A Call on Secretary Pompeo to Respond to Rising Violence and Discrimination Against LGBTI People Globally

Newly confirmed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pledged, in answers to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, that he will “…ensure that human rights, democracy, and the equal treatment of all persons will remain fundamental to U.S. foreign policy.”  We call on Secretary Pompeo to set aside his anti-LGBT record to hold countries accountable for the grave human rights abuses catalogued, once again, in the State Department’s annual Human Rights Reports. 

While the latest round of State Department Human Rights Reports, released on April 20, fail to report adequately on reproductive rights (see the concerns reflected by our members Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch), they reveal an all-too-familiar tableau of societal and government hostility and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people around the globe.

The trends are alarmingly clear: LGBTI violence and discrimination remain on the rise in all geographic regions. 

Let’s look at the facts.

Government Incitement of Hate

Being gay, lesbian or transgender remains a death penalty offense in countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, with reports of executions carried out against two young men by militia in Somalia.  And no fewer than 102 country summaries (28 in Africa, 14 in East Asia and the Pacific, 16 in Europe and Eurasia, 13 in the Near East, 11 in South and Central Asia, and 20 in the Western Hemisphere) in this year’s State Department reports specifically cite violence against LGBTI people or criminalization of same-sex conduct as among the most significant human rights issues pervading those countries.

Many of the reports point to governing authorities as bearing responsibility for the climate of violence and abuse experienced by LGBTI people.  This is particularly the case in Chechnya, a federal republic of Russia, where officials are responsible for roundups and murders of more than 100 individuals suspected of being LGBTI – a genocidal tragedy that some believe may rise to the level of crimes against humanity.  Russian federal authorities have taken no action to stem that violence.

  • But the role of governing officials in encouraging violence against the LGBTI community is not confined to Russia. For example: In Tanzania, a deputy minister tweeted “The war against promotion and normalization of homosexuality in Tanzania is real.” As a result, the report notes that LGBTI persons were afraid to report violence and other crimes, including those committed by state agents.
  • In Azerbaijan, police arrested, beat and tortured 83 LGBTI people; in the Aceh province of Indonesia, two men were publicly caned 83 times for consensual private sex acts.
  • In Nigeria, police arrested approximately 70 individuals, including 13 minors, at a Lagos hotel. At the end of the year, 27 adults and 13 minors were still awaiting trial, and the hotel owner and two staff faced up to ten years in prison for “aiding and abetting homosexual activities” in violation of the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act.
  • In Egypt, Iran, Kenya, Liberia, Paraguay, Romania, South Africa, South Sudan and Tunisia, there were reports of harassment, arrests, detainment, violence, sexual assault or abuse by police or security forces of those suspected of being homosexual or transgender.
  • In Egypt, Uganda and Uzbekistan, increases in harassment and arrests were reported, along with the preposterous and egregious use of forced anal exams to “prove” homosexuality.
  • Brunei amended their secular penal code to increase the minimum punishment for male same-sex behavior to 20-50 years of incarceration.
  • In Tajikistan, government authorities compiled a registry of hundreds of persons in the LGBTI community as part of a purported drive to promote moral behavior and protect vulnerable groups in society.

In these circumstances, it comes as little surprise that country reports note that LGBTI populations fear seeking help from the police in a range of countries, from Armenia to Bosnia-Herzegovina to Sierra Leone.

Government Inaction Also a Problem

But government incitement to violence isn’t the only problem identified in the reports.  This year’s reports make clear that some governments simply don’t fulfill their responsibilities to protect LGBTI citizens, or indeed to ensure that LGBTI citizens are provided justice:

  • The investigation and/or prosecution of violent crimes against LGBTI people is cited as unreliable or insufficient in a wide range of countries, including Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, El Salvador, Greece, South Africa, Ukraine and Iraq. And in Chile, government authorities were reluctant to use new hate crimes laws to charge violent offenders.
  • Lesbians endure the practice of “corrective rape” to “cure” their homosexuality in places such as Democratic Republic of Congo, Kyrgyz Republic and Zimbabwe.
  • In countries such as Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Latvia, Turkey, and in much of Africa, anti-discrimination laws fail to specify sexual orientation or gender identity as classes worthy of protection.
  • There is weak enforcement of existing anti-discrimination laws in a range of countries, including Albania, Bulgaria, Georgia and South Africa.
  • In Sierra Leone, school authorities expelled two female secondary school students for kissing, although they were eventually allowed to return after local groups pressed authorities to reverse the decision.
  • In Ecuador, LGBTI organizations and the government both reported that private centers confined LGBTI persons involuntarily to “cure” or “dehomosexualize” them, using exceptionally cruel methods, including sexual violence.
  • And in Poland, the office charged with monitoring discrimination against the LGBTI community showed little engagement in its areas of responsibility.

Societal Discrimination Remains Unchecked

In these circumstances, it’s no surprise that in many countries, LGBTI people face discrimination that negatively impacts their housing, employment, health care and educational access, and indeed family relations.

  • Reports on Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bolivia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cambodia, Dominican Republic, Ghana, Honduras, Pakistan and Romania make clear that employment in particular is a problem for openly-LGBTI individuals.
  • LGBTI activists in Mozambique, Senegal, Timor Leste and Namibia reported discrimination in access to social services, including educational and public health facilities.
  • In Bolivia, the Bolivian Coalition of LGBTI Collectives reported that 72 percent of transgender individuals abandoned their secondary school studies due to intense discrimination.
  • Religious leaders in Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe are singled out for fueling discrimination and violence.
  • In Saint Lucia, the report notes widespread societal discrimination, recognizing that LGBTI persons face daily verbal harassment.
  • And though many countries forcibly exclude LGBTI citizens from military service, in Armenia and Azerbaijan that exclusion comes at a steep price: it results in documentation noting that the person in question has a mental disorder, clearly a red flag in their ability to obtain future employment.

Transgender Recognition

Many of this year’s reports more fully reference problems impacting transgender communities around the globe – a welcome change in reporting.  Still, the reports make clear a patchwork of national efforts – coupled with a fair amount of confusion —in dealing with transgender issues.  The overall picture remains severely troubling:

  • In countries from Oman to Peru and the Philippines, and many other countries cited throughout the reports, the existence of transgender persons as a group of people is not recognized by law, nor (consequently) are their rights protected, including their right to change national identity documents to recognize their gender identity.
  • In Burma, transgender women reported being frequently charged under so-called shadow and disguise laws, reporting higher levels of police abuse and discrimination than other members of the LGBTI community. In Malaysia, a survey by a local transgender rights group reported more than two-thirds of transgender women experienced some form of physical or emotional abuse.
  • At the other extreme, the report highlights a High Court ruling in Botswana that allows individuals to change their gender upon declaration, and without having to undergo surgery, a best practice that is also singled out for commendation in Argentina, Belgium, Norway and Ukraine.  And in Argentina, the report notes that the law also requires public and private health-care plans to cover some parts of hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgery.
  • Laws and/or standard procedures governing the ability of transgender individuals to change their identity remain vague and incomplete in countries from Russia to Romania. In the latter, there was no right to a preferred gender identity in the absence of sex-reassignment surgery, an invasive requirement that is documented in too many countries to highlight here.
  • In Lithuania, individuals are now permitted to go through gender reassignment procedure, but in the absence of corresponding legislation, civil authorities still refuse to register gender reassignment.
  • Sterilization is still a subject of debate in many countries and is listed throughout the report as a human rights abuse under the term “coercion in population control.” It is not, however, reported under that category as it impacts transgender people around the world. In Slovakia, authorities generally required confirmation that a person had undergone permanent sterilization before issuing new identity documents. While Turkey’s Constitutional Court revoked a Civil Code provision requiring that transgender persons be sterilized prior to the formal gender reassignment, that sterilization requirement remained in force at the end of 2017. In many other reports that claim there is no forced sterilization, the Council for Global Equality notes that while this may be true in respect to many citizens, there is in fact a forced sterilization requirement for transgender citizens in countries ranging from Japan to approximately 20 European countries.
  • In Ukraine, regulations still prevent sexual identity reassignment for married individuals or those with minor children.
  • And in Moldova, as in many other countries, the government flatly disallows persons to change the gender listed on their identity cards or passports.

Some Good News

There was some good news impacting LGBTI communities in a variety of countries:

  • Ukraine’s report assesses that freedom of assembly for LGBTI groups is somewhat greater than in past years.
  • In Morocco and Namibia, questions of sexuality, sexual orientation, and gender identity have been addressed more openly than in the past, and Namibian authorities authorized a Pride parade along the main thoroughfare of the capital for the first time.
  • In Germany, a constitutional court ruled that birth certificates cannot offer only a binary choice of “male” or “female.” And in Canada, the government pledged to review its policy on collecting personally identifiable gender information and further pledged to do so only if there are “legitimate purposes.”
  • The government of the Netherlands increased efforts to counter discrimination against transgender individuals.
  • In Serbia, an openly lesbian woman became the country’s first Prime Minister, and in India, the first transgender person joined the state police force.
  • The Constitutional Court of Colombia ruled that transgender persons faced discrimination and social rejection and recommended measures to increase respect in the classroom.
  • And the report describes a whole-of-government effort by the government of Spain to tackle the issue of LGBTI hate crimes through police training, better reporting, and victim assistance.

And Now – A Call on Secretary Pompeo….

As we read the reports, we can’t help asking how Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will fulfill his leadership duties in responding to this deteriorating human rights landscape.  To wit:

  • This year the State Department specifically calls out public officials in countries from Albania to Tanzania for their homophobic statements. If the statements and actions of foreign government officials constitute an incitement to hate, will Secretary Pompeo condemn them?  And will he apologize for his own past homophobic statements, in order for our condemnations to be credible?
  • Will Secretary Pompeo recognize the rights and concerns of LGBTI Americans who seek to confront foreign officials with these human rights concerns?
  • And can we realistically expect Secretary Pompeo – who, at his confirmation hearing, refused to distance himself from past negative judgments of gay people – to show leadership in advancing LGBTI rights abroad?

These issues weigh heavily as Secretary Pompeo takes up the reins of the State Department. We remain concerned.  But if he stands with us – with all fair-minded Americans – to support human rights for everyone, we, in turn, will stand with him, to advance universal human rights and full inclusion for vulnerable and marginalized minority communities everywhere.

Our Secretary of State must reflect Constitutional principles and America’s call to equality.  We call on Secretary Pompeo to set aside his well-documented prejudices and do just that.

1 Response to “A Call on Secretary Pompeo to Respond to Rising Violence and Discrimination Against LGBTI People Globally”


  1. 1 Kathleen bromley April 27, 2018 at 1:14 pm

    Great report now he knows our expectations


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s




Stay Informed

Subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 227 other followers

Follow us on Twitter

Categories


%d bloggers like this: