can impose their beliefs or deny others their rights on the basis of their faith. Fundamentalists want this situation reversed so that believers can discriminate against and deny rights to other people

    Have anti-rights groups grown in power in recent years?

    The power of anti-rights groups is growing, which is possibly linked to the regression that is taking place in the USA. Indeed, in the vote to renew the mandate we saw two groups of states putting up resistance: countries that have never made progress in recognising rights and where there is a lot of resistance to change, and countries that are moving backwards, such as the USA.

    In the USA, links connecting white supremacism, neo-Pentecostal groups and the more radical segments of the Republican Party have been growing closer for at least a decade. Anti-rights groups have been taking up space in the courts, from the lowest levels to the Supreme Court, as well as in governorships and state legislatures, resulting in more and more anti-trans, anti-sex education and pro-religious freedom rulings, laws and policies. They have been outspoken in their plans to reverse abortion rights, reject the concept of gender and repeal sexual and reproductive education and contraceptive rights, and even women’s rights, equal marriage and protections against racial discrimination.

    The USA has also played a key role in the international funding of the anti-rights movement and the development of neo-Pentecostal churches around the world, particularly in Africa and Latin America. It has also influenced the establishment of a phenomenon that has not been given enough attention: the movement of biology-fixated feminists, who deny the concept of gender with the same arguments used by the most conservative churches.

    This unity of argumentation is highly suspicious, and all the more so when one looks at the funding streams coming from the USA feeding biology-focused feminist groups in places including Brazil, Central America, the Dominican Republic, Spain and the UK. The target of these groups is not LGBTQI+ people generally, but trans people specifically. By upholding the biological and natural character of differences they seek to destroy the whole structure of gender-based protections.

    I honestly think this is a very well-thought-out plan. I understand that they have mimicked the strategy we initially adopted to give visibility to our struggles. However, they have the advantage of being in power. The number of states that have signed a ‘pro-life’ resolution at the UN and declared themselves ‘pro-life’ states shows that their aim is not just to oppose just LGBTQI+ rights but all rights based on the concept of gender.

    How was the campaign for the renewal of the Independent Expert’s mandate organised?

    The organisations that lobbied for the renewal of the mandate have worked together ever since the campaign for the appointment of the first Independent Expert. Every time, the process starts long before the appointment. In this case, we started working about three years ago: practically the year after the mandate was renewed we were already working to create the core group to work for a new renewal.

    With Latin American organisations, a recurrent limitation is lack of knowledge of the English language, which restricts the ability of activists to internationalise their struggles. To overcome this problem, our core group is made up of both Spanish-speaking and English-speaking activists. This was very important because the coalition was mainly made up of Latin American groups.

    It was a very difficult process, and while the vote eventually turned out to be favourable, over several months the outcomes of the sessions did not make us feel confident. We saw growing resistance from countries with fundamentalist positions that were increasingly embracing the idea of rolling back rights.

    What are the next steps following the mandate’s renewal?

    I believe we should not relax. Difficult times lie ahead. Many rights we thought had already been secured are likely to be reversed in the USA, including those linked to racial equality. It is no longer even a question of returning to a 20th century vision, but to a 16th or 17th century one.

    This will have a strong impact at the global level, especially in countries with less developed institutions. Countries with stronger institutions will probably be better able to resist the onslaught to roll back sexual and reproductive rights. 

    As next steps, I would emphasise organising. In many places people tell me, ‘don’t worry, that would never happen here’, but I insist we cannot relax. We must focus on forming coalitions and organising stronger alliances to stop advances by neoconservative groups and challenge them to gain back the spaces of power they have occupied.

    Get in touch with Tamara Adrián through herwebsite or herFacebook page, and follow@TamaraAdrian on Twitter.