Archive for June, 2018

Reflections On Pride This Year

As Pride season ends, some reflections come to mind – less on Pride celebrations per se than on this Administration’s approach to global LGBTI fairness and equality.

Our country’s values of fairness and equality mean that we should stand against inequalities and discrimination impacting LGBTI populations abroad.  And across President Obama’s two terms of office, our country’s commitment to global LGBT human rights became clear:

  • Human rights reports were revamped to include attention to atrocities and discrimination against LGBT and intersex people.
  • A Presidential Memorandum was crafted to set the national interest context and interagency framework for how the U.S. would approach LGBTI human rights abuse and inequality abroad.
  • Within this framework, the tools of U.S. foreign affairs agencies – police training, exchange programs, and efforts to strengthen equality-minded organizations overseas – were appropriately brought on line in a range of countries where LGBT populations have suffered hate crimes and abuse.
  • A new Special Envoy position was created, better to integrate the often-unique challenges impacting LGBTI populations into our human rights policies, and to work with other countries to address LGBTI inequalities and partner on corresponding opportunities.
  • The U.S. actively led in supporting LGBTI rights at the UN, and in encouraging respect for international norms with regard to LGBT and intersex people.
  • And at key moments, the U.S. President and Secretary of State spoke out against state-sanctioned homophobia – most notably with regard to Russia and Uganda.

Some of the tools referenced above remain in place.  Police sensitization on LGBTI population issues continues.  So do exchange programs, and other efforts to address the short shrift given to LGBT people in so many countries of the world.  A number of talented civil servants continue to give these issues their attention and ideas.

But the Trump Administration has cold-shouldered human rights as a guiding principle, and has no vision of a cohesive approach to LGBTI inequalities abroad.  It has dismembered the interagency coordination on global LGBT issues that began under Obama, providing political appointees with scant guidance as to how these issues should be folded into their programs.  The Administration has rescinded U.S. participation in the UN Human Rights Council, and no longer provides the same leadership in the UN’s core group on LGBTI issues – both vital fora for addressing LGBTI abuses and advancing fairness objectives.  It has left unfilled the Special Envoy position and gutted global women’s health programs that impact LGBT communities.  Increasingly it uses the principle of religious freedom to justify discrimination against our community, at home and abroad.  It has turned its back on refugees, including LGBT and intersex men and women fleeing the most vile and heart-wrenching repression of their very being.  And rather than embracing human rights, President Trump has chosen to embrace dictators that violate those rights – from Russia and Egypt, to Turkey and the Philippines.

If Trump had used his contacts with these dictators to insist on respect for human rights principles, we might have a different view of this strange and unprecedented embrace.  But there’s no reason to believe he has done so, and no evidence of any change either.  There’s also no reason to accept assertions that the U.S. voice and impact on human rights will be stronger, now that we’re outside the UN Human Rights Council, than it was when the U.S. debated in that body.

The only glimmer we’ve seen has been the President’s application of the Magnitsky Act sanctions to those most responsible for the carnage that Chechen authorities have inflicted against gay and lesbian citizens of that region.  But the buck on that carnage stops with Putin – and so far as we know, Trump has done nothing to press Russia’s president to stop these abuses.  Nor has he spoken critically – in public or, as far as anyone can tell us, in private – to atrocities carried out by the many other human rights abusers with whom he sadly has allied our country.

The human rights community has called “nonsense ” to any notion that this Administration is a defender of human rights.  So have a growing number of Congressional voices, in both houses, who have taken a stand that this country will not abandon its human rights mantle and heritage, nor its embrace of the principle that all men and women – including those in the LGBTI community – are created equal, and deserve equal protection under law, whether at home or abroad.

This is the heart and message of Pride.  It is what our country has stood for, and will stand for again.  We ask all who believe in America’s support for equality to join in insisting that those who represent us – and those who seek or claim the mantle of leadership – recommit to these values.  And we ask this Administration to do the same.

Who’s Hypocritical Now?

In announcing the Trump Administration’s decision to withdraw U.S. participation from the UN Human Rights Council, Secretary of State Pompeo decried the Council as being “…an exercise in shameless hypocrisy.”

How hypocritical, indeed – and what a short-sighted view of how to protect and advance our country’s human rights interests.

The decision, announced June 19, smacks of petulance, coming only a day after the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights criticized the Administration’s policy of wrenching away children from their parents on America’s southern border.

And while the Administration doesn’t want to sit at the human rights table with Russia, Mr. Trump has just proposed Russia’s re-entry into the G-7, from which it was suspended due to its 2014 invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea.

We do not defend the Human Rights Council’s composition, with many egregious human rights violators being counted within its membership.  But the reason they’ve sought a seat on the Council is clear: to blunt any multilateral criticisms of their own human rights failings, and to deflect that discussion toward other targets, such as Israel.

That, of course, is part of why the U.S. needs to be on the Council – to keep the discussion focused on human rights tragedies.  And we wonder whether the Administration’s decision to withdraw reflects an underlying reluctance to lead that dialogue.

Perhaps Mr. Trump doesn’t want the U.S. to call attention to Russia’s refusal to rein in Chechnya’s brutal and unconscionable murders of LGBT people.  Perhaps he doesn’t dare to discomfort Saudi Arabia, a country that provided him a lavish welcome last year, even as it continues to repress the rights of women and LGBT citizens.

Or maybe the Administration can’t bring itself to confront Egypt – whose dictatorial leader Trump has embraced – with the straightforward question of why the government continues to administer forced anal exams to “prove” homosexual conduct. Or why, indeed, that government targets its LGBT citizens for arrest and imprisonment at all.

With all of its imperfections, the UN Human Rights Council remains the only multilateral body with an agenda focused exclusively on debating human rights.  Muting our voice in that forum is hardly a proven way to win that debate on any of these issues.  Nor is reverting to “Fortress America” mode – rather than carrying through tough and sometimes uncomfortable diplomatic engagement – the way to advance critical, long-term American values and interests.

In announcing U.S. withdrawal from the Council, UN Ambassador Haley said she wanted to “…make it crystal clear that this step is not a retreat from our human rights commitments.”

We challenge her to prove it.

Read our joint letter to Secretary Pompeo below.

***************************************************************************

June 19, 2018

Honorable Mike Pompeo
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW Washington, DC 20520

Dear Mr. Secretary:

We the undersigned are deeply disappointed with the Administration’s decision to withdraw the United States from the United Nations Human Rights Council, the premier intergovernmental human rights body at the global level. This decision is counterproductive to American national security and foreign policy interests and will make it more difficult to advance human rights priorities and aid victims of abuse around the world.

The Administration’s calls for reforms of the Council are grounded in legitimate concerns about shortcomings in the Council’s structure and operations. While some important progress toward reform has been achieved, other issues remain unaddressed, with American diplomacy thus far not achieving requisite levels of support for proposed changes. But none of these gaps warrants withdrawal from the Council, and the U.S.’s absence will only compound the Council’s weaknesses.

In our view, sustained U.S. diplomatic efforts at a high level in capitals as well as Geneva — such as the kind that dedicated American Ambassadors to the UN in Geneva and the Council could provide if the Administration would appoint them — would have significantly improved the Administration’s ability to advance key U.S. reform proposals, ensured the rejection of pernicious proposals advanced by others with an anti-rights agenda, and facilitated further improvement in Council membership. In the absence of U.S. membership on and in the Council, progress already gained will likely be lost.

The results of U.S. disengagement from the Council played out in 2006, to the dismay of human rights defenders as well as Washington’s key friends and allies. With the U.S. opting not to pursue membership then, a small grouping of illiberal regimes dominated the Council, disproportionately focusing the new body’s agenda against Israel.

This dynamic shifted after 2009, following a decision by the U.S. to pursue membership in the Human Rights Council. In short, politicized regional blocs began to crack and the Council made tangible progress in addressing pressing country-specific and thematic human rights challenges. Governments around the world took notice, voting overwhelmingly in the UN General Assembly to re-elect the U.S. to the Council in 2012 and again in 2016 – an outcome championed by our respective organizations. A 2017 study by the Council on Foreign Relations found that U.S. membership on the UN Human Rights Council improved its performance in several ways:

First, U.S. involvement strengthened the Council’s commitment to action within specific countries known to grossly violate human rights, such as Burundi, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, and Syria. U.S. membership also strengthened attention to norms like freedom of association, assembly and religion; as well as protecting the rights of vulnerable populations—including women and girls and the LGBTI community.

Second, as the CFR Report also noted, there was a significant decline in the proportion of anti-Israel resolutions and special sessions during U.S. membership. Overall it concluded, “U.S. participation in the UNHRC can advance U.S. interests and lessen anti-Israel bias while supporting measures to avert and de-escalate human rights crises, thus reducing the likelihood of costly military interventions.”

Forfeiting the U.S. seat on the UN Human Rights Council only serves to empower actors on the Council, like Russia and China, that do not share American values on the preeminence of universal human rights – an assertion backed up by evidence from the 2006 U.S. Council withdrawal. Further, no other likeminded country seeking to occupy the United States’ former seat can realistically match Washington’s global diplomatic and political footprint. In short, without strategic U.S. engagement at the Council as a member, the U.S. loses a platform to influence the course of human rights globally for the better and the victims of human rights abuse globally will fall prey to the machinations of governments that will take advantage of this strategic vacuum.

We respectfully urge the Department of State to review this decision, to seek reelection to the UN Human Rights Council in 2019, and to continue to advance reforms in the Human Rights Council.

Sincerely,

▪ Better World Campaign ▪ CARE ▪ Council for Global Equality ▪ Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) ▪ Freedom House ▪ Human Rights Campaign ▪ Human Rights First ▪ Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights ▪ PEN America ▪ Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights ▪ Save the Children ▪ United Nations Association – USA


Stay Informed

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

Join 228 other followers

Follow us on Twitter

Categories