Archive for the 'Civil Liberties' Category

State Department Retains LGBTI Special Envoy: What Does It Mean? Will it Respond to Global Call from LGBT Advocates?

Last week’s Congressional notification that the Trump Administration has decided not to abolish the LGBTI human rights Special Envoy position was an unexpected surprise.

We know there are many dedicated State Department officials who believe passionately that the United States must stand for human rights, including equality and dignity for LGBT individuals everywhere, as a cornerstone of our foreign policy. And recent reports suggest Secretary Tillerson may have raised well-documented cases of LGBT persecution in Chechnya with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov in a letter this summer. Yet, we’ve seen very little indication that Administration leaders care about a comprehensive human rights policy, or LGBT rights, after all:

  • A number of concrete actions – the ban on trans military service, opposition to federal employment protections, and the decision to rescind Obama-era guidance on protections for transgender students in public schools – have been injurious to LGBT citizens at home.
  • “America First” policies have slammed the door on refugees and immigrants, more than 75,000 LGBT DREAMers included – and on the international cooperation needed to stand for fairness and equality abroad.
  • Secretary Tillerson astoundingly has sought to separate democratic “values” from the pursuit of narrower, arguably raw, national “interests” (see his speech here) – turning his back on U.S. diplomatic priorities pursued across the postwar years.
  • President Trump’s expansion of the “Global Gag Rule” to all U.S. global health funding, including global AIDS funding through PEPFAR, undermines our investments in sexual and reproductive health and rights, with equally devastating impact for LGBT individuals who may now be forced to depend on faith-based implementers that are unlikely to be as welcoming or effective in supporting the health and rights of LGBT communities.
  • And the impact of these policy shifts is becoming clear: only last week, the Washington Post traced a sharp uptick in human rights abuses in Egypt to messages that President Trump conveyed in his May meeting with that country’s president.

In this light, how are we to understand retention of the Special Envoy position? Is it mere window dressing? Or will the Administration use the position vigorously to tackle a global crisis in hate crimes, abuse, and legal discrimination against LGBT people?

We are concerned that, in the first seven months of this Administration, the Department’s Special Envoy hasn’t been directed to make a single overseas trip to engage foreign governments on any of the LGBT-related human rights violations so carefully documented in the Department’s annual human rights reports. That concern is only amplified by Secretary Tillerson’s decision (as reflected in the Congressional notification) to co-hat the Special Envoy’s targeted responsibilities with the much larger duties of a Deputy Assistant Secretary (DAS) – a situation that exists now, but that was intended to be temporary, given personnel shifts and shortfalls. That co-hatting may well bury the Special Envoy’s substantive responsibilities under heavy managerial and substantive duties of the kind that any DAS carries.

But a broader question is whether the Administration can carry genuine moral authority to engage, even modestly, on LGBT human rights while its policies at home, and its lack of engagement on human rights abroad, have been so troubling.

The global credibility of the Special Envoy position, then, is directly proportional to the Administration’s record on Constitutional protections at home. It requires the thoughtful and deliberate inclusion of LGBT populations in appropriate bilateral economic, development, and health programs. It too requires regular engagement with other countries on problems impacting LGBT populations, all the while acknowledging that our country’s record in this sphere remains troubled. And it requires swift condemnation of hate crimes and hate groups – not the “blame on both sides” cop-out the President used in his troubling response to far-right violence in Charlottesville this summer.

LGBT advocates from around the world have urged President Trump to honor our country’s commitment to human rights. See their video here. Eight months later, we reiterate their call. Keeping the Special Envoy may be a start – but only if the Administration honors our country’s call to equality with humility, funding, and concrete action.

Kenya’s Reelected Leader Must End Horrifying Anal Exams

Repost from the Advocate

Kenya, the economic and political powerhouse of Eastern and Central Africa, held an election this week to choose the fifth president of the country since independence. While the vote is still being contested by opposition leader Raila Odinga, it appears that incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta just won a second and final term. When it comes to defending the human rights of Kenya’s LGBTIQ citizens, Kenyatta’s record is critically important to our emerging democracy.

During President Obama’s visit to Kenya in 2015, Kenyatta said, “We share a lot of things, but gay issues are not among them. … There are some things that we must admit we don’t share. It’s very difficult for us to impose on people that which they themselves do not accept. This is why I say for Kenyans today the issue of gay rights is really a nonissue.” Kenyatta was responding to Obama, who emphasized the need for Kenya to stop discriminating against gays and lesbians, saying, “I’ve been consistent all across Africa on this. When you start treating people differently because they’re different, that’s the path whereby freedoms begin to erode. And bad things happen.”

During an interview with CNN in October 2015, Kenyatta underlined that what he meant when responding to Obama was not that gays have no rights. “I will not allow people to persecute any individuals, or beat and torture them,” he said, adding that “we have to understand that these are processes and they take time … and this is where I am saying we have to get synergies. You are not going to create the U.S., Great Britain, or Netherlands in Kenya, or in Nigeria or Senegal overnight.”

President Kenyatta’s lack of leadership on LGBTIQ issues is of great concern. The unsupportive public statements have offered license to state officers who continue to harass and arrest gays and lesbians; political cover to those who deny LGBTIQ citizens access to medical, educational, and other social services; and a justification for hate crimes committed by the general public. The use of forced anal exams to “prove” homosexual activity stands out as a particularly brutal form of torture in this larger context. Continue Reading

House LGBT Caucus Commends Foreign Affairs Committee Approval of Bipartisan Chechnya Resolution

Washington D.C.— The Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus commended the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) for passing H.Res.351, a bipartisan resolution condemning the detention, torture, and murders of gay and bisexual men in Chechnya.  H.Res.351 was introduced by LGBT Caucus founding member and former HFAC Chair Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-27) on May 23rd and has 52 bipartisan cosponsors, including HFAC Chairman Rep. Ed Royce (CA-39) and Ranking Member and LGBT Caucus Member Rep. Eliot Engel (NY-16).  H.Res.351 passed in committee by a unanimous voice vote.

“This resolution demands that Russian and Chechen authorities end the violence against innocent men in Chechnya, and hold the perpetrators accountable.  The rights to personal safety, freedom of association and freedom from violence are universal values, regardless of a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, race, religion, or any other characteristic,” said LGBT Equality Caucus Co-Chair Rep. David Cicilline (RI-01).  “I commend Rep. Ros-Lehtinen for introducing this resolution and for her ongoing leadership on LGBT equality.  I also thank Chairman Royce and Ranking Member Engel for making passage of this resolution a priority and their dedication to ending this horrible situation in Chechnya.  We hope that Speaker Ryan will call a floor vote on this resolution and show the world that the United States is still a leader on human rights for all.”

Since early March, Chechen law enforcement officials have arrested and detained over 100 gay men in prisons, with reports of torture and starvation. Initial reports and confirmation by human rights organizations confirmed three deaths, with up to 20 deaths now reported. Both the U.S. State Department and US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley have condemned the reports. On April 7th, 2017, Rep. Cicilline and Rep. Alan Lowenthal (CA-47) led a bipartisan letter signed by 50 members of Congress calling on Secretary of State Tillerson to condemn the violence during his trip to Russia.

Please contact Roddy Flynn at 202-257-8416 or roddy.flynn@mail.house.gov with press inquiries.

The mission of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus is to promote lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) equality. The bi-partisan LGBT Equality Caucus is strongly committed to achieving the full enjoyment of human rights for LGBT people in the U.S. and around the world. By serving as a resource for Members of Congress, their staff, and the public on LGBT issues, the Caucus works toward the extension of equal rights, the repeal of discriminatory laws, the elimination of hate-motivated violence, and the improved health and wellbeing for all regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.

USAID Nominee Should Affirm that Investments in LGBT Development Have Real Impact

President Trump has nominated Ambassador Mark Green as the new Administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).  The Council looks forward to his confirmation hearing, where we trust he will affirm USAID’s commitment to inclusive development that recognizes LGBT citizens as both agents and beneficiaries of effective U.S. development assistance.

The Council has worked closely with USAID to ensure that LGBT individuals are included in the full range of human rights, health, economic empowerment and development assistance policies that the United States carries out abroad.  We are particularly pleased that the Agency has adopted new regulations prohibiting USAID and its partners from discriminating against LGBT or other minority communities when providing taxpayer-funded goods and services from the American people.

During his confirmation hearing, we hope Ambassador Greene pledges to uphold the principle that USAID must not discriminate against LGBT communities, and that he affirms the Agency’s ongoing commitment to integrating the needs of LGBT populations into all sectors of development support.

Please watch this video to hear how our investments in LGBT development can have real impact on human lives.

Ros-Lehtinen, Engel, Issa, Cicilline, Royce, and Smith Introduce Bipartisan Resolution on Violence in Chechnya

United States CongressMay 23, 2017

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, made the following statement after introducing bipartisan resolution, H. Res. 351, condemning the violence and persecution in Chechnya. Joining Ros-Lehtinen in introducing this resolution were U.S. Reps. Eliot L. Engel (D-NY), Darrell Issa (R-CA), David Cicilline (D-RI), Ed Royce (R-CA), and Chris Smith (R-NJ).

Click to read the full resolution

Statement by Rep. Ros-Lehtinen: “For over a month, hundreds of gay or perceived to be gay Chechens have been arrested, many have been tortured, and some even killed. This bipartisan resolution sends a clear message to Chechnya and Russia authorities and any oppressor that the U.S. will not stand idly while these human rights atrocities are being committed. The U.S. government needs to continue to speak up to help those who are being indiscriminately targeted, and we must pressure Russia to uphold its international commitment to prevent any further abuses from happening while perpetrators are brought to justice.”   

Statement by Rep. Engel: “We’ve heard chilling reports of authorities in Chechnya detaining, torturing, and even killing men from the LGBT community over the last several weeks. We are witnessing the unfolding of a horrific tragedy and it’s long past time that the Kremlin start protecting its own citizens—all of them—regardless of sexual orientation. That’s why I introduced this bipartisan resolution with my colleagues—to send a clear signal that Republicans and Democrats alike call on President Putin to respect and promote the dignity of all persons and provide safe haven for all those fleeing such horrific persecution.”

Governments Step Up for Reproductive Rights

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© 2016 Smita Sharma for Human Rights Watch

Repost from Human Rights Watch

‘She Decides’ Summit to Counter Trump’s ‘Global Gag Rule’

(Brussels) – Governments should pledge political and financial support for sexual and reproductive health to counter the United States’ “Global Gag Rule,” Human Rights Watch said today. The Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, and Sweden are hosting a summit in Brussels on March 2, 2017, to strengthen support for the “She Decides” funding initiative, which will support organizations affected by US restrictions and resulting cuts.

On his first full day in office, US President Donald Trump issued an expanded “Global Gag Rule,” or “Mexico City Policy,” which strips foreign nongovernmental organizations of all US health funding if they use funds from any source to offer information about abortions, provide abortions, or advocate liberalizing abortion laws. US law already prohibits using US funds for abortion in foreign family planning assistance.

“Governments, nongovernmental groups, and the private sector should stand with women and girls to protect their right to health,” said Nisha Varia, women’s rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “The Trump administration’s damaging policy restricts women’s choices, pushes censorship of information about critical health options, and will reduce a wide range of health services in many countries that desperately need them.” Click to continue Reading.

Rex Tillerson’s Nomination

Rex TillersonWhen Rex Tillerson goes before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday, he should be given the professional respect to which anyone of his achievement is entitled. But before he is confirmed, he owes the American people some clear answers.

With the title of America’s top diplomat comes responsibility for advancing a broad array of national interests. These include energy security, where Tillerson’s history of back-room deals for the benefit of Exxon shareholders may at least hold the appearance of some use.

But that history and style of operation raise questions, too, of Tillerson’s attachment to broader national interests and, indeed, to the American people. We want to see evidence of his past commitment to fighting the corruption that erodes the future of so many countries and their populations. We want to know what effort he made to ensuring that Exxon’s extraction of natural resources has benefited not only oligarchs and shareholder profits, but to the needs of countries where Exxon has engaged. And we want to understand how he will ensure that his 40-year history in the oil industry will not conflict with the interests of the American people through the full disclosure and explanation of his current and future financial relationship to this industry.

These questions go to the heart of Tillerson’s ethical moorings – important in turn to the respect he must command if he is to advance effectively American interests as Secretary of State. They also target the breadth of interests he must steer, if confirmed.

As a Washington-based advocacy organization that fights for fundamental rights and economic opportunities for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals around the world, we are particularly interested in learning how he will promote America’s longstanding interests in supporting democratic societies and vibrant economies that respect and empower minority citizens. Countries that respect the rights of minorities understand their commitment to democracy and make strong diplomatic and economic partners; countries that persecute their minorities do not make stable allies. Unfortunately, LGBTI individuals and religious minorities are among the most violently persecuted minorities in most countries. And some of the worst examples of such persecution, and indeed overtly hostile leadership, occur in countries that happen to be led by some of the world’s worst oligarchs and dictators, including Russia.

U.S. foreign policy has clear reason to promote sound economic development and fully inclusive prosperity, both of which reinforce long-term stability in the foreign partnerships we seek to build. Our country traditionally stands against human rights abuse for this and broader ethical reasons. We advocate for vibrant civil societies that enjoy fundamental freedoms, rights and protections rooted in the rule of law – rights and protections that shouldn’t be limited by national borders, of course, but that also strengthen business and cultural and social ties. We know that sound and inclusive global health policies maximize our country’s generous investments in global health and positively impact, too, the health interests of the American people. And all of these interests are tied intrinsically to success in both eroding the appeal of terrorism and reducing the risk of war.

If confirmed, Tillerson will be charged with building bilateral and multilateral commitment to these and other goals – often against the will and narrow interests of the many government leaders and other officials he has cultivated as CEO. That task is far more challenging, and requires far greater finesse, than does negotiating the price and terms for a commodity that a country’s oligarchs seek to sell.

As a measure of his commitment to human rights and democracy, we encourage discussion of whether Tillerson is prepared to push for full citizenship rights for disfavored LGBTI minority communities in many of the countries around the world where he led Exxon to make significant investments. We deserve to understand how he will prioritize these and other human rights concerns, and there is no better way to judge the balance he will take than to weigh his support for some of the most commonly persecuted minority communities around the world.

We urge that Tillerson speak clearly to these points, and to the leadership he would provide to advancing these paramount interests. We would far rather see policy guided by seasoned career diplomats for a time, than to leave these questions unanswered. A speedy confirmation might be in the narrow partisan interests of the President-elect – but not in the interests of our country.


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