A Blow to LGBTQ+ Rights: Iraq’s Controversial Crackdown on homosexuality and transgenderism

[ 3 minutes to read ]

In a world where J.K. Rowling was this week once more ousted and ostracized by the courageous types like Harry Potter-actor Daniel Radcliffe (”Expellia(r)mus!”) for being a TERF for expressing an opinion that was common sense only a few years ago yet now is considered hate speech by some, Iraq said ”hold my non-alcoholic beer” and introduced a new law banning homosexuality and transgenderism altogether.

In a stunning and deeply concerning move, the Iraqi parliament last month quietly passed legislation that severely restricts the rights and freedoms of LGBTQ+ individuals. [1] The passage of the Law on Combating Prostitution and Homosexuality represents a significant blow to sexual liberty, human rights, and free speech in the country.

Under this draconian law, individuals engaged in same-sex relationships face draconian punishments, including imprisonment ranging from 10 to 15 years. Furthermore, those advocating for LGBTQ+ rights or simply expressing their sexual orientation now risk facing severe penalties, with a minimum seven-year prison term mandated for promoting same-sex relationships. Additionally, the law targets transgender individuals, criminalizing sex changes and threatening both trans people and medical professionals with up to three years’ imprisonment for gender-affirming surgeries.

This move is not just an isolated incident but part of a disturbing trend of discrimination and violence against LGBTQ+ individuals in Iraq. It reflects a broader erosion of human rights and democratic principles, with the government actively stifling dissent and suppressing marginalized voices.

It is astonishing to witness such blatant disregard for fundamental human rights and freedoms in the 21st century. The Iraqi government’s justification for this legislation, citing the need to “protect societal values,” is deeply flawed and reeks of intolerance and bigotry. Moreover, the Iraqi government’s censorship of language surrounding LGBTQ+ issues, as exemplified by the directive issued by the Media and Communications Commission last year, further underscores the erosion of free speech and the right to express oneself openly and honestly. The directive instructed all media outlets and social media platforms to refrain from using the terms “homosexual” and “homosexuality,” instead mandating the use of the term “sexual deviancy.”[2]

This regressive stance not only violates Iraq’s obligations under international human rights treaties but also flies in the face of universal principles of equality and justice. The international community must condemn these actions unequivocally and exert pressure on the Iraqi government to reverse course and respect the rights and dignity of all individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

In the words of Rasha Younes, deputy director of the LGBTQ rights program at Human Rights Watch, “The Iraqi parliament’s passage of the anti-LGBT law rubber-stamps Iraq’s appalling record of rights violations against LGBTQ people and is a serious blow to fundamental human rights.” This sentiment encapsulates the gravity of the situation and the urgent need for action to safeguard the rights and freedoms of LGBTQ+ individuals in Iraq.[3]

This clash between the universalist approach to human rights and cultural relativism promoting local values highlights a fundamental tension in the global discourse on human rights. While cultural relativism argues for respecting and preserving local customs and traditions, particularly in non-Western societies, the universalist approach asserts that certain rights are inherent to all individuals, regardless of cultural or societal norms.

However, it is essential to recognize that cultural relativism does not justify human rights violations. While cultural diversity should be celebrated and respected, it cannot be used as a shield to perpetuate discrimination and oppression. The universality of human rights, enshrined in international treaties and conventions, transcends cultural boundaries and obligates all states to uphold the rights and dignity of every individual within their jurisdiction.

Therefore, the Iraqi government’s actions must be unequivocally condemned, not only for their infringement on universal human rights but also for their failure to uphold the values of tolerance, inclusion, and respect for diversity. It is incumbent upon the international community to challenge cultural relativist arguments that seek to justify such violations and to advocate tirelessly for the recognition and protection of LGBTQ+ rights as universal human rights.

It is particularly poignant to note the contrast between the public uproar surrounding controversies like that of J.K. Rowling and the relative lack of attention or public outcry given to the egregious violations of human rights and free speech occurring elsewhere. While public discourse often fixates on celebrity controversies, the real injustices perpetrated by governments elsewhere as in this case Iraq are far more urgent deserving more public attention and action.

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