Ukraine: Protection of LGBTI and gender-diverse refugees remains critical – UN expert

GENEVA (22 March 2022) - As the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine intensifies, it is essential for States and all stakeholders engaged in protecting forcibly displaced persons to recognise and respond to the uniquely gendered exposure to risk and protection needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex (LGBTI) and gender-diverse refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced and undocumented people, a UN expert said today.

Victor Madrigal-Borloz, UN Independent Expert on protection from violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, expressed his deep concern about evidence being brought to his attention confirming that exposure to dangers faced by people who seek protection during this time is greatly exacerbated for those who identify as LGBTI and/or gender-diverse. He issues the following statement:

“LGBTI and gender-diverse people are vulnerable to acts of stigmatisation, harassment and violence from both armed combatants and civilians, whether such acts are opportunistically motivated, connected to larger social discriminatory patterns, or the result of explicit, targeted political repression.

After carrying out an official visit to Ukraine in 2019 I observed achievements and challenges. I lament that the military operation by the Russian Federation and the ensuing armed conflict will destroy decades of progress in the fight against discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity in law, in access to justice, and in public policy, including the health, education, employment and housing sectors.

In addition to the challenges existing before the onset of the military invasion, LGBTI and gender-diverse persons are experiencing specific and particularly acute persecutory risks during the armed conflict and humanitarian response efforts. A particularly telling example is that of trans and gender-diverse people whose legal identity documents do not correspond with their gender or physical presentation, who encounter severe difficulties at checkpoints, border crossings, reception centers, health facilities and other critical locations. This includes challenges in evacuating from civilian enclaves through humanitarian corridors, securing medical exemptions from male-only compulsory military service, being admitted at border crossings as refugees, and accessing safe housing with adequate sanitation facilities, sensitive medical care and reproductive rights services. These barriers increase the likelihood of some people being forced to seek irregular routes to safety, with the attendant risks of trafficking, exploitation, and abuse.

In armed conflicts, LGBTI and gender-diverse displaced people are often marginalised or excluded from many established evacuation and emergency response services and processes, especially those operating in environments where being of diverse sexual orientation and gender identity is seen to be politically sensitive, thus leaving many to fend for themselves and exposing them to risks of abuse and violence along transport routes, at border crossings, in reception centers, collective shelters, camp settings and health facilities.

The protection of LGBTI and gender-diverse people is a human rights imperative and should not be subject to political discretion. In armed conflict, robust human rights monitoring mechanisms stand prepared to take all measures necessary to protect the human rights of each party in the conflict. LGBTI and gender-diverse people are not exceptionally exempt from exercising their rights in such situations.

I welcome the actions of many States, particularly those neighboring Ukraine, to admit people fleeing conflict into their territories, as well to the EU in offering temporary protection to those fleeing the conflict and underscore that those providing protection and assistance must strengthen their ability to respond effectively to displaced people whose sexual orientation and gender identity exacerbates their exposure to risk. In that respect, civil society organisations that serve LGBTI and gender-diverse displaced people are frequently the best positioned to provide specialised knowledge on how sexual orientation or gender identity creates specific exposures to risk during this conflict, as well as how to respond most effectively.

States and humanitarian agencies must ensure that civil society organisations with such expertise are included in the planning and implementation of all humanitarian assistance and recovery efforts. I have received abundant information to the fact that LGBTI-represented groups are organising themselves and using their significant knowledge to respond to this crisis and to best address the needs of forcibly displaced people who are LGBTI and gender-diverse. These organisations have been at the forefront of mobilising solutions to the crisis.

I call on States, members of the international community, security forces, humanitarian, human rights, and development cooperation allies to pay the necessary attention to the vulnerability and protection needs of LGBTI and gender-diverse people who have been forcibly displaced. This is a critical moment to come together and establish the foundation for effective and meaningful mechanisms that not only protect LGBTI and gender-diverse people in situations of armed conflict, but also ensure their full participation in political, peace and accountability processes once hostilities cease.”


Victor Madrigal-Borloz, Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity

The Experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent of any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.