New Policy to Champion LGBTI Rights Abroad: Germany

Human Rights Watch

The German government has pledged to do more to uphold the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people abroad, Human Rights Watch said today. The commitment is included in its multifaceted strategy for foreign policy and development cooperation, adopted on March 3, 2021.

Among its many goals, the LGBTI Inclusion Strategy aims to further Germany’s role in promoting LGBTI people’s rights at international and regional human rights institutions. It commits Germany’s diplomatic missions to do more to engage in dialogue on LGBTI issues with host countries and, where appropriate, with religious, business, and other sectors. The policy also highlights the importance of monitoring human rights abuses and collaborating closely with civil society.

“The German government’s important policy comes at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the discrimination that many LGBTI people experience around the world,” said Cristian González Cabrera, LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The policy’s focus on strengthening civil society organizations recognizes the crucial role they play as front-line human rights defenders and the violence and harassment they face for their pro-LGBTI work.”

The policy says that Germany may provide assistance for at-risk activists by raising relevant issues with the host governments, expressing solidarity through official statements where needed, observing trials, and, in urgent circumstances, providing asylum.

In the area of development cooperation, the strategy says that Germany will pay “appropriate attention” to LGBTI rights, including by expanding funding and technical support, capacity building, and networking opportunities for organizations serving LGBTI populations abroad.

As a member of the Equal Rights Coalition, the Global Equality Fund, and the UN LGBTI Core Group, Germany already plays an important role in advocating LGBTI rights abroad, Human Rights Watch said. The LGBTI Inclusion Strategy formalizes and expands upon those activities, including by aiming to streamline LGBTI rights support through “appropriate initial and continuing training measures” for public servants working on foreign policy and development cooperation.

The adoption of the LGBTI Inclusion Strategy is the result of sustained advocacy from German civil society groups since 2012, spearheaded by the Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany (Der Lesben- und Schwulenverband in Deutschland, LSVD), the Hirschfeld-Eddy Foundation, and the Yogyakarta-Alliance. The policy incorporates many of the preliminary considerations that these groups presented to the German federal government in 2017, including making cooperation with civil society a centerpiece of the efforts.

With the adoption of the Inclusion Strategy, Germany joins other countries like the Netherlands, Canada, and Sweden in setting LGBTI rights as a priority in their foreign policy. In February, US President Joe Biden issued a memorandum on advancing the rights of LGBTI and queer people around the world. As Germany is one of the European Union’s most influential members, its added support for a pro-LGBTI foreign policy agenda is significant.

The LGBTI Inclusion Strategy is noteworthy for highlighting the importance of improving access to comprehensive sexuality education, children’s right to age-appropriate learning material that can help foster safe and informed practices when it comes to sexual development, relationships, and safer sex. It can also prevent gender-based violence, gender inequality, sexually transmitted infections, and unintended pregnancies. Expanding access to such information can be a key tool to combat violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics.

The policy is also significant in noting that “[l]ocal history and the life stories and traditions of LGBTI people, including relevant aspects of mission and colonial history, are essential considerations” in carrying out the policy. A representative of the Hirschfeld-Eddy Foundation told Human Rights Watch that they pushed for the inclusion of these concerns as a way to recognize the nefarious impact of European colonial and missionary interventions on questions of gender and sexuality in certain contexts in the Global South, such as in the case of colonial-era laws criminalizing same-sex conduct.

The LGBTI Inclusions Strategy references and upholds international human rights standards on non-discrimination for LGBTI people, such as those found in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It also rightfully frames LGBTI rights as a question of advancing human dignity, mandated in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The implementation of the ambitious LGBTI Inclusion Strategy will require close monitoring in collaboration with civil society in Germany and beyond. The government proposes to evaluate the policy after three years, which may offer an opportunity to identify areas for improvement and expansion.

“Organizations working to advance the rights of LGBTI people worldwide need supportive governments, like Germany’s, to provide moral and material support in the face of national and transnational forces that aim to block or roll back advances,” González said. “Germany has taken an important step toward a holistic human rights-based foreign policy, and the authorities should ensure that the policy will be carried out.”

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