Archive for the 'Anti-Homosexuality Act' Category

To consolidate an Obama legacy, entrench support for global LGBT rights

White HouseRepost from The Hill by Raymond Smith

With attention increasingly turning to the legacy of the Obama administration, one area of civil rights seems sure to be viewed as a breakthrough success: the recognition and advancement of equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. And while this legacy is already on solid footing on the domestic front, many opportunities still exist to entrench support for LGBT rights globally.

In 2008, Obama ran as a “fierce ally” of the LGBT community, yet many were unimpressed by the early months of his administration. In 2009, the LGBT magazine The Advocate ran a parody of his iconic “Hope” poster with the caption “Nope?” Shortly before the 2012 election, however, the same magazine ran a cover with his face superimposed on the grand seated statue in the Lincoln Memorial.

What changed so drastically over time? The evolution of the administration began with a host of incremental steps, such as ensuring hospital visitation rights to same-sex partners and lifting the ban on entry to the U.S. to people with HIV. Over time, Obama led the successful repeal of the ban on “gays in the military” and ensured the enactment of an LGBT-inclusive hate crimes bill. Using the bully pulpit, he filmed a segment for the “It Gets Better” campaign in support of LGBT teens, and in his second inaugural address, he cited the landmark Stonewall Riots of 1969 alongside Seneca Falls and Selma as turning points in civil rights history.

Perhaps most of all, Obama personally endorsed same-sex marriage and his administration refused to defend the unconstitutional Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Since the Supreme Court overturned DOMA in 2013, the administration has been diligent and proactive in extending the full range of marriage equality rights with regard to immigration, access to federal programs, taxation and more. At the same time, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act this year has begun to be interpreted, for the first time, to confer federal anti-discrimination protections on transgender people.

Much less noticed has been an equally impressive parallel track taken with regard to promotion of LGBT rights around the world. Three years ago this week, in December 2011, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a speech emphasizing that “gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.” The phrasing echoed her famous speech as first lady on women’s rights, given in Beijing 15 years prior, which signaled the inclusion of gender equality as a central focus of U.S. foreign policy.

Concurrently, Obama issued a “Presidential Memorandum on International Initiatives to Advance the Human Rights of LGBT Persons.” Unlike on the more scattered and improvised domestic-policy side, this one landmark document has served as a coherent strategic blueprint for action by the federal government.

The memorandum contains several major elements, including combating anti-LGBT criminalization abroad, protecting LGBT refugees and asylum seekers, responding to anti-LGBT human rights abuses internationally, providing targeted foreign assistance and engaging international organizations to secure LGBT rights. In all of these areas, the State Department has outlined a range of accomplishments.

For example, a Global Equality Fund has been established to bridge government, companies and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to provide emergency and long-term assistance. The fund promotes LGBT rights through a small grants program, an emergency protection rapid response mechanism, and long-term capacity-building efforts for human rights organizations overseas. Protections for asylum seekers has also been expanded; in one notable case, a Ugandan LGBT rights activist was recently provided asylum rather than being forced to return to a potentially fatal environment in his home country.

Likewise, embassies around the world have begun proactively engaging with governments and human rights organizations. And at the United Nations, the U.S. is a charter member of the LGBT Core Group, which in September issued a ministerial declaration on “Ending Violence and Discrimination against Individuals Based on Their Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.”

Despite these crucial steps, much more work remains to be done. “The U.S. blueprint for action can be a powerful force, but only if its approach is consistent and guided by the understanding that all rights are indivisible and universal,” said Jessica Stern, executive director of the New York-based International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.

“Achieving change will demand focused attention. One crucial step forward would be the immediate creation of a Special Envoy for LGBT Rights at the State Department,” Stern noted. Such an envoy would act as a high-level advocate for LGBT concerns, working within the State Department, bilaterally with other countries and through multilateral organizations. The position of special envoy is the focus of bill introduced last summer by Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.).

Likewise, the Council for Global Equality, a Washington-based NGO with the goal of advancing an American foreign policy inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity, “has identified a series of actionable next steps that could advance the Administration’s commitment by moving the government from a reactive posture to a longer-term human rights protection agenda,” according to the council Chair Mark Bromley. These objectives, added Bromley, “are designed to harmonize the Administration’s commitments into a coherent human rights policy — and an enduring legacy of President Obama.”

In addition to creation of the special envoy position, other priority areas include:

  • Requiring automatic policy reviews whenever foreign countries enact new anti-LGBT policies. The review could be triggered by legislation, changes in enforcement patterns or failure to protect LGBT populations. Such a thorough review was conducted after the passage of a particularly repressive anti-gay law in Uganda last year, but it’s unclear that comparable reviews have been undertaken in the case of similar laws enacted in Nigeria and, most recently, Gambia.
  • Mandating that government contractors and grantees globally have LGBT non-discrimination policies as pre-conditions for contracts or assistance. Such a move would parallel an executive order issued last summer banning anti-LGBT discrimination policies among government contracts within the U.S. for domestic contactors.
  • Strengthening policies to protect LGBT rights in multilateral organizations such as the U.N., the World Health Organization, the World Bank, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the Organization of American States. The U.S. should also advocate for adequate funding and staffing for such policies to be enforced and monitored.
  • Establishing annual reports and other mechanisms to make information more widely available about federal effort in the realm of global LGBT rights, and also holding more extensive consultations with a range of stakeholders about how best to implement the memorandum.

Whatever further steps the Obama administration takes, some critics will inevitably dismiss the relevance of LGBT rights, or consider LGBT rights a marginal issue when it comes to the forging of a presidential legacy that will stand the test of time.

But such voices have been proven wrong before. They’re the same ones that in the 1960s saw no need for the Civil Rights Act, in the 1970s resisted signing the Helsinki human rights accords, in the 1980s rejected sanctions against apartheid South Africa, in the 1990s mocked steps to advance a global women’s rights agenda and in the 2000s endorsed human rights abuses in the name of fighting terrorism.

Yet, today, each of these incidents is recalled as a badge of honor — or a mark of shame — for the president who presided over them. So, too, will today’s struggle for LGBT rights, both at home and abroad, be recalled as a substantive and productive element of the Obama legacy.

 

Smith is a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute; an adjunct assistant professor of political science at Columbia University and New York University; and author of Importing Democracy: Ideas from Around the World to Reform and Revitalize American Politics and Government.

 

President Kim’s Clarion Call

Repost from Huffington Post by Maria Burnett (Human Rights Watch)

In February, the World Bank delayed a $90 million loan for health care in Uganda out of concern over its new Anti-Homosexuality Act. Since then, the Constitutional Courtnullified the law for lack of a parliamentary quorum during the vote. But the government quickly filed a notice of appeal. Members of parliament are also pressing to bring the law back to the floor, swearing they can gather the constitutionally-required numbers.

Just as troubling, another law came into force in July that criminalizes even unintentional HIV transmission and requires HIV testing of pregnant women without their consent, and forced disclosure.

In a personal and thought-provoking Washington Post op-ed earlier this year, World Bank President Jim Kim said that discrimination is bad for economies, societies and individuals. It can prevent people from fully participating in the work force and discourage multinational companies from investing or locating activities in countries with discriminatory laws, he said.

Implicit in the message was that discrimination is bad for governments receiving development assistance too. It would appear that President Yoweri Museveni is alsostarting to understand the economic cost of anti-equality policies, but his rhetoric has been inconsistent. The World Bank/International Monetary Fund annual meetings in Washington this week give President Kim a critical opportunity to stand up for these concerns and push Uganda’s government to take meaningful steps to address discrimination in health services.

The frequently reported discrimination in Ugandan health centers against sex workers and gay men discourages people from seeking care. Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda, the former health minister, in August admitted to two groups that discrimination exists and that the government is not equipped to monitor or respond to it.

Last week, in a letter to President Kim, 16 Ugandan and international organizations laid out enforceable steps the bank should take to see that discrimination in care for marginalized groups ends before releasing the loan. Steps include requiring the government to prohibit discrimination in healthcare delivery on grounds of gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and all other grounds articulated under international law, and requiring government health care workers to respect patient confidentiality, privacy and informed consent to all treatment.

The World Bank should also fund activities to promote patients’ rights, including providing patient advocates and legal counsel for people who face discrimination, breach of confidentiality or other abuses in health settings and training for Ugandan health workers to respect these rights. The groups also pressed the bank to urge the government to guarantee that it wouldn’t interfere with independent monitoring of health services.

It is crucial for the World Bank to urge the Ugandan government, publicly and privately, to repeal all discriminatory laws and end discriminatory practices. The bank should emphasize the importance of non-discrimination for health and economic development.

After 28 years in power, President Museveni is gearing up to run again in 2016. Aid has continued to flow despite large-scale corruption scandals, but this time should be different. The bank’s decision on the loan will affect the bank’s credibility in Uganda and beyond.

President Kim’s statement about the deleterious economic impact of discrimination was a precedent-setting decision to stand up for human rights. Pushing for real safeguards could significantly contribute to mitigating discrimination against LGBTI patients, women and other marginalized populations who are at disproportionately high risk of negative health outcomes and poverty.

Releasing the loan without meaningful safeguards, while Uganda’s parliamentarians continue to pass discriminatory laws and urge more discriminatory measures, would show a profound disregard for President Kim’s clarion call.

Gambia: President Should Reject Homophobic Law

President Yahya Jammeh of GambiaRepost from Human Rights Watch

(Dakar) – President Yahya Jammeh of Gambia should not sign a new Criminal Code amendment that would increase the punishment for “aggravated homosexuality” to life in prison, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said today. The measure would further add to the climate of fear for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people in Gambia.

Several provisions of the law violate international human rights law and amount to persecution on the basis of real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Sections of the law are similar to the harsh homophobic legislation that was annulled in August 2014 in Uganda.

“President Jammeh should not approve this profoundly damaging act that violates international human rights law,” said Stephen Cockburn, deputy regional Director for West and Central Africa director at Amnesty International. “Gambia’s National Assembly and the President should not endorse state-sponsored homophobia.” Continue Reading

International Law and the Uncertainty of Rights for LGBT People

Human Rights WatchRepost from Human Rights Watch
Written by Graeme Reid

For lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT)people the law is a paradox. The law can operate as an instrument of repression and control, but also as a tool for resistance and liberation. We find fragments of our collective histories in court records. Here we find a sorry history of people in countries across the world convicted of loitering, sodomy, cross-dressing or so-called “crimes against nature.”

For a vulnerable minority, and an unpopular one, domestic and international law has proven to be an indispensable tool, sometimes the only tool, for LGBT people to claim a space in the world. Two decades ago in a 1994 case, the UN Human Rights Committee in Toonen v. Australia asserted the right to privacy for same-sex consenting adults under international law. In 1998, South African courts repealed the Immorality Act and five years later, in 2003, Lawrence v. Texas saw the remaining sodomy laws in the US declared unconstitutional.

Yet some 76 countries around the world maintain discriminatory LGBT laws. Britain exported its sodomy laws to the empire, where many remain in force. These laws not only hold the threat of arrest and prosecution, but have other profound implications for LGBT people as well. Even in the many countries where sodomy laws are seldom enforced, such as India and Uganda, they still symbolize national discrimination against LGBT people.

Human Rights Watch has reported these laws are routinely used for blackmail and extortion, in settings as diverse as KyrgyzstanJamaica and Uganda. Such laws contribute to a climate of prejudice and hostility in which violence occurs with impunity. The passage of the anti-propaganda laws in Russia led to a peak in violence against LGBT people. In Nigeria, the immediate effect following the enactment of draconian legislation was mob violence against gay men. The law in these places means that LGBT people must live a shadow existence under the threat of violence. Continue Reading

Uganda’s Constitutional Court Strikes Down Anti-Homosexuality Law

Royal Mile Kampala UgandaAugust 1, 2014 — The Council for Global Equality welcomes the decision today by Uganda’s Constitutional Court to strike down that country’s odious “Anti-Homosexuality” Law. The Court determined that the passage of the law was not in keeping with correct democratic procedures and struck it down on technical grounds involving the lack of a quorum to pass the bill. The civil society leaders who led the challenge to the law, and stood firmly in support of human rights for all Ugandans, won a remarkable victory for human rights and democracy today. We applaud them, along with those in the international community who have steadfastly opposed this anti-democratic and discriminatory law.

The Council urges that Ugandan officials not reintroduce the bill and instead move forward toward equality for all Ugandans, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.  We also hope that President Museveni of Uganda will use the occasion of his official visit to Washington next week for the first-ever Africa Leaders Summit to demonstrate a stronger appreciation of the principle that all citizens, including Uganda’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender minority, deserve equal respect and treatment under the law.

Related: Council Calls for President Obama to Raise LGBT Issues at Africa Summit

Council Calls for President Obama to Raise LGBT Issues at Africa Summit

White HouseIn August, President Obama will host the first-ever U.S.- Africa Summit.  The theme, “Investing in the Next Generation,” raises the hope that the next generation of LGBT Africans will have an equal opportunity to participate, as equal citizens, in the future of the continent.

To promote an LGBT perspective, the Council wrote to President Obama to ask that the official program include LGBT individuals, organizations and experiences to enrich both the Summit and the generational advance to which it aspires.  The letter also highlights opportunities to make the business case for inclusion during business and trade forums at the Summit.

See a copy of the letter here.

The Council for Global Equality Welcomes the White House Efforts to Protect Human Rights in Uganda

The_White_House,_WashingtonThe Council for Global Equality welcomes today’s White House announcement of new, concrete steps in our country’s bilateral relationship with Uganda in response to President Museveni’s decision to sign into law the Anti-Homosexuality Act earlier this year.  These steps reaffirm the importance the U.S. attaches to a foreign policy that prioritizes respect for the human rights of all people, including those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender – an important legacy of this Administration.

We take note in particular the announcement of new visa restrictions aimed at restricting entry to those deemed responsible for human rights abuses, including those enabled by this heinous law, and other corrupt practices.  In taking this action, the Administration has placed responsibility where it should lie – with those individuals who have enacted the new law, not the broader Ugandan people.  We urge that a speedy review of visa eligibility be the template for prospective U.S. responses whenever human rights are abridged, or corrupt practices undertaken, in any country.

The Administration’s new steps place appropriate emphasis on anti-LGBT police actions, our bilateral security relationship, and the broad areas in which the U.S. engages with Uganda on sound health policy.  We urge a continued dialogue in each of these areas aimed at ensuring the effective use of U.S. taxpayer funding in each of these areas, and particularly to ensuring that the health needs of men who have sex with men continue to be met.  We further urge that the Administration ensure that no organization charged with providing PEPFAR-funded services is allowed to take steps that deliberately undercut the effectiveness of those services, as was the case with actions taken by the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda in supporting enactment of the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

Finally, we note that Uganda is not the only government that has taken, in recent months, steps to further criminalize homosexual relations and relationships.  We have been proud to applaud the Administration’s policy of standing for LGBT human and civil rights abroad.  However, a global policy requires a globally consistent response, which to date has not been the case.  We ask that the Administration review, in equal measure, how to respond to similar anti-democratic actions in Nigeria, Russia, and other countries where government officials have put LGBT people at increased risk of abuse.

For more information on the steps the White House is taking click here.

Statement by NSC Spokesperson Caitlin Hayden on the Response to Uganda’s Enactment of the Anti-Homosexuality Act


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