There has been a sharp increase in violence against human rights defenders who work on LGBT+ and sex worker issues during the COVID-19 pandemic.
That’s the findings of a new report that interviewed those defending the rights of LGBT+ people and sex workers in 13 countries.
They reported a stark increase in physical attacks, sexual assault, arrests, raids on their homes, and harassment by security forces in 2020.
Launching the report by Front Line Defenders, activist Amazin LeThi , said:
‘The human rights defenders who gave their stories to this investigation are enduring violent attacks, raids on shelters, arrests, and rampant stigmatization for peacefully demanding access to food, shelter and healthcare for their communities during the pandemic.
‘Each horrific story of violence and discrimination I heard was told by an activist who persists in their struggle despite the risks.’
‘Filling the gaps left by corrupt governments’
In Tanzania, advocates reported a spate of attacks on their homes after locals found out they were sheltering LGBT+ people and sex workers who were at risk of homelessness, hunger and police violence on the streets.
The report also documents mass arrests at the offices of LGBTI rights organisations and the authorities forcing medical clinics run by activists to close.
It lists cases where officers controlling checkpoints have sexually harassed and detained transgender advocates.
Meanwhile people around the world have spread homophobic and transphobic lies claiming that human rights defenders are spreading COVID-19.
All this has come at a time when the campaigners have struggled with the trauma of not being able to help everyone in their communities who needs it.
Erin Kilbride, researcher and author of the report, said:
‘Almost every week since COVID-19 began, we’ve received photos of violent attacks on the homes of LGBTIQ+ human rights defenders.
‘Activists around the world have turned their homes into emergency shelters for homeless community members, in part because collective care and mutual aid have always been foundational to queer life.
‘Defenders we spoke to are enduring severe physical, sexual and psychological trauma for helping their communities survive the pandemic.’
Meanwhile Andrew Anderson, executive director of Front Line Defenders, added:
‘LGBTIQ+ and sex worker rights defenders have continued their critical, life-saving work during COVID-19 despite immense threats to their physical and psychological health.
‘In addition to human rights advocacy and emergency response work, they are filling humanitarian gaps left by corrupt governments and discriminatory pandemic response programmes.
‘Now more than ever, we affirm our call to end attacks on marginalized defenders doing life-saving work on the ground.’