When Governments Ban Life-Saving Resources, Who Is The Criminal?

Activists, UN human rights officials, and representatives explored the issue of state criminalization and stigmatization which deprives women, girls and LGBTI people of life-saving resources in a High Level Panel event at the UN on October 23.

“When Saving Lives is a Crime: How Governments Criminalize Life-Saving Services for Women and LGBTIQ Persons and Harass Their Providers”, was co-sponsored by OutRight, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), MADRE, and the Permanent Missions of Brazil and Argentina.

The panel focused on health resources and services for LGBTIQ people and the effects of the “Global Gag Rule” – a U.S. federal funding for non-governmental organizations that provide abortion counselling or referrals, advocate to decriminalize abortion or expand abortion services or “family planning.”

“When the death of the woman can be linked to deliberate denial of healthcare regarding abortion leading to unsafe abortions... that equates to Gender based arbitrary killing only suffered by women as a result of discrimination and enforced by law,” UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Agnes Callamard said.

She goes on to say, “I consider gag rules to be a global violation of the state in its duty to respect and protect life.”

In her most recent report to the UN, “Saving Lives is Not a Crime“, the Special Rapporteur detailed laws and measures by several states that prevent organizations from providing life-saving services to women, girls and LGBTI people and called for the lifting of all impediments.

“One of the most important things to do is learn what it restricts but also what it allows you to do… Education, advocacy, funding work on the policy,” said Bergen Cooper, Director of Policy Research, Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE).

The Center for Health and Gender Equity recently released a report on the Global Gag Rule which documents the impact of the policy on civil society and health systems internationally. The Center for Health and Gender Equity concludes the report with recommendations for the Trump Administration, Congress, prime partners, funders and researchers who can all have an influence in the documentation, education, lobbying with the goal being to discontinue the policy. One such recommendation to combat the Global Gag Rule is to “Provide mandatory training for U.S. government officials on the GGR to educate them on what is and what is not permitted, with clear guidance on how to avoid service disruptions and unwarranted severance of organizational relationships,” the report says.

Neish McLean, Caribbean Program Officer, OutRight Action International and co-founder of TransWave Jamaica spoke specifically about the current situation in Jamaica in terms of challenges the LGBTIQ community faces saying, ”There is a lack of protection based for LGBTIQ people... This has a direct impact on access to healthcare services. For persons who need life-saving services and healthcare treatment, going to a healthcare provider to talk about their needs is highly stigmatized. Many people do not discuss their behavior or their need for certain healthcare services.“

McLean’s comments are further supported by OutRight’s August 2018 report, The Global State of LGBTIQ Organising: The Right to Register. The report surveyed 194 countries and 864 organizations around the world that serve LGBTIQ populations and found that only 17.7% of them have been able to attain legal registration to openly address LGBTIQ issues. In the Caribbean region, only 41% of organizations have been allowed to legally register as a nongovernmental organization, while 18% have not been permitted to do so and 33% have only attained legal registration on the basis of focusing on other issues, the report says.

Brazilian Ambassador Frederico Meyer brought the discussion into the context of the greater goals of the United Nations in saying, “If we concentrate on the third sustainable development goal: good health and well-being, it becomes clear that no legal tool should be used under no circumstance to restrain access to health service to anyone.”

Victor Madrigal-Borloz, UN Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity stated, “The statistics are staggering,” He went on to explain, “Men who have sex with men are 28 times more likely to acquire HIV... so this tells us that these populations are being left behind. Transwomen are three times more likely to be living with HIV. This is very much the outcome of the barriers that exist in a legal way.”

Bergen Cooper, Director of Policy Research, Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE) further explained the widespread effects of the Global Gag Rule and what individuals can do to reverse it.

“Everyone has a role in combating the policy. Whether you are bound or not bound by the policy.” ~ Bergen Cooper

The event’s turnout and presentations demonstrated that in spite of the barriers to reproductive and LGBTIQ-inclusive healthcare created by individual states, civil society and allies within the UN have and will continue to come together to promote positive development for LGBTIQ persons’ and women’s right to access vital health services.