Archive for March, 2010

Gen. Sheehan to Former Dutch Defense chief of staff Gen. Henk Van den Breemen

Read a letter from Gen. Sheehan to Former Dutch Defense chief of staff Gen. Henk Van den Breemen, who was supposedly Sheehan’s source of information, apologizing for his recent derogatory comments. Click here

An unfair attack on gay troops –

The massacre at Srebrenica was a tragedy, but the Dutch army’s policy allowing gays in the military had nothing to do with it.

Boris Dittrich
Published in:
March 29, 2010

Gen. John Sheehan, the former NATO commander, told a Senate committee this month that part of the blame for one of the last half-century’s most famous atrocities — the massacre at Srebrenica during the Bosnian war — rested on gays in the Dutch military.

Homosexuals in the Dutch military had depleted the forces’ morale, he argued to the senators, and made them “ill-equipped to go to war.” And that was in part why they failed to prevent Bosnian Serbs from massacring more than 8,000 civilians in the former haven of Srebrenica in July 1995.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) seemed incredulous at the testimony. “Did the Dutch leaders tell you it was because there were gay soldiers there?” he asked.

“Yes,” Sheehan said. “They included that as part of the problem.” He even claimed that the former Dutch commander of the U.N. peacekeeping force had told him this was true.

As a former member of the Dutch parliament and a spokesman for the parliamentary investigation into the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia, I know the history that the retired U.S. Marine Corps general tried to rewrite, and I was astonished by his homophobic concoctions.

During two weeks of public hearings on the massacre, Dutch parliamentarians heard many expert witnesses. Not one hinted at sexual orientation as a relevant factor. Srebrenica was no moment of pride for the Dutch military. But soldiers’ sexuality had nothing to do with the failure to protect.

The Dutch parliamentary investigation placed blame squarely on Ratko Mladic for the mass killings of Muslim men and boys. Mladic was the Bosnian Serb military commander during the war in Bosnia. A fugitive, he has been indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity for his role in the massacre after Srebrenica fell. It was arguably the worst atrocity on European soil since the Holocaust.

But Sheehan uttered no word about Mladic and expressed no outrage that he is still at large while thousands of men and boys have been consigned to mass graves. Instead, he put the blame on the sexuality of Dutch troops.

After the general’s statement, the Dutch prime minister and the ministers of Defense and Foreign Affairs issued statements of disbelief and shock. Former Dutch Defense chief of staff Gen. Henk Van den Breemen, who was supposedly Sheehan’s source, dismissed his testimony as utter nonsense.

Sheehan’s remarks insult not only the Dutch military but lesbians and gays around the world — men and women perfectly capable of defending themselves, their comrades and their countries.

Since 1974, the Dutch military has recruited soldiers based on their physical and mental capability, irrespective of race, sexual orientation or religious belief. The Dutch army was the first in the world to open its military formally to gays and lesbians. Now it holds this policy in common with many countries, including Britain, Canada, Israel, South Africa, Italy, Spain, Lithuania, the Czech Republic and Australia.

As a member of the Dutch parliament’s Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defense, I visited Dutch troops in Afghanistan in 2004. In Kabul, the Dutch worked closely with American forces. Not one American commander had a word of criticism for their Dutch comrades because some were gay or lesbian. They were jointly fulfilling a U.N. mandate to combat the Taliban. On the ground, as everyone knows, only performance counts.

Since 2006, the Dutch have been the lead nation in the NATO strategy for the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan, and more than 20 Dutch soldiers have died in Afghanistan. Disagreement over a plan to pull out of Afghanistan at the end of this year led to the collapse of the Dutch government.

The Dutch army is no less competent because it respects nondiscrimination and equality, principles dear to the American public.

Sheehan seems to think Congress will be distracted from the need to end “don’t ask, don’t tell” by hearing outrageous lies about Dutch soldiers and one of the worst war crimes in recent history. Let’s hope he is wrong.

His surreal testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee showed that the die-hard defenders of the discredited policy have run out of ammunition. It is past time for a policy founded on fantasy and fear to go.

Leonard Matlovich, whose Air Force service in Vietnam earned him a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star, was later discharged for his homosexuality. After his death in 1988, he was buried in Washington’s Congressional Cemetery, where his gravestone reads: “When I was in the military they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.”

Sheehan’s false testimony shows the hypocrisy of such a policy. The U.S. military should focus on its real challenges. Let “don’t ask, don’t tell” die.

Boris Dittrich is advocacy director in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights program at Human Rights Watch.

Copyright © 2010, The Los Angeles Times

Restoring America’s Health

Capitol Hill ImageSo finally, the health care juggernaut is broken! We share the view that the new health care reform law, while not perfect, is a step forward. And after a year-plus of debate, it’s time to move on to other tasks.

One of those, of course, is the need to provide genuine equality to LGBT citizens in the U.S. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) has been treading water on Capitol Hill for over 15 years; there’s no justification for delaying any further this basic workplace non-discrimination bill. The Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations (DPBO) bill, which would allow the families of gay federal workers to enjoy the same benefits as the families of their straight colleagues, has been marked up in both houses; it needs to be given floor time by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. And repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is long-overdue: not only does a clear majority of Americans favor its repeal, our military needs the talents of the men and women it’s booting out for reasons unrelated to workplace performance.

Enacting these pieces of legislation is, of course, the right thing to do. But it also would set the right example for other countries that are beginning to grapple with calls for LGBT equality overseas. It’s time for the U.S. to become the model it claims to be in promoting one of democracy’s genuine tenets, which is equal rights for all citizens.

For months the pundits have debated health care. But restoring America’s commitment to equality matters is equally important to the health of our country. Those who lead our movement, and those who lead our country, should recognize that there has been, and will be, no better time to move this equality agenda forward than now.

When the chips were down on health care, President Obama and the Democratic leadership of both houses sprang into action. It’s time for them to show the same sense of arm-twisting resolve in moving these bills to a vote this year. True champions of equality and fair-mindedness on either side of the aisle should have no hesitation in moving these bills forward without further delay.

Amb. (ret.) Michael Guest, Senior Advisor, The Council for Global Equality

Supporting the Human Rights of LGBT People Globally

Last week in Stockholm, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) hosted a meeting of donor countries together with private foundations that support the human rights of LGBT people globally. The two-day meeting was the first time that such governmental foreign assistance and foreign policy people came together to explicitly encourage and enhance their financial and non-financial support for equality of LGBT people worldwide.

The meeting grew out of a conference hosted by the French government last year that was aimed at moving forward the UN Statement on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation, and Gender Identity. The British, Dutch, Finnish, French, Norwegian, Swedish, and U.S. governments sent representatives, along with the approximately eight private and public foundations, including Hivos, the Dutch Humanist NGO, which co-organized the meeting with Sida.

The meeting resulted in the identification of six goals—including bringing more money into the sector—and the participants agreed to specific steps to move towards those goals. The governmental and non-governmental representatives will meet again in about a year to assess their progress, and will work towards including more governments in the process.

The Council for Global Equality was proud to participate in the meeting and to partner with the U.S. government to ensure that appropriate funding mechanisms are open to LGBT civil society. Towards that end, the Council worked with one of its funders, the Arcus Foundation, on a new report, “Saving Live, Promoting Democracy, Alleviating Poverty and Fighting AIDS: The Case for Funding Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Populations.” The report points out that currently, less than one one-hundredth of one percent of foreign assistance funds from donor countries reaches LGBT civil society, when this population is clearly one of the most marginalized groups, subject to grave human rights violations in many parts of the world. The Stockholm meeting was a very important first step in changing that statistic.

Congressman Eliot Engel calls on Honduran government to end impunity for human rights abuses directed at the country’s LGBT community

At a Congressional hearing in Washington this week, Congressman Eliot Engel (D-NY), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, called on the Honduran government to take action to end impunity for murders and other human rights abuses that have been directed at the country’s LGBT community.  In his remarks, he noted that 2009 “was especially brutal for Honduras’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Attacks on the LGBT community escalated substantially starting in June with 19 known murders of prominent members of the LGBT community.”  Many of those attacks are detailed in the annual State Department Human Rights Report, which was released by Secretary Clinton last week.  See an excerpt of all LGBT human rights references in the State Department report, including the egregious abuses in Honduras.

Engel also noted that “non-lethal attacks and other violent acts against LGBT individuals were reported on an alarming scale, and additional murders have gone unreported. The human rights defenders who have documented these abuses have been threatened and the atmosphere of intimidation for members of the LGBT community remains high.”

At the hearing, Engel released a letter that he had sent, together with Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), to U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Hugo Llorens urging him to work with the new President of Honduras to curb LGBT violence. (A copy of that letter is available here.)  Ambassador Llorens responded immediately, emphasizing his commitment to addressing LGBT violence as a top priority.  (Read the Ambassador’s response here.)

Severe Human Rights Abuses against LGBT People Documented in State Department Report to Congress

Washington, DC – March 11, 2010 – The Council for Global Equality applauds this year’s State Department human rights report to Congress for underscoring the clear and growing crisis in human rights abuse directed against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people worldwide, and urges the use of diplomacy to counter this trend.

In introducing the report, Michael Posner, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, singled out the case of Uganda, where introduction of a draconian anti-gay bill has resulted in serious abuse directed against Uganda’s LGBT community.  The report further documents LGBT-related incidents in almost every country in the world, including a range of cases involving arbitrary arrest and detention, police abuse, rape, and murder.  For instance, the report notes serious assaults against LGBT individuals in Jamaica, “including arbitrary detention, mob attacks, stabbings, harassment of homosexual patients by hospital and prison staff, and targeted shootings of such persons.”  In Iraq, the report notes that “numerous press reports indicate that some victims were assaulted and murdered by having their anuses glued shut or their genitals cut off and stuffed down their throats until they suffocated.”  The report highlights numerous instances in which police and other authorities have failed to investigate or prosecute such incidents.

Council Chair Mark Bromley, while recognizing that the State Department report examines a broad range of human rights concerns impacting various minority communities, nonetheless emphasized that “the level of reporting on LGBT abuses this year is remarkably detailed and truly commendable, and unfortunately this new level of detail shows just how dangerous it is for LGBT individuals to go about their daily lives as ordinary citizens in so many parts of the world.”  For the first time ever, most of the reports have a dedicated section examining “societal abuses, discrimination, and acts of violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”  Bromley insisted that “the report makes clear that LGBT rights are firmly rooted in basic human rights protections and that those protections are under severe attack in the world today.

Senior Council adviser and former U.S. Ambassador Michael Guest applauded “President Obama’s and Secretary Clinton’s principled belief that the human rights of LGBT people cannot be separated from those of all of society.”  Emphasizing that “many of the most egregious abuses have been committed in countries considered to be friends and allies of the United States,” he urged that the State Department develop strategies to counter intolerance and homophobia in every region, drawing on all the tools of American diplomacy.

Julie Dorf, another senior adviser to the Council, noted that “the Council has been working closely with the State Department over the past year to help move the Department’s human rights bureau from a traditional human rights reporting agenda to an active, human rights protection agenda.”  Dorf explained that “in an ironic and unfortunate way, the intensity of the homophobia surrounding the ‘kill the gays’ bill in Uganda has helped raise awareness within the State Department, within Congress and within the international community more generally on the global impact of LGBT discrimination and abuse.”

Excerpts of the report’s findings on LGBT issues in every country can be found on the Council’s website at

US State Department 2009 Country Reports on Human Rights

Secretary Clinton discusses the release of the 2009 Country Reports on Human Rights.

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