Dédé Oetomo hails from Indonesia and is currently the Board Chairperson of APCOM’s Regional Advisory Group. He has been actively involved in the HIV responses and LGBT rights advocacy for over 25 Years. Dede has recently made a candidate for an Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity for the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner. We spoke with Dede to discuss the candidacy and his passion in working for the UN.
Hi Dede, congratulations on your exciting candidacy as an Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Can you tell us a little about its role?
The role of the Independent Expert is to support the work of the High Commission of Human Rights and his office, the Human Rights Council itself and the UN. It deals specifically in the area of protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The term of the position is three years and, within those three years, there will be requirements to write reports to the Council on the situation of violence and discrimination against people based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The report should be able to give an idea whether the situation is improving or regressing, what can be done, and what the views from both the communities and the governments are.
Essentially, the role is to advance the agenda of universal human rights, including those based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”
This is such an important issue, what inspires you to work in this area?
Since I was very young I’ve been a believer in the UN. I’ve seen how the UN process in 1940 has helped independence of my home country Indonesia. To me, the UN and universal human rights values represent the pinnacle of human intellect and compassion. For a long time, I thought that things that cannot be handled at the national level often can be taken to the international level, because most governments are members of the UN. They cannot shirk their responsibilities and they’re supposedly called to account – so that’s what inspires me. I suppose I’m a rather impatient person, also as I’m getting on with age, I want things done while I still can contribute. And of course, the whole thing is a very noble idea.
Are there examples where you’ve seen these issues are being addressed successfully?
[The] issue of sexual orientation and gender identity is quite new at the UN. Sometimes it is raised through the topic of HIV. Some other times, it is completely ignored by conservative governments. But there have been successful examples. The governments that have decriminalized homosexual acts based on the pressure through the Human Rights Council or Human Rights Committee processes, such as Palau and Mozambique, are the victory examples. With the Toonen v. Australia case in 1994, the State of Tasmania was influenced by the UN to decriminalize homosexual acts. The progress has been amazing, and the pressure is going to be constantly raised by the progressive governments. From the Secretary General to the agency such as UNDP, it’s fair to assume that the UN itself is an ally. They have been definitely playing a significant role.
You are in some amazing company with your fellow candidates. How does that feel?
There are two feelings; one is that I’m flattered and honored that I’m in such great company, at the same time, as an activist, I’m thinking beyond myself, I’m very comforted to see that somebody important, somebody very capable is going to take this role for the first time. That person I’m sure is going to take the struggle further, whoever it is.
Well, they’re very generous words, Congratulations on your candidacy and best wishes.
Thank you, we’ll see!
Hailing from Indonesia, Dédé Oetomo has been actively involved in the pro-democracy movement and the HIV response for over 25 years. He is the Founder and Chair of the Board of Trustees of GAYa Nusantara, a community-based organisation active in research and education in the areas of human rights, public awareness and politics as well as sexual health and well-being services for sexuality and gender diversity. Dédé is also an Adjunct Professor at the University of Surabaya, University of Airlangga, and Widya Mandala Catholic University in Surabaya, Indonesia.
Dédé is an internationally recognised scholar, educator and activist in areas of HIV and AIDS, research, training and advocacy. He is a member of the Advisory Council of the Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies (CSBR) and of the Executive Committee of AIDS Society of Asia and the Pacific (ASAP). He received the Felipa de Sousa Award from the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission in 1998 and the Utopia Award for Pioneering Gay Work in Asia in 2001.