Archive for the 'Human Rights' Category

The Missing Human Rights Dialogue Between Trump and Putin

MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/AFP/Getty Images

Under fire for his relationship with Vladimir Putin, President Trump nonetheless will meet with the Russian despot on July 16 in Helsinki, and he has said that it is likely to be the “easiest” part of a trip that already has included a contentious NATO meeting and a stop in London.  To date President Trump has paid little attention to human rights and democratic values in his foreign policy pronouncements, or in his embrace of authoritarian leaders from Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un to President Duterte.  Americans nonetheless are right to expect that President Trump show leadership by reestablishing attention to human rights to its traditional and right place as a central concern in our bilateral relationship with Russia when he sits down with Putin.

We’ll leave to others the flurry of questions about Russia’s interference in U.S. elections (past and future), the impact of that interference on Trump’s 2016 presidential win, and geopolitical questions raised by its engagement in Syria and elsewhere.  All, of course, have a critical place in this dialogue.

Rather, our immediate concern is that, since becoming President, Trump has turned his back on insisting that Moscow respect its citizens’ human rights – and on making clear that failure to do so will negatively impact our bilateral relations.  That post-war insistence is part of America’s true greatness.  It also reflects a real-world awareness that longer-term U.S. interests are most secure when partner countries respect democratic practice, the rule of law, and vibrant civil societies.

Today’s Russia has hit bottom in each of the above areas.  As documented in the State Department’s most recent human rights report, freedoms of media, expression, assembly, association, and privacy are under sharp attack in Russia.  Judicial independence does not exist, while extrajudicial violence and killings, including against LGBT citizens, does.  And so-called “foreign agent” laws have imposed sharp limits on the operation of legitimate civil society organizations.

Russia’s highly centralized government structure makes clear one thing:  Russian President Putin has the power to make needed changes to this troubling situation.

We’re eager to see whether Trump addresses these issues, in public and in private – eager, too, for him to hold Putin accountable for reversing the tragedies impacting Chechnya’s LGBT population.  Last year, the world was appropriately shocked when Chechen authorities detained and tortured scores of gay and bisexual men – or those suspected of being gay.  Some were murdered; more than 100 others were forced to leave their homes, seeking protection abroad.  The official homophobic purge continues to encourage families to “take care of” their LGBT family members, particularly impacting lesbians and bisexual women as well as gay and bisexual men. Russian authorities have done nothing to reverse this troubled situation, nor have they taken steps to assure justice for those impacted so gravely.

In all of this, the Administration has shown only passing concern over Russia’s failings.  To be sure, UN Ambassador Haley and then-Secretary of State Tillerson issued perfunctory statements of concern, and Tillerson reportedly sent a follow-up letter to his Russian counterpart, after having neglected to raise the matter in face-to-face meetings.  (We’ve not obtained a copy of the letter, nor have we been told whether Lavrov bothered to respond.)  In December the White House did impose Magnitsky Act visa and asset sanctions on two Chechen officials deemed responsible for Chechen’s actions, actions that we applauded at the time.  However, even these welcome actions fail to make clear that Moscow – not Grozny – ultimately is responsible for righting the situation.

Bipartisan Congressional resolutions (see the Senate Resolution here, and the House Resolution here) and several Congressional letters have insisted that the Trump Administration show greater resolve in pressing this issue. The most recent of these – earlier this spring, on the one-year anniversary that these atrocities began (see the Senate letter here, and the House letter here) – make clear that any genuine improvement in bilateral relations requires that Putin and Trump deal directly with Chechnya’s tragedy.

We recognize that the human rights issues noted above are but part of a broad pattern of slippage in Russia’s adherence to democratic and international norms.  We appeal to the Administration to acknowledge those facts, and we call for the Trump-Putin meeting to address them squarely and fully, hopefully with better results than seen thus far.

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

Alliances for Solidarity: The Theme for International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOTB) 2018

IDAHOT May 17 2015May 17, 2018

The global theme for this year’s International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOTB) is “alliances for solidarity.” With that in mind, the Council for Global Equality wishes to reiterate our deep concerns about Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s anti-Muslim, anti-women and girls, and anti-LGBTI record. These are fundamentally out of sync with American values that have traditionally guided U.S. foreign policy.

In solidarity with Muslim American organizations such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, the Arab American Institute and many other concerned groups including the ACLU and the Anti-Defamation League, the Council is alarmed specifically about Secretary Pompeo’s disturbing record of anti-Muslim views and associations. These positions are flatly incompatible with our country’s multiethnic and multicultural basis. They also have an immediate and negative bearing on America’s traditionally unqualified support for human rights and religious freedom. Further, Pompeo has associated himself closely with organizations, leaders and media outlets that hold extremist views, including bias against LGBT and Muslim individuals. These views are far from the mainstream of America and do not represent American values. We consider this extremely dangerous for U.S. foreign policy and our country’s position as a world leader.

In solidarity with women’s rights organizations such as the International Women’s Health Coalition, Center for Health and Gender Equity, Planned Parenthood, and the National Organization for Women, the Council is alarmed about Pompeo’s clear rejection of reproductive choice, and has supported both “Mexico City” restrictions on health care funding and legislation that would eliminate funding for the UN Population Fund. These stances coincide with the Administration’s marginalization otherwise of women, and its erasure of sexual and reproductive health and rights information from the State Department’s annual human rights report. How can Mr. Pompeo’s stances on these issues not impact his leadership on gender issues that permeate Department policies and programming?

In solidarity with mainstream human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, the Council is worried that Pompeo’s public comments and voting record have shown little attachment to human rights – an immediate disqualifier for those of us who believe our country’s reputation and impact are strongest when we stand without question for the fair and decent treatment of all people. Pompeo, together with CIA Secretary-Designate Gina Haspel have supported torture as a legitimate tool in the fight against terrorism. Torture clearly does not comport with America’s democratic ideals.

As an LGBTI organization, we have taken particular notice that Pompeo consistently has debased LGBTI people – as recently as at his confirmation hearing. In those circumstances, can he clearly and fully advocate for the continued integration of LGBTI human rights into our human rights policy?

In answers to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, newly confirmed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pledged that he will “…ensure that human rights, democracy, and the equal treatment of all persons will remain fundamental to U.S. foreign policy.” We call on him to do just that. The circumstances of LGBTI people around the world requires the United States to remain firmly on the right side of history and hold countries accountable for the grave human rights abuses catalogued, once again, in the State Department’s annual Human Rights Reports released last month

On this May 17th International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, and in solidarity with our allies in the Muslim-American, women, and human rights communities, we call on Secretary Pompeo to set aside his anti-Muslim, anti-women, and anti-LGBTI prejudices and commit to the values of equality and freedom for all people in his new role as America’s chief diplomat.

A Call on Secretary Pompeo to Respond to Rising Violence and Discrimination Against LGBTI People Globally

Newly confirmed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pledged, in answers to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, that he will “…ensure that human rights, democracy, and the equal treatment of all persons will remain fundamental to U.S. foreign policy.”  We call on Secretary Pompeo to set aside his anti-LGBT record to hold countries accountable for the grave human rights abuses catalogued, once again, in the State Department’s annual Human Rights Reports. 

While the latest round of State Department Human Rights Reports, released on April 20, fail to report adequately on reproductive rights (see the concerns reflected by our members Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch), they reveal an all-too-familiar tableau of societal and government hostility and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people around the globe.

The trends are alarmingly clear: LGBTI violence and discrimination remain on the rise in all geographic regions. 

Let’s look at the facts.

Government Incitement of Hate

Being gay, lesbian or transgender remains a death penalty offense in countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, with reports of executions carried out against two young men by militia in Somalia.  And no fewer than 102 country summaries (28 in Africa, 14 in East Asia and the Pacific, 16 in Europe and Eurasia, 13 in the Near East, 11 in South and Central Asia, and 20 in the Western Hemisphere) in this year’s State Department reports specifically cite violence against LGBTI people or criminalization of same-sex conduct as among the most significant human rights issues pervading those countries.

Many of the reports point to governing authorities as bearing responsibility for the climate of violence and abuse experienced by LGBTI people.  This is particularly the case in Chechnya, a federal republic of Russia, where officials are responsible for roundups and murders of more than 100 individuals suspected of being LGBTI – a genocidal tragedy that some believe may rise to the level of crimes against humanity.  Russian federal authorities have taken no action to stem that violence.

  • But the role of governing officials in encouraging violence against the LGBTI community is not confined to Russia. For example: In Tanzania, a deputy minister tweeted “The war against promotion and normalization of homosexuality in Tanzania is real.” As a result, the report notes that LGBTI persons were afraid to report violence and other crimes, including those committed by state agents.
  • In Azerbaijan, police arrested, beat and tortured 83 LGBTI people; in the Aceh province of Indonesia, two men were publicly caned 83 times for consensual private sex acts.
  • In Nigeria, police arrested approximately 70 individuals, including 13 minors, at a Lagos hotel. At the end of the year, 27 adults and 13 minors were still awaiting trial, and the hotel owner and two staff faced up to ten years in prison for “aiding and abetting homosexual activities” in violation of the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act.
  • In Egypt, Iran, Kenya, Liberia, Paraguay, Romania, South Africa, South Sudan and Tunisia, there were reports of harassment, arrests, detainment, violence, sexual assault or abuse by police or security forces of those suspected of being homosexual or transgender.
  • In Egypt, Uganda and Uzbekistan, increases in harassment and arrests were reported, along with the preposterous and egregious use of forced anal exams to “prove” homosexuality.
  • Brunei amended their secular penal code to increase the minimum punishment for male same-sex behavior to 20-50 years of incarceration.
  • In Tajikistan, government authorities compiled a registry of hundreds of persons in the LGBTI community as part of a purported drive to promote moral behavior and protect vulnerable groups in society.

In these circumstances, it comes as little surprise that country reports note that LGBTI populations fear seeking help from the police in a range of countries, from Armenia to Bosnia-Herzegovina to Sierra Leone.

Government Inaction Also a Problem

But government incitement to violence isn’t the only problem identified in the reports.  This year’s reports make clear that some governments simply don’t fulfill their responsibilities to protect LGBTI citizens, or indeed to ensure that LGBTI citizens are provided justice:

  • The investigation and/or prosecution of violent crimes against LGBTI people is cited as unreliable or insufficient in a wide range of countries, including Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, El Salvador, Greece, South Africa, Ukraine and Iraq. And in Chile, government authorities were reluctant to use new hate crimes laws to charge violent offenders.
  • Lesbians endure the practice of “corrective rape” to “cure” their homosexuality in places such as Democratic Republic of Congo, Kyrgyz Republic and Zimbabwe.
  • In countries such as Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Latvia, Turkey, and in much of Africa, anti-discrimination laws fail to specify sexual orientation or gender identity as classes worthy of protection.
  • There is weak enforcement of existing anti-discrimination laws in a range of countries, including Albania, Bulgaria, Georgia and South Africa.
  • In Sierra Leone, school authorities expelled two female secondary school students for kissing, although they were eventually allowed to return after local groups pressed authorities to reverse the decision.
  • In Ecuador, LGBTI organizations and the government both reported that private centers confined LGBTI persons involuntarily to “cure” or “dehomosexualize” them, using exceptionally cruel methods, including sexual violence.
  • And in Poland, the office charged with monitoring discrimination against the LGBTI community showed little engagement in its areas of responsibility.

Societal Discrimination Remains Unchecked

In these circumstances, it’s no surprise that in many countries, LGBTI people face discrimination that negatively impacts their housing, employment, health care and educational access, and indeed family relations.

  • Reports on Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bolivia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cambodia, Dominican Republic, Ghana, Honduras, Pakistan and Romania make clear that employment in particular is a problem for openly-LGBTI individuals.
  • LGBTI activists in Mozambique, Senegal, Timor Leste and Namibia reported discrimination in access to social services, including educational and public health facilities.
  • In Bolivia, the Bolivian Coalition of LGBTI Collectives reported that 72 percent of transgender individuals abandoned their secondary school studies due to intense discrimination.
  • Religious leaders in Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe are singled out for fueling discrimination and violence.
  • In Saint Lucia, the report notes widespread societal discrimination, recognizing that LGBTI persons face daily verbal harassment.
  • And though many countries forcibly exclude LGBTI citizens from military service, in Armenia and Azerbaijan that exclusion comes at a steep price: it results in documentation noting that the person in question has a mental disorder, clearly a red flag in their ability to obtain future employment.

Transgender Recognition

Many of this year’s reports more fully reference problems impacting transgender communities around the globe – a welcome change in reporting.  Still, the reports make clear a patchwork of national efforts – coupled with a fair amount of confusion —in dealing with transgender issues.  The overall picture remains severely troubling:

  • In countries from Oman to Peru and the Philippines, and many other countries cited throughout the reports, the existence of transgender persons as a group of people is not recognized by law, nor (consequently) are their rights protected, including their right to change national identity documents to recognize their gender identity.
  • In Burma, transgender women reported being frequently charged under so-called shadow and disguise laws, reporting higher levels of police abuse and discrimination than other members of the LGBTI community. In Malaysia, a survey by a local transgender rights group reported more than two-thirds of transgender women experienced some form of physical or emotional abuse.
  • At the other extreme, the report highlights a High Court ruling in Botswana that allows individuals to change their gender upon declaration, and without having to undergo surgery, a best practice that is also singled out for commendation in Argentina, Belgium, Norway and Ukraine.  And in Argentina, the report notes that the law also requires public and private health-care plans to cover some parts of hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgery.
  • Laws and/or standard procedures governing the ability of transgender individuals to change their identity remain vague and incomplete in countries from Russia to Romania. In the latter, there was no right to a preferred gender identity in the absence of sex-reassignment surgery, an invasive requirement that is documented in too many countries to highlight here.
  • In Lithuania, individuals are now permitted to go through gender reassignment procedure, but in the absence of corresponding legislation, civil authorities still refuse to register gender reassignment.
  • Sterilization is still a subject of debate in many countries and is listed throughout the report as a human rights abuse under the term “coercion in population control.” It is not, however, reported under that category as it impacts transgender people around the world. In Slovakia, authorities generally required confirmation that a person had undergone permanent sterilization before issuing new identity documents. While Turkey’s Constitutional Court revoked a Civil Code provision requiring that transgender persons be sterilized prior to the formal gender reassignment, that sterilization requirement remained in force at the end of 2017. In many other reports that claim there is no forced sterilization, the Council for Global Equality notes that while this may be true in respect to many citizens, there is in fact a forced sterilization requirement for transgender citizens in countries ranging from Japan to approximately 20 European countries.
  • In Ukraine, regulations still prevent sexual identity reassignment for married individuals or those with minor children.
  • And in Moldova, as in many other countries, the government flatly disallows persons to change the gender listed on their identity cards or passports.

Some Good News

There was some good news impacting LGBTI communities in a variety of countries:

  • Ukraine’s report assesses that freedom of assembly for LGBTI groups is somewhat greater than in past years.
  • In Morocco and Namibia, questions of sexuality, sexual orientation, and gender identity have been addressed more openly than in the past, and Namibian authorities authorized a Pride parade along the main thoroughfare of the capital for the first time.
  • In Germany, a constitutional court ruled that birth certificates cannot offer only a binary choice of “male” or “female.” And in Canada, the government pledged to review its policy on collecting personally identifiable gender information and further pledged to do so only if there are “legitimate purposes.”
  • The government of the Netherlands increased efforts to counter discrimination against transgender individuals.
  • In Serbia, an openly lesbian woman became the country’s first Prime Minister, and in India, the first transgender person joined the state police force.
  • The Constitutional Court of Colombia ruled that transgender persons faced discrimination and social rejection and recommended measures to increase respect in the classroom.
  • And the report describes a whole-of-government effort by the government of Spain to tackle the issue of LGBTI hate crimes through police training, better reporting, and victim assistance.

And Now – A Call on Secretary Pompeo….

As we read the reports, we can’t help asking how Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will fulfill his leadership duties in responding to this deteriorating human rights landscape.  To wit:

  • This year the State Department specifically calls out public officials in countries from Albania to Tanzania for their homophobic statements. If the statements and actions of foreign government officials constitute an incitement to hate, will Secretary Pompeo condemn them?  And will he apologize for his own past homophobic statements, in order for our condemnations to be credible?
  • Will Secretary Pompeo recognize the rights and concerns of LGBTI Americans who seek to confront foreign officials with these human rights concerns?
  • And can we realistically expect Secretary Pompeo – who, at his confirmation hearing, refused to distance himself from past negative judgments of gay people – to show leadership in advancing LGBTI rights abroad?

These issues weigh heavily as Secretary Pompeo takes up the reins of the State Department. We remain concerned.  But if he stands with us – with all fair-minded Americans – to support human rights for everyone, we, in turn, will stand with him, to advance universal human rights and full inclusion for vulnerable and marginalized minority communities everywhere.

Our Secretary of State must reflect Constitutional principles and America’s call to equality.  We call on Secretary Pompeo to set aside his well-documented prejudices and do just that.

Ramazon Kadyrov and Ayub Kataev Sanctioned by the United States Government for Human Rights Violations

The latest “Magnitsky List” – individuals sanctioned by the United States government for human rights violations in Russia – contains welcome news for those seeking justice for the tragic roundups, killings, and disappearances of LGBT men and women in Chechnya. Released by the Treasury Department on December 20, the list includes two men widely viewed as responsible for those heinous acts: Ramazon Kadyrov and Ayub Kataev.

Kadyrov is a brutal, Kremlin-backed dictator in the Russian Republic of Chechnya, who runs the region with an iron fist and certainly blessed the recent wave of LGBT persecution there. Kataev runs the prisons in Chechnya, where gay men have been mercilessly tortured. The Treasury Department designated Kadyrov “for being responsible for extrajudicial killing and torture,” and noted in more specific terms that “Kataev is reported to have been involved in abuses against gay men in Chechnya during the first half of 2017.”

Inclusion of these two criminals on the list signals some measure of support by the Trump Administration for fair policies toward, and fair treatment of, LGBT people worldwide. It underscores, too, the value of the Magnitsky Act* as a tool in sanctioning those credibly deemed “….responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights…..” Failing to hold Kadyrov and Kataev accountable under the Act’s provisions would have raised further questions about the value this Administration attaches to the Act and to human rights more broadly.

Based on this designation, we urge U.S. companies that do business with these two individuals, including especially Facebook and Instagram, to deny them service. As global outlaws, U.S. corporations should not aid their violent ends. President Kadyrov, in particular, has a very active Instagram account that must be shut down.

With this call, we are not trying to muzzle free speech on Instagram, but Kadyrov has crossed a clear line. For him, Instagram is not just a platform that allows him to communicate with his fellow citizens. Instead, he uses it as one of his primary instruments of oppression and propaganda, a platform from which he makes threats against adversaries and intimidates the public. Ultimately, he uses it as a tool to perpetuate and justify his violence. We are reaching out to Instagram and hope you will join us in calling for his account to be shut down for good.

*Signed into law in December 2012, the Magnitsky Act carries an exclusive focus on Russia. Its companion act, the Global Magnitsky Act, was signed into law last year and carries a worldwide focus. Global Magnitsky sanctions are expected to be announced this month as well.

McCain & Cardin Urge President Trump To Recommit To Upholding Human Rights

Sen. John McCain and Sen. Ben CardinPress Statement from Sen. John McCain and Sen. Ben Cardin

Washington, D.C. ­– U.S. Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Ben Cardin (D-MD), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, sent a letter to President Trump today as the world marks the 69th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Human Rights Day this Sunday, December 10th. In their letter, the senators expressed concern about the Trump administration’s failure to strongly assert the United States’ commitment to human rights at home and abroad, and urged the President to recommit the nation to these fundamental values as we mark this important occasion.

“Since its ratification nearly 70 years ago, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been a beacon of hope for the world’s most oppressed peoples. The declaration serves as the basis of our country’s human rights policy and the United States has continued to rely on its legal significance and international standing to advance human rights across the globe. However, for much of the past year, our national voice on international human rights issues has been largely silent,” the senators wrote.

They continued: “This was strikingly apparent during your recent trip to Asia, where our delegation failed to raise major human rights concerns or name dissidents who languish in dark prisons across the region for no other reason than their brave defense of democracy and human rights. The Administration’s silence combined with confusing statements from Secretary Tillerson, who has suggested that our country’s fundamental values can be separated from the foreign policies we pursue, sows confusion both at home and abroad. At this time of increasing uncertainty and growing security challenges, it is imperative that we reassert the United States’ commitment to our human rights obligations, and ask other countries to join us in reaffirming the centrality of human rights as the cornerstone of peace and security.”

 

The letter is below and here.

December 8, 2017

President Donald J. Trump
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20500

Mr. President:

The world will mark the 69th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Human Rights Day this December 10. On this momentous occasion, we write to ask that you recommit our country to upholding human rights as one of our founding principles, and respectfully call on other countries to do the same.

Since its ratification nearly 70 years ago, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been a beacon of hope for the world’s most oppressed peoples. The declaration serves as the basis of our country’s human rights policy and the United States has continued to rely on its legal significance and international standing to advance human rights across the globe. However, for much of the past year, our national voice on international human rights issues has been largely silent.

This was strikingly apparent during your recent trip to Asia, where our delegation failed to raise major human rights concerns or name dissidents who languish in dark prisons across the region for no other reason than their brave defense of democracy and human rights. The Administration’s silence combined with confusing statements from Secretary Tillerson, who has suggested that our country’s fundamental values can be separated from the foreign policies we pursue, sows confusion both at home and abroad. At this time of increasing uncertainty and growing security challenges, it is imperative that we reassert the United States’ commitment to our human rights obligations, and ask other countries to join us in reaffirming the centrality of human rights as the cornerstone of peace and security.

Sadly, disregard for fundamental freedoms and human dignity has too often become the norm. Iran, Turkey, Russia, Egypt, and Venezuela currently hold scores of political prisoners, torturing them and trampling on their fundamental freedoms. Sri Lanka, Burma, and China continue to repress their religious and ethnic minorities. Security forces in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo have unlawfully detained and tortured civilians. The Philippines has reported an unprecedented number of extrajudicial killings by police. LGBT individuals are deprived of their basic human rights in dozens of countries. Worse still, at this time of growing human rights abuses, human rights organizations are being shut down at an alarming rate by countless repressive governments around the world.

These are only a few of the many instances in which America’s voice cannot remain silent. Protecting human rights at home and abroad is important not only to our national character, but also to our security interests as countries that respect their citizens are less likely to breed terrorism and are better able to focus on political and developmental problems that otherwise undermine stability. Governments who respect human rights also serve as more capable and reliable partners when facing common security threats, and they help provide business climates in which bilateral trade and investment interests grow.

As President, we need your voice in strongly asserting our country’s respect for human rights at home and abroad. We ask that you use the upcoming anniversary of the Universal Declaration to reaffirm that no government can be legitimate if it abuses the people it is meant to serve – and that this rule is universal, without exception.

Sincerely,

John McCain

Benjamin L. Cardin

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