Iraq’s criminalisation of same-sex relationships and LGBTQ+ people an ‘attack on human rights’

Iraq’s parliament has passed a law criminalising same-sex relationships and trans people, with human rights advocates calling the decision an “attack on human rights”.

LGBTQ+ people in the country are already often subjected to attacks and discrimination, and could now be imprisoned for a maximum of 15 years following the decision on 27 April. The parliament said the move was to uphold religious values. 

Amendments were made to a 1988 anti-prostitution law in a session attended by 170 out of 329 lawmakers. The Law on Combating Prostitution and Homosexuality bans same-sex relations with at least 10 years in prison. It mandates at least seven years in prison for anybody who promotes homosexuality or prostitution.

It even imposes imprisonment of between one and three years for trans people who undergo gender-affirming treatment “based on personal desire and inclination”, or for medical care teams who perform gender-affirming treatment, and non-binary and gender-fluid people who dress or act outside of heteronormative norms. 

Human Rights Watch’s Iraq researcher Sarah Sanbar called the new law “a horrific development and an attack on human rights”.

The bill first included the death penalty for same-sex acts, which campaigners dubbed a “dangerous” escalation. This was amended before being passed after strong opposition from the US and European nations.

The document says the law aims to “protect Iraqi society from moral depravity and the calls for homosexuality that have overtaken the world”.

The US State Department said the law was a threat to human rights and freedoms, and would decrease the country’s ability to “diversify its economy and attract foreign investment”. 

It continued: “It can be used to hamper free speech and expression and inhibit the operations of NGOs across Iraq.”

Until the law change, Iraq did not explicitly criminalise LGBTQ+ relationships, but its loosely defined morality clauses had been used to target the queer community. 

Deputy director of the LGBTQ+ rights programme at Human Rights Watch Rasha Younes said that the law “rubber-stamps Iraq’s appalling record of rights violations against LGBT people and is a serious blow to fundamental human rights”.