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ARTICLE 19 new project: "Defending the right to express sexual and gender identity"

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - 15 May 2009 - On the occasion of 17 May, International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia, ARTICLE 19 announces the launch of a new project on freedom of expression, and sexual and gender identity. This year, ARTICLE 19 will work with lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT), and freedom of expression activists to raise awareness about the expression of sexual identity, and produce an advocacy manual highlighting principles and policies on the application of international freedom of expression standards and best practices in relation to sexual and gender identity. ARTICLE 19 firmly believes that freedom of expression standards and principles can and should be used to further advance and protect the rights of LGBT.

Human rights violations targeted toward persons because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity constitute an entrenched global pattern of serious concern. They include extra-judicial killings, torture and ill-treatment, sexual assault and rape, invasions of privacy, arbitrary detention, denial of employment and education opportunities, and serious discrimination in relation to the enjoyment of other human rights. For example, access to information on issues of particular importance to LGBT people, including health services and legal rights, may be restricted. The legacy of systematic discrimination has a chilling effect on the right to freedom of expression.

Often enough, these violations are triggered by the expression of sexual identity. Whenever people suppress their identity for fear of abuse, they are exercising a form of self-censorship which goes against the principles of free expression.

"On the occasion of the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia on 17 May, ARTICLE 19 calls for full respect of the right to freedom of expression and right to equality of LGBT people around the world. Protecting and respecting the freedom of expression of LGBT communities that have been historically and globally marginalised and under constant discrimination and attacks, takes on a particular urgency. Attempts to silence individuals and groups on grounds of their sexual or gender identity weaken freedom of expression and the much needed plurality of voices in our societies. It also obstructs the collective and individual right to receive information, ideas, and opinions of all kinds without restriction," says Dr. Agnès Callamard, ARTICLE 19 Executive Director.

ARTICLE 19 considers that the right to freedom of expression, the right to equality and the right to a life free of all types of discrimination are mutually supporting and reinforcing. They are also foundational rights, whose realisation is essential for the enjoyment and protection of all human rights. As comprehensively presented in ARTICLE 19's Camden Principles on Freedom of Expression and Equality, freedom of expression is an important empowerment right that enables other rights to be protected and exercised.

ARTICLE 19 will run a first awareness-raising event and discussion on the expression of sexual identity among the freedom of expression community at the Global Forum on Freedom of Expression on 4 June in Oslo. Panelists include Romanita Iordache (an independent expert on anti-discrimination of LGBT of the European Commission and a chair of ACCEPT, a major human rights group focused on the rights of sexual minorities in Romania), Lawrence Mute (a Commissioner with the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights and international human rights expert), Parvez Sharma (Indian LGBT rights activist, writer and filmmaker, director of the movie A Jihad for Love that deals with Islam and homosexuality) and Darío Ramirez (human rights activist and the Director of ARTICLE 19 for Mexico and Central America).

The 4 June event will seek to both highlight the repeated violations of freedom of expression on the grounds of sexual orientation and the limited awareness and understanding within the human rights, freedom of expression and media sectors of freedom of expression as applied to sexual identity. The meeting will also elaborate recommendations for further expansion of principles and policies on the application of international freedom of expression standards in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity.

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