* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.The United Nations has warned of a global crisis facing the LGBT+ community. With rights under threat around the world, it is time to award this year's Peace Prize to LGBT+ human rights defenders
Earlier this year, a Zambian court convicted two men: 30-year-old Stephen Sambo and 38-year-old Japhet Chataba. Their crime? Simply existing as gay men. They could face up to 14 years in jail when the court decides on their punishment – many murderers receive leaner sentences. Imagine being locked up for having blue eyes or blonde hair. It’s beyond unjust.
Today, the Nobel committee will announce the winner of the 2018 Peace Prize. The committee always has an unenviable choice to make. But this year we think there’s a clear winner. Instead of awarding it to a person or an organisation, for the first time ever it should be a collective award to the global community of human rights defenders, including the LGBT+ defenders around the world fighting for the right to exist.
For lesbian, gay bisexual and trans activists, the award would be a huge symbol of hope – a chink of light during an increasingly dark time for many of them.
LGBT+ repression is now increasing across the world. A pink line divides the globe and although the number of countries which outlaw homosexuality has fallen in recent years, progress has stalled and now faces a growing backlash.
Just look at Indonesia. It used to be (grudgingly) tolerant of its LGBT+ community. No longer. On February 14 this year it almost passed a law making it illegal to be gay – surely the worst Valentine’s Day gift in history.
But Indonesia is not the only country going against the tide of history.
Following the waving of a rainbow flag at a concert in Cairo LGBT+ Egyptians faced a brutal crackdown that is still ongoing. Turkey has banned all gay events; Tanzania, Zanzibar, Uganda, Nigeria… they are all cracking down on LGBT+ defenders.
In Chechnya, it wasn’t just LGBT+ voices that were systematically silenced, but people too, in brutal gay pogroms not seen since the second world war.
As the UN has warned, the gay community is facing a global crisis. LGBT+ defenders are on the frontline. Look at organisations such as the Arcoíris LGBT Association, for example. Their efforts to empower and fight for the rights of LGBT+ people in Honduras have been met with attacks, surveillance, intimidation, threats, beatings and worse. On April 4 last year, the body of Sherlyn Montoya, a trans member of the association was found dead. She had been tortured. She is not alone though – she joins scores of other LGBT defenders who have been brutally murdered.
The prize would be a suitable memorial to these human rights defenders, particularly this year which marks the 20th anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. But importantly, it would also be a crucial ally for those who are still alive to fight another day.
The global spotlight is an important tool for the survival and success of human rights defenders. That’s why organisations such as Peace Brigades International – which provides crucial and direct life-saving support on the ground – also mobilise global networks when defenders are in imminent danger. International solidarity and support can provide a protective moral shield for defenders.
As the rainbow flag shows, symbols have power. Imagine then what the prize would mean to gay activists currently in jail. Moreover, imagine the impact on those in the closet, too ashamed to come out and too nervous to demand their human rights. An estimated 170 million people are currently outlawed – if they were a country they’d be the eighth largest in the world.
To these people it would send a powerful message: being gay does not make you a criminal, nor does fighting for LGBT+ rights.
The Nobel Prize is the biggest stage we have to say that loud and clear.
Susi Bascon is director of Peace Brigades International UK and Andy Legon is a freelance writer and communications consultant