Archive for the 'foreign policy' Category

When The U.S. Backs Gay And Lesbian Rights In Africa, Is There A Backlash?

Uganda 2014 Pride

Photo: Ben Curtis/AP

Repost from NPR

Everyone knew President Obama would say something about gay rights when he made his visit to Kenya last summer. Many American activists were pressing him to publicly condemn Kenya’s colonial-era law making homosexuality a crime.

But Kenyan gays and lesbians were wary. In the weeks leading up to Obama’s visit, Kenyan politicians took to the airwaves to assert their anti-gay bona fides. Deputy President William Ruto gave a guest sermon in a church to announce that Kenya “had no room” for homosexuality. As the vitriol increased, so did the incidents of violence, from assaults to rape.

“That was the most tense [period] in our life, before Obama came,” says John Mathenge, the director of a community center and health clinic in Nairobi called HOYMAS — Health Options for Young Men with HIV/AIDS and STIs. His clinic usually averages 50 visitors a day; in the weeks before Obama’s arrival there were no more than 2 or 3. “People weren’t even coming to collect their ARVs [anti-retroviral medication] because they feared they were going to be attacked.”

It wasn’t just Kenyans who were worried. OutRight Action International, a New York-based not-for-profit that advocates for LGBT rights around the world, took the position that President Obama should not mention gay rights when he visited Kenya.

“LGBTI rights have become a political lightning rod,” explained OutRight director Jessica Stern. Though the organization is devoted to pressing for gay rights overseas, she urged the U.S. government to push for “substance over symbolism” — that is, working behind the scenes to improve the legal and social climate for LGBT people rather than issuing too many public pronouncements that could be seen as finger-wagging and that could compromise the efforts of local activists. “We know it’s very easy for LGBTI Africans to be discredited as Western,” she said. (The acronym is a version of LGBT and stands for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex.”)

Over the last four years, the American government has engaged in an ambitious campaign to defend the rights of gay and lesbian people overseas, especially in Africa, where the majority of countries outlaw homosexuality and anti-gay sentiment remains strong. But African activists struggle with the double-edged sword of American support. While they say that U.S. attention has given a needed boost to their movement, the protection of an outsider can complicate the path to true acceptance. Continue Reading at NPR

Mark Bromley Testifies Before the U.S. Congress

Mark Bromley Testifies at Foreign Affairs Committee Hearing on Global Human Rights

Council Chair Mark Bromley testified before the U.S. Congress in a hearing focused on “Human Rights Under Siege Worldwide.”  The hearing was convened on the one-month anniversary of the tragic massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, and it was the first time that the foreign affairs committee had ever invited a witness to speak to global human rights trends impacting LGBT individuals.  He testified that “targeted LGBT violence, and anti-LGBT propaganda in general, challenge fundamental democratic values and pluralistic societies everywhere.”  He concluded by noting that “countries that turn on their own LGBT citizens, or that scapegoat their LGBT citizens to distract from broader political or economic failings, are equally likely to turn on other ethnic or religious minorities and on human rights and democracy groups writ large.

You can watch the testimony here and read the statement for the record here.

Diversity In All of its Forms is a Shared Civic Value

Last weekend’s brutal massacre at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando is a stunning reminder that homophobic hatred continues to scar both our community and our country. Our hearts go out to the victims of this rampage, as well as to their families and friends. We acknowledge and share their grief.

In our work, the Council for Global Equality has been deeply impressed by the resilience of LGBT communities around the world. We are profoundly touched by the expressions of sadness and solidarity from these communities. Their love and support stand in stark contrast to the hatred that fueled this tragedy. The breadth of supportive government statements also heartens us, from countries that include Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates.

From this massacre, no doubt there will be calls for greater gun control, mental health awareness, and a strengthened fight against ISIS and all extremism. We strongly support these calls. But we are struck, too, by the cultural divide over the dignity and worth of LGBT people that this attack calls to mind. Diversity in all of its forms is a shared civic value, after all – a quality essential to our national fabric, and one that must be taught and understood more broadly in this country, even after – or maybe because of – the significant legal advances that the LGBT community has achieved in recent years.

The Obama Administration has done much to integrate LGBT human rights into our country’s overall human rights policy. We urge that these efforts be redoubled, with a view to helping all people understand that the rights of any minority group cannot be lower than those of the country as a whole.

That lesson begins at home. The call by some for a ban on Muslims entering our country is wholly at odds with the founding values of our country, and with the dignity and respect we seek from others. That exclusionary vision also runs counter to the Council’s mission, which is to build bridges across cultural divides.

Yesterday’s UN Security Council statement on Orlando’s tragedy – OUR tragedy – is an important and groundbreaking step in expressing the sadness of the international community at a tragedy that impacts not only LGBT people, but how the world embraces human rights. That, in fact, is a precious learning from Sunday’s tragic loss of life.

 

Related Content: After Orlando, Gay Rights Moves off Diplomatic Back Burner (NYT)

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. Continue reading ‘State Department Reports on Bias-Motivated Violence’

HHS is First Federal Agency to Prohibit Discrimination in Services in Overseas Contracts

As of February 1, 2016, all foreign entities that enter into contracts with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (which includes the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) are prohibited from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in the provision of services. HHS is the first of the federal agencies involved in foreign assistance to prohibit discrimination in services for LGBT populations abroad. The Council for Global Equality congratulates HHS on this first step and looks forward to other federal agencies involved in foreign assistance following this lead.

The Federal Register noted this new ruling in late 2015, but it was fully implemented throughout the agency as of February 1.

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.


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