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January 26, 2015

Voices for Equality: Syinat Sultanalieva

Today, we are pleased to launch a new monthly feature titled “Voices for Equality.” Each month, we will highlight the crucial contributions of human rights defenders to the global human rights movement by profiling an activist working on behalf of equality for all. Human Rights First will share these profiles with U.S. government leaders and lawmakers and use social media to amplify the important voices working on the ground and to encourage U.S. action to protect and promote the rights of LGBT people worldwide.

Syinat Sultanalieva

Syinat Sultanalieva describes herself as a “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, and Queer activist from Kyrgyzstan” and she has already had a profound impact on the advancement of the human rights of LGBT people in Central Asia. Working for the LGBTIQA organization Labrys, she has advocated for the Kyrgyz LGBT community since 2007, raising awareness of the persecution and discrimination LGBT people face. Syinat has prepared numerous reports on the situation of LGBT people in Kyrgyzstan for various United Nations treaty bodies, including the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, the Universal Periodic Review, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. 

In Her Words

“You can’t really convince a gay or lesbian person to look after their health and safety unless they are proud of who they are, if they don’t have problems with internal homophobia or transphobia, because it is a really huge problem in the community and because people don’t think that they’re normal, they think that they are sick...They think they deserve to die earlier.” 

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Last year, Human Rights First expressed concern over news that Kyrgyzstan’s parliament had begun debate on a discriminatory propaganda law. The bill, which would emulate Russia’s infamous law banning “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors,” allows for more severe penalties, including the possibility of jail time. Additionally, the law would be broader, penalizing all speech and expression that portrays neutral or positive views of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender relationships, not just those expressed to minors. To become law, the bill must be approved on three readings in total and be signed by Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atrambayev. One reading has already occurred.

“This proposed legislation would result in one of the harshest anti-LGBT laws in the region, and the international community must continue to work to prevent its passage,” said Human Rights First’s Shawn Gaylord. “We applaud the Kyrgyz legislators who spoke out against this harmful legislation and welcome the Obama Administration’s efforts to condemn this legislation and offer support to human rights activists in the country.”

In October, the U.S. embassy in Kyrgyzstan issued a statement publicly condemning the proposed law, urging the Kyrgyz parliament to oppose the legislation and warning that, “Laws that discriminate against one group of people threaten the fundamental rights of all people.”

Recently, the European Parliament also took up the fight, calling on Kyrgyzstan to withdraw the draft law and work to “reaffirm publicly that all people in Kyrgyzstan have the right to live free from discrimination and violence based on their sexual orientation and gender identity."

If enacted, Kyrgyzstan’s propaganda law would ban the existence of LGBT organizations, shutter gay clubs, and most notably, call for one-year prison sentences for those found guilty of propagating non-traditional sexual relations. E.U. officials have decried the bill as one of the most "sweeping anti-propaganda bills ever published." The bill would also limit the speech, expression, and freedom of assembly of activists, civil society leaders, journalists, and members of the LGBT community by criminalizing public expression and events that contain information about “non-traditional sexual relations.”

The United States and other countries recently raised the subject of the law in the Universal Periodic Review process, calling on Kyrgyz officials to refrain from adopting any legislation that limits the fundamental rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly. 

What the U.S. Government can do:

  • Speak directly to the Kyrgyzstan government about the negative impact a propaganda law would have on the U.S. – Kyrgyzstan bilateral relationship.
  • Work with NGOs on the ground, as well as supportive political leadership in the country, on a country strategy to prevent this law from moving forward and to discourage the introduction of other legislation that would impact the rights of the LGBT community.
  • Communicate with and support groups such as Labrys who are the most effective voices for change in their country, including through material support.
  • Partner with the Council of Europe to promote its use of leverage, particularly given Kyrgyzstan’s status as a “Partner in Democracy,” to move Kyrgyzstan towards compliance with agreed upon commitments to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including for LGBT people.
  • Create a Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT People in the State Department to coordinate continued U.S. leadership on the global stage, including in Kyrgyzstan.

RESOURCES:

BLUEPRINT: How to Stop Russia from Exporting Homophobia

FACTSHEET: Spread of Russian-Style Anti-LGBT Laws

BLUEPRINT: How to Protect LGBTI Persons around the World from Violence

Five Reasons the United States Needs a State Department Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT People