Archive for the 'Civil Liberties' Category

Deteriorating Human Rights in The Gambia

Yahya JammehMay 3, 2016 – The Council for Global Equality joined 15 leading human rights organizations in writing to the State Department and the White House this week to express ongoing concern over the deteriorating human rights landscape in The Gambia following a series of arbitrary arrests involving police brutality and possible torture. This adds to concerns that we have raised with the Obama Administration over the past several years, including pointed questions about the targeted persecution of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals in The Gambia.

The government’s arrests and harsh suppression of protests last month, in advance of elections anticipated at the end of the year, have been condemned by local, regional and international human rights leaders. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reported that an opposition leader died in April under suspicious circumstances shortly after his arrest. The government’s brutal treatment of the opposition and the suppression of protests have been condemned by the United Nation’s Secretary-General, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the ECOWAS Commission and the State Department. There have been similar statements of concern from leading civil society in the region, including IHRDA, WACSOF and the NGO Forum at the African Commission. This latest crackdown is only the most recent chapter in a long line of abuses perpetrated against independent voices by President Jammeh’s regime since he seized power in 1994.

President Jammeh has also continued his inflammatory rhetoric against LGBT Gambians. In March 2016, when addressing the opening of the National Assembly, he said that homosexuality is “ungodly,” and “I will never tolerate it here in The Gambia. Those who will be caught practicing it will face the full force of the law.” These remarks are not empty rhetoric – the Gambian criminal code was amended in October 2014 to include much harsher sentences for various acts defined as “aggravated homosexuality.” LGBT Gambians have since been subjected to arrest and detention, torture, and other ill-treatment by state security forces.

In light of these reports, the Council for Global Equality has renewed its call to take further actions against President Jammeh and his government. In particular, as previously requested, we have urged the Obama Administration to consider visa bans against Gambian officials guilty of grave human rights abuses, and to consider using the sanctions powers available under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), which have been used in the past to respond to human rights abuses in countries such as Belarus, Venezuela and Zimbabwe. We have also asked the Obama Administration to cut any remaining security assistance to the government in the wake of these abuses. We urge the Obama Administration to take these steps now, before the pre-election violence spirals out of control in the shadow of elections later this year.

State Department Reports on Bias-Motivated Violence

Secretary Kerry Releases the 2015 Human Rights Report

Secretary Kerry Releases the 2015 Human Rights Report

April 21, 2016 – Last week, the State Department released its accounting of human rights abuses committed in 2015. As usual, this year’s human rights report offers disturbing pictures of violence being committed against LGBT people worldwide, from Afghanistan to Honduras to Kenya.

Recognizing the magnitude of such violence, the White House last June convened a “Conversation on Combatting Bias-Motivated Violence Against LGBT Persons Around the World.” At that meeting, Obama Administration officials highlighted initiatives by the U.S. government and private sector actors to address bias-motivated violence targeting the LGBT community, recognizing in particular the need for law enforcement, judges, legislatures, governments, and civil society to work together to respond comprehensively and decisively to such violence. Unfortunately, this year’s human rights report reminds us that there is much more work to do. It also provides a glimmer of hope, recognizing some of the unique steps that a handful of governments are taking to acknowledge, document and respond to extremely high levels of bias-motivated violence targeting LGBT individuals.

In this year’s report, targeted LGBT killings are cited in countries ranging from Germany to Honduras and Russia to Pakistan.   Attacks are commonly identified as occurring in both public and private spaces. The Mali report explains that “family members, neighbors, and groups of strangers in public places committed the majority of violent acts, and police frequently refused to intervene.” But even in the home, the report recognizes that LGBT individuals are targeted for abuse and sexual violence by family members, including in countries ranging from Belize to Romania and Cambodia to Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwe report notes that “some families reportedly subjected their LGBTI members to ‘corrective’ rape and forced marriages to encourage heterosexual conduct.” In Ecuador, “LGBTI organizations and the government continued to report that private treatment centers confined LGBTI persons against their will to ‘cure’ or ‘dehomosexualize’ them.” Although illegal, the clinics also reportedly used extreme treatments, including rape.

The vast majority of the country reports cite a reluctance on the part of victims – characterized as outright fear – to report such abuse to authorities in the belief that they would be ignored at best but also potentially targeted by the police for filing the complaint. The South Africa report discusses the “secondary victimization” of individuals, particularly lesbian and transgender women, including cases in which police harassed, ridiculed, and assaulted victims of sexual- and gender-based violence who reported abuse.

In many other cases, from Azerbaijan to Kenya and from Guatemala to Turkey and Indonesia to Sri Lanka, the report notes patterns of abuse of LGBTI citizens by police or other security forces, or other inappropriate police action. The Bolivia report cites a study that found that 82 percent of those surveyed “knew of at least one person whom police had arbitrarily detained due to sexual orientation or gender identity.” Police in all regions regularly extorted money from presumed LGBT individuals by threatening to arrest or expose them, including when LGBT individuals attempted to report violence or seek protection. In Mexico and Venezuela, cases of violence are often recorded by the police as “crimes of passion” that are then ignored in the belief that they are little more than domestic squabbles between jilted lovers.

In some countries, such as Cameroon and Lebanon, LGBTI persons were subject to gang violence. In others, such as the Dominican Republic, Latvia and Japan there were reported instances of school bullying. Bullying and violence directed at transgender students was particularly severe. The report cites a Bolivian study finding “72 percent of transgender individuals abandoned their secondary school studies due to intense discrimination.”

In Iran, security forces specifically targeted LGBT individuals for raids, rectal examinations, and beatings during incarceration. In Ghana, the report emphasizes sexual violence committed against gay men in prison. In Morocco, even after arresting the perpetrator of a violent bias-motivated crime, police made the victim undress, and then blackmailed him to his family. In Syria, gay men faced horrifying consequences from two angles: those suspected of being gay were thrown from rooftops by ISIS, while security forces often based arrests and even torture on accusations of homosexuality.

Apart from underscoring an urgent need for greater police training, this year’s reports also make clear that, in far too many countries, clearer and stronger laws are needed to lay the groundwork for action against LGBT-related hate crimes. From Egypt to Iraq and from the Bahamas to Mongolia laws to protect LGBT people either do not exist or are too weakly construed to offer any real protections. Even in countries such as Brazil that have taken important steps to protect their LGBT citizens, the report cites legal impediments that make it difficult to prosecute LGBT hate crimes. Moreover, a lack of official and specific LGBT-related statistics in most countries makes it difficult to ascertain the depth of the problem.

In addition, the reports detail far too many instances in which government officials and others in positions of influence have fueled an atmosphere of violence against LGBT persons. These instances have included Albania, Georgia, Hungary, Kyrgyz Republic and Zimbabwe, where homophobic statements or other divisive language by government leaders seem to condone violence. In other countries, such as Algeria, Dominican Republic, Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda, statements by religious leaders have inflamed tensions.

The report notes, however, that some governments are taking steps to respond to these common patterns of violence. El Salvador, Honduras and Suriname have adopted new hate crime-related laws that could assist in the prevention and prosecution of LGBT hate crimes. Nicaragua has a new, if untested, prosecutor for sexual diversity, and Honduras has a relatively new Violent Crimes Task Force to investigate LGBT violence. In July, the government of Malawi accepted a recommendation from the UN Human Rights Council and committed to prosecuting the perpetrators of LGBT violence. Sierra Leone’s Human Rights Commission conducted outreach to the LGBT community to encourage individuals to submit complaints and to request investigations into bias-motivated crimes. South Africa has a “National Intervention Strategy” and set up rapid response teams from civil society and government to ensure that law enforcement officers respond “promptly and professionally” to crimes against the LGBT community. The report notes that most of these government initiatives have only delivered limited accomplishments to date, but they provide a foundation for additional action.

Given this year’s report, the Council for Global Equality looks forward to working with the White House, the State Department and the Justice Department to energize the initiatives put in place last June at the White House to ensure that U.S. government assets are deployed to respond to such egregious violence. To do so, we should invest in training and resources for police who are willing to reform their structures to respond to hate crimes; work closely with other governments to showcase longstanding FBI efforts to collect and disaggregate LGBT hate crime data in our own country in the hope that they will do likewise; promote the decriminalization of homosexual relationships, cross dressing laws and other legal impediments that reduce LGBT individuals to criminals and invite arrest, harassment and abuse at the hands of the police; and deploy our diplomatic resources, including our new Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons, to implore foreign officials everywhere to respond promptly and professionally to LGBT violence whenever it occurs.

Click here for more information on the 2015 Human Rights Reports (including transcripts from the briefing as well as video)

Nisha Ayub Receives the 2016 Woman of Courage Award

Secretary Kerry's Remarks at the 2016 International Women of Courage Award

The Council for Global Equality congratulates Nisha Ayub, Director of SEED Malaysia, for receiving the 2016 Woman of Courage award from Secretary of State John Kerry at a ceremony in Washington DC today. She is the first transgender woman to ever receive this award. Ms. Ayub has been challenging Malaysia’s harsh treatment of transgender citizens, including the anti-cross dressing laws.

This award is not just about me–it’s about recognition and acceptance of trans people in regards to their gender identity. Today I am being fully recognized as a woman.

She previously met President Obama on his visit to Malaysia last year.

(Remarks by Secretary Kerry about Nisha Ayub at 21:21)

Read Secretary Kerry’s remarks

Learn more about the award and this year’s recipients.

Learn more about Nisha Ayub.

Related Content: Nisha dedicates Women of Courage Award to all transwomen (The Star Online)

India: Supreme Court Revisits “Sodomy” Law

LGBTI-Activists-Mumbai

LGBT rights activists in Mumbai, India cover themselves with a rainbow flag after the Supreme Court announced on February 2, 2016 that it would hear an appeal of its 2013 decision that upheld a discriminatory law criminalizing same-sex relations. © 2016 Reuters

Repost from Human Rights Watch

India’s Supreme Court agreed on February 2, 2016, to hear an appeal of its2013 decision that upheld a discriminatory law criminalizing same-sex relations, Human Rights Watch said today. The Indian government should file an affidavit with the court to set aside the country’s “sodomy” law and uphold the fundamental rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.

“The Supreme Court has provided real hope to LGBT people in India by agreeing to review its 2013 ruling that favored discrimination over equal rights for all,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Indian government should seize the opportunity and weigh in to make clear that discrimination, harassment, and other abuses of LGBT people have no place in contemporary society.”

The law, section 377 of the Indian penal code, punishes “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” with up to life in prison. The law had been struck down in 2009 by the Delhi High Court, which said the law was a violation of fundamental rights to equality, nondiscrimination, life, and personal liberty guaranteed by the Indian constitution. The court had noted how criminalization of same-sex relations had a negative impact on the lives of LGBT people. Continue Reading at Human Rights Watch.

Related Content: 

Gay prince welcomes SC decision on section 377

A Rethink on India’s Gay-Sex Law

LGBT Human Rights and Foreign Policy

The Council for Global Equality posted a series of four blog posts on LGBT human rights issues and foreign policy over the past week. The posts touch on public diplomacy, national values, the current Administration’s actions and the lack of discussion of human rights during this presidential election cycle. Below is roll up of all four posts with links to the full postings.

The Place of Human Rights The Place of Human Rights

Another new year. Another chance to put things right. For the Council for Global Equality, that means elevating the place of human rights – including those of LGBT, intersex and other vulnerable minorities – in America’s foreign policy. Continue Reading 


LGBT Human Rights in U.S. Foreign Policy

LGBT Human Rights in U.S. Foreign Policy

A December 20 New York Times story alleged that U.S. attention to discrimination and hate crimes against LGBT people in Nigeria had worsened, in fact, their plight. Others – including the State Department, Ugandan LGBT rights defenders Frank Mugisha and Adrian Jjuko, and Nigeria’s LGBT rights community – already have pointed out the flaws in that article. Continue Reading.


Governments and Human Rights Governments and Human Rights

The Council pays particular attention to the role that foreign governments play, or fail to play, in preserving and advancing the rights of their LGBT citizens. In our own country, we’ve seen how policies pursued by this President have helped empower greater respect and protections for LGBT persons. The same could happen in many countries abroad. Continue Reading.


Matters of the Heart Matters of the Heart

Our country increasingly has come to terms with the need for fairness toward LGBT Americans – and few have questioned the premise that LGBT human rights abuse, like all human rights abuse, must be challenged. Continue Reading.

Governments and Human Rights

Governments and Human RightsThe Council pays particular attention to the role that foreign governments play, or fail to play, in preserving and advancing the rights of their LGBT citizens. In our own country, we’ve seen how policies pursued by this President have helped empower greater respect and protections for LGBT persons. The same could happen in many countries abroad.

Moving the needle on respect for LGBT people is a process, of course. Governments must play a role in that process – in molding attitudes, not just reflecting them, and in forming policies that promote and reinforce cross-society acceptance and cooperation. We believe all governments – ours yes, but also those of every other country, friend and foe alike – should be held accountable for:

  • The tone that governing officials’ homo- or trans-phobic public rhetoric sets within society;
  • Failure to redress legally sanctioned discrimination or bias-motivated crimes against LGBT individuals;
  • The degree to which LGBT individuals are accorded equal access to services and opportunities, including health care, employment, education, and housing;
  • Whether LGBT civil society organizations are able to register and function unimpaired;
  • The prevalence of transgender-specific violence, abuse, and documentation issues, particularly in cases involving government action or inaction.
  • Abuse of government and police powers, e.g. the use of tangential laws regarding loitering to arrest or detain LGBT individuals arbitrarily; the use of foreign agent or tax laws to place disproportionate restrictions on LGBT civil society; physical abuses by police, prison, and hospital officials; and bribery solicited by such officials in order either to provide services or to avoid abusive treatment; and
  • The media climate in which LGBT rights are explained to and understood by the public, particularly when government-sponsored or –influenced media outlets are involved.

In addition, we should work with countries to understand intersex issues as a related set of human rights concerns. In this context, governments must be held accountable for policies or practices that unnecessarily and adversely impact the childhood development and adult health and sexuality of intersex persons. Appropriate government officials, including our own, must also enter into a new dialogue with intersex persons to identify best practices in the diagnosis, treatment and lifelong support for intersex health.

We know that the U.S. does not run the world by fiat. But we also recognize our responsibility, as citizens of a country that wields outsized influence in the world, to ensure this influence is put to positive use. We therefore hold our government accountable for encouraging foreign counterparts to guarantee the conditions in which the promise of the Universal Declaration can be realized for all citizens.

If fault is to be found in U.S. human rights policy, it certainly isn’t in our country’s attention to LGBT human rights, as the December 20 New York Times article alleges. Nor is it in failing to listen to the voices of local activists, as the Times article also suggests has been the case: to the contrary, we’ve found this Administration very much attuned to those local voices in framing its diplomatic dialogue and actions.

The fault we find, rather, is in this Administration’s lack of consistency in showing that human rights matter – and that deliberate abuse of those rights damages the fabric of our bilateral relationships.

Across this Administration’s tenure, the Council has urged that actions by foreign governments that abridge the human rights of any minority group automatically trigger a measured review of how those actions might impact U.S. programs in-country and, of consequence, potential U.S. policy responses.

We know, of course, that U.S. policy goals in any given country sometimes compete against each other. But if support for human rights is a principle, neither it nor its deterrent value should be shunted aside when inconvenient – not even when Nigerian oil contracts, Pacific trade deals, or terrorism concerns are in play.

We also see an urgent need for greater Administration transparency in the funding it provides for LGBT and other human rights programs, and in how those programs are evaluated. The State Department and USAID are embarrassingly far apart in how they measure their LGBT-related programming dollars – no doubt a contributing factor to the highly inflated, erroneous figure of $700 million reported in the New York Times. And unfortunately the World Bank and other multilateral development funders have yet to institute mechanisms needed to include LGBT minorities – who are so often denied basic livelihoods and excluded from the economic life of their own country – in the development opportunities that Bank programs are intended to promote.

Common counting practices, clear programmatic goals, and honestly reflective measurements of program results are basic to good governance.

LGBT Human Rights in U.S. Foreign Policy

theplaceofhumanrights-cge-blogA December 20 New York Times story alleged that U.S. attention to discrimination and hate crimes against LGBT people in Nigeria had worsened, in fact, their plight. Others – including the State Department, Ugandan LGBT rights defenders Frank Mugisha and Adrian Jjuko, and Nigeria’s LGBT rights community – already have pointed out the flaws in that article.

We found especially unfortunate the Times article’s failure to recognize that a country’s foreign policy must be rooted in national values – and that if we are to stand for human rights, that stand must be made on principles, not on convenience. As such, we cannot prioritize one set of rights or one persecuted group above another. As a corollary, nor can we remain silent when any one group is persecuted.

For over 100 years, advancing human rights has been a U.S. foreign policy goal. That goal achieved particular prominence during the administration of Franklin Roosevelt: his wife Eleanor, known as an outspoken human rights advocate, chaired the committee that drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and gave birth to the modern human rights movement.

The Obama Administration’s advocacy of LGBT human rights is part of that proud tradition. At heart, the Administration’s policy simply reaffirms the Universal Declaration’s namesake principle that no part of humanity – no individual, no minority group – can be excluded from the promise of fundamental human rights. Making that promise explicitly applicable to LGBT people in Nigeria and other countries where LGBT lives and liberties are under vicious attack isn’t a mistake – indeed, failure to do so would be the shameful mistake. Speaking out against injustice is sound and principled policy. It should be a mark of pride for all Americans and for each successive Administration after President Obama leaves office.


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