Archive for the 'LGBTI Rights' Category

December 2018 Newsletter

** The Council for Global Equality respectfully offers this edition of “Global Equality Today” – a periodic newsletter to inform Hill staff of priority policy issues impacting LGBTI people abroad.

December 2018

Happy Human Rights Week (read the Presidential Proclamation of Human Rights Week here). December 10 marked the 70-year anniversary of U.S. leadership in drafting and championing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Secretary Pompeo released a statement recognizing that: “The Declaration’s fundamental principles remain as relevant today as they were seventy years ago.”  Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi marked the anniversary with a statement reminding us that: “As Americans we have a duty to maintain our critical leadership in the defense of human rights both at home and around the world.”  The Council is proud to recognize Human Rights Week by supporting Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) and other leading members of both the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the House LGBT Equality Caucus in their introduction of the Greater Leadership Overseas for the Benefit of Equality (GLOBE) Act (H.R. 7291).

CONGRESSIONAL ACTION

 

 House Introduces GLOBE Act to Advance LGBTI Equality Abroad

In recognition of Human Rights Week in the United States, Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) joined foreign affairs and LGBT equality leaders in Congress to introduce the Greater Leadership Overseas for the Benefit of Equality (GLOBE) Act (H.R. 7291).  The Council is working with Sen. Markey and other Senate human rights champions to introduce a companion bill in the Senate.  This comprehensive “vision bill” provides a broad roadmap for U.S. leadership to advance the human rights of LGBTI and other vulnerable minority communities around the world.  Upon introduction, Rep. Titus noted: “The GLOBE Act builds on the accomplishments of the Obama Administration and the work of various members, groups, and coalitions to establish a broad set of directives to reinstate our leadership in advancing equality.”  Read the Congressional press release here.  And read the Council’s endorsement and a blog explaining the bill’s impact here.  Please contact the office of Rep. Titus to co-sponsor.

LGBTI Funding Hangs in Balance in Ongoing Budget Negotiations

The Senate Appropriations Committee allocated global LGBTI funding in its report accompanying the 2019 State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Bill (S.3108).  The Council calls on members of the House and Senate to include that language in the omnibus appropriation bill that is being negotiated.  The funding includes $3.5 million for LGBTI issues within USAID and $250,000 for the State Department’s Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons.  (Although Secretary Pompeo pledged to re-fill that position during his April 2018 confirmation hearing, he has yet to do so as of this writing, eight months later.)  The report also directs the State Department to allocate additional resources to the Global Equality Fund and to continue reporting on LGBTI issues in its annual Human Rights Reports.

Congress Denounces Treatment of Vulnerable LGBTI Refugees in the “Caravan” at the Southern Border

On social media, Members of Congress have recognized the life-threatening circumstances of LGBTI refugees seeking asylum at the U.S. southern border, including the LGBT Equality Caucus, Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA), Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) and  Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY).  Senators Kamala Harris (D-CA), Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Tom Udall (D-NM) also sent a letter demanding answers after the tragic death in U.S. immigration detention of Roxana Hernandez, a transgender asylum seeker.

Senate Confirms Former Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons as Ambassador to Nepal

In September, the Senate confirmed Randy Berry, formerly Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons, to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Nepal.  Ambassador Berry, a career Foreign Service officer, was an effective Special Envoy and a strong civil society partner.  The Council welcomes his confirmation to a country that has become a regional leader on LGBTI issues.

Retiring Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen Challenges Her Colleagues on LGBTI Rights

In a powerful speech describing her support for LGBTI equality in the U.S. Congress, retiring Congresswoman and former Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) concluded with a final plea to her House colleagues: “I ask us all to commit, beginning today, to working across the aisle with a view to becoming more consistent, more fair, more respectful, and more principled on this issue. We as a country need to take action to set the right example.”

EXECUTIVE BRANCH ACTION

 

President to Nominate Heather Nauert to Be UN Ambassador

The President announced that he will nominate Heather Nauert, Acting State Department Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs and State Department Spokesperson, to be our next UN Ambassador.  The Council has not taken a position on the nomination but notes that, at the Residence of the Chilean Ambassador earlier this year, Nauert spoke forcefully in support of global LGBTI rights in her role as Acting Under Secretary, noting that: “protecting and promoting human rights abroad is a core element of our foreign policy. Societies are more secure when they respect individual human rights, democratic institutions, and the rule of law.”

U.S. Joins 16 OSCE Countries to Launch an Investigation into LGBTI Atrocities in Chechnya

The U.S. joined 16 like-minded member countries of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to launch an official investigation into LGBTI atrocities and other human rights abuses in Chechnya.  This OSCE investigative mechanism has rarely been invoked and the action speaks both to the egregious nature of the abuses and the intransigence of Russian officials in responding to the allegations.  The investigator’s report will be presented to the OSCE Permanent Council before the end of year.  In a statement explaining the investigation, the governments noted that “[t]hose concerns centered around allegations of impunity for reported human rights violations and abuses in Chechnya from January 2017 to the present, including, but not limited to, violations and abuses against persons based on their perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity, as well as against human rights defenders, lawyers, independent media, civil society organizations, and others.”

State Department Supports Equal Rights Coalition at Vancouver Conference

The United States has been a leading proponent of the Equal Rights Coalition (ERC), a new intergovernmental coalition of 40 governments and leading civil society organizations that work together to protect the human rights of LGBTI people around the world.  U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan sent video remarks to open a major ERC conference in Vancouver, pledging that “the United States will remain a steadfast partner” of the ERC in “addressing the threats and unique human rights challenges of LGBTI persons.”  The U.S. government was represented in Vancouver by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Scott Busby and by Deputy Assistant Attorney General Robert Moossy, reflecting the dual internal/external focus of the ERC.  At its best, the ERC is an institution that coordinates external diplomacy while simultaneously promoting internal best practices across member countries.  The Council also welcomes the upcoming rotation of leadership of the ERC from Canada and Chile to Argentina and the United Kingdom in June 2019.  Read more about the ERC on our blog here.

GLOBAL LGBTI DEVELOPMENTS

 

In recent good news…

The Supreme Court of India issued a unanimous decision decriminalizing same-sex relationships across the country. The landmark case will buttress similar legal challenges to colonial-era sodomy laws in other former British colonies, including pending cases in Botswana, Jamaica and Kenya.  Read our blog here, as well as the Equal Rights Coalition of 40 governments’ statement here.

— In the South American country of Guyana, the LGBT community secured a victory in the Caribbean Court of Justice, striking down the country’s anti-cross dressing law, which advocates claim will help decrease violence toward trans and gender non-conforming people in Guyana, and also potentially pave the way for decriminalization.

— The Chilean legislature passed a groundbreaking legal gender recognition law, which allows transgender individuals ages 14 and older to self-determine their legal gender in all official documents without a judicial determination or medical interventions. President Pinera signed the law into effect, despite right-wing opposition and following the remarkable public acknowledgement of trans lives as a result of the activism of the trans actress in the Oscar-winning Chilean film A Fantastic Woman.  Similarly in Uruguay, a broad transgender rights law was passed that provides legal recognition and also requires that the state pay for all gender-confirming surgeries and provide job training programs for the community.

— In Romania, the LGBT community succeeded in defeating a referendum that sought to enshrine heterosexual marriage and heterosexual concepts of family in the constitution. Opponents led a successful boycott campaign that tapped into broader anti-corruption sentiments and negativity toward the leader of the country’s ruling party. Proponents of the referendum failed to muster the necessary participation threshold of 30% of the electorate during the 2-day referendum.  LGBT Advocates are now engaging with the ruling party and other parties to demand that they honor their pledge to pass a civil union law in the coming year.

In bad news…

In Taiwan, U.S.-funded right wing groups put several anti-LGBT referenda on the ballot, in an effort to thwart government efforts to provide equal marriage benefits to LGBT people. Unfortunately, they succeeded in passing a number of ballot measures that would create separate and unequal relationships, and also potentially eliminate comprehensive sexuality education in the schools. It is unclear how the legislature will respond, since Taiwan’s Constitutional Court has mandated equal marriage by May 2019.

— Another crackdown against the LGBT community in Tanzania occurred after a regional commissioner in Dar-es-Salaam announced that he was creating a task force to hunt down LGBT people. In reaction to the witch-hunt, numerous governments, including the United States, and entities such as the World Bank, responded with both public and private diplomacy, which resulted in the country’s president distancing himself from Commissioner Makonda’s comments. This was considered a diplomatic success, although dangers for the LGBT community in Tanzania persist.

Watch this space…

— In February, the Kenyan Constitutional Court will rule on that country’s colonial-era sodomy law.

— In Thailand, the current government has pledged to create a civil marriage mechanism for same-sex couples in the coming months.

 

CIVIL SOCIETY LEGISLATIVE PRIORITIES

 

We urge your ongoing support for these bills in the U.S. Congress – and urge their reintroduction in the next Congress – to promote U.S. leadership on human rights:

GLOBE Act (H.R. 7291)

— Global Respect Act (S.1172, HR.2491)

— Dream Act (S.1615, HR. 3440)

— Global HER Act (S.210, HR.671)

— Trans Service Act (S.1820, HR. 4041)

— LOVE Act (S.1420)

 

Freedom of Religion – A Matter of Effective Balancing

U.S. Department of StateThis October, the State Department is scheduled to convene a three-day public-private partnership workshop, part of the new “Boldline Religious Freedom” initiative, aimed at protecting the rights of religious minorities.  In principle, promoting religious freedom is a laudable endeavor – but given the unparalleled level of resources and energies this Administration is devoting to this as a stand-alone pursuit, we have a couple of red flags to raise.

To be clear, neither the Council nor any of its member organizations holds animus against the protection and promotion of religious freedom.  Several of our member organizations themselves are faith-based in character, and organizationally we have applauded mention in the Department’s own annual human rights reports when the rights of LGBT individuals and communities to practice their religious faith have been violated.

But balance is important to effective diplomacy – and the question of balance is the first red flag to raise.  The only ministerial hosted to date by this Administration was devoted to religious freedom.  At its closure, Secretary Pompeo announced a follow-on series of regional events around the world aimed at advancing religious freedom.  The Department has created a religious freedom-dedicated International Visitor Leadership Program, and an International Religious Freedom Fund to put resources to the task.  The Department’s Assistant Secretary-designate for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor carries a singular focus on religious liberty.  Ambassador Brownback, the State Department’s Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, has carried a higher profile and more interventionist approach than his predecessors.  And Pompeo will host a second ministerial on religious freedom in 2019.

So, is the Department of State becoming a department of religious affairs?  We’ve yet to see a parallel focus by the Secretary on any other issue important to U.S. national interests – not Middle East peace, nor Syria’s burgeoning refugee crisis, nor promoting secure and stable governments, or encouraging democratic institutions and regional stability.  We’ve seen no embrace of human rights, and no strategy to counter Russia’s threat to American leadership and values – no focus on encouraging economic reforms that can both allow other countries to feed their people AND create conditions in which America’s trade and investment interests can thrive.

And we’ve seen no awareness by Secretary Pompeo that all of these issues are interconnected.  Pulling one thread to its end can only tighten the rest – and pursuing one stand-alone goal may well be counter-productive to wider success.

That leads to our second red flag.  Simply put, we worry that the Administration’s very understanding of religious freedom may be warped at its core, embracing the notion that religious faith can be used to sidestep a government’s compliance with core responsibilities of ensuring equal protection, justice and rights for all citizens.

Our concern, of course, is based on this Administration’s unprecedented championing of religious exception policies at home – policies that have infringed on fairness toward LGBT citizens, among others.  The baggage in this regard carried by Ambassador Brownback is clear; so is that of Vice President Pence.  And the influence of religious Christian conservatives with them is clear as well.

The damage that can be done by headline promotion of religious freedom policies in foreign countries that are struggling with their own understanding and practice of democracy is potentially immense.  That potential should be of concern to all Americans – particularly given the Administration’s conscious effort to strip away the democratic guard rails intended to protect equality in our own country.

We’d like to see the Secretary – or perhaps his nominee for Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights – explain publicly how the Department’s unprecedented championing of religious freedom fits into a broader policy framework in which these broader democratic rights and freedoms are understood and advanced.  And we’d like to see more attention to that broader framework.

The Equal Rights Coalition Gains Momentum on the Global Stage

Created two years ago at an international conference in Uruguay, the Equal Rights Coalition (ERC) is a new intergovernmental coalition of 40 governments and leading civil society and multilateral organizations that work together to protect the human rights of LGBTI people around the world.  (See the list of governments and civil society members here.)  The Canadian and Chilean governments, as the current co-chairs, hosted the second global conference of the ERC in Vancouver, Canada this August.

The United States has been a leading proponent of the ERC, and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan sent video remarks, pledging “the United States will remain a steadfast partner” of the ERC in “addressing the threats and unique human rights challenges of LGBTI persons.”  The U.S. government was represented in Vancouver both by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Scott Busby and by Deputy Assistant Attorney General Robert Moossy, reflecting the dual internal/external focus of the ERC.  At its best, the ERC is an institution that coordinates external diplomacy while simultaneously promoting internal best practices across member countries.

The theme of the Vancouver conference was “Leaving No One Behind,” and the final communiqué broke important ground, primarily by reaffirming that “LGBTI persons continue to face human rights abuses and violations . . . [that] include discrimination, violence and arbitrary arrests, on the basis of real or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics.”  The 40 governments together pledged “to encourage innovative and effective policy and assistance approaches tailored to the needs and experiences of diverse communities and to work closely with civil society organizations and all relevant stakeholders in our efforts.”  As a founding civil society member of the ERC, the Council for Global Equality will hold the governments – and most especially the U.S. government – to this pledge.

As they left Vancouver, the forty governments made ten concrete commitments in a final communiqué.  Those commitments must be monitored closely in advance of the next ERC global conference two years hence.  And while all ten of the commitments are important, at least three of them deserve heightened scrutiny because they break new ground and demand significant new domestic funding and new policy reforms over the coming two years.  Notably, the governments pledged publicly that:

  • “We commit to advancing the work of the ERC by further strengthening its collaboration with its key partners, including civil society, international organisations, multilateral agencies, academia, the private sector and all others working to promote and protect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of LGBTI persons.” To honor this commitment, the ERC member governments must commit adequate annual funding to support a civil society secretariat and sufficient travel funds to ensure robust and geographically diverse participation by civil society in the work of the ERC.  This is the minimum funding requirement needed to honor the ERC’s Founding Principles.
  • “We commit to increasing the overall quantity and quality of assistance dedicated to protecting and promoting the human rights and inclusive development needs of LGBTI individuals, communities and organizations.” The Global Philanthropy Project tracks this funding, and we should all watch the data closely, but the governments also must commit publicly to disclose and disaggregate funding data across communities and sectors – albeit with appropriate safeguards for individuals and recipients operating in hostile legal environments around the world.
  • “We commit to working together to advocate appropriate protections for intersex persons and encourage states to implement policies and procedures, as appropriate, to ensure that medical practices are consistent with international human rights obligations.” As civil society, we believe that Malta alone, of all forty member governments, has adopted even the most basic legal standards to protect the human rights of intersex citizens.  Every government has significant progress to make to protect intersex individuals, including by prohibiting medically unnecessary normalizing surgeries and other treatments on infants and others who are unable to consent to those interventions.

Deputy Secretary Sullivan noted that “in just two years, our Equal Rights Coalition has made significant strides. The Coalition has been on the leading edge of the international community’s response to human rights violations and abuses such as those committed in Chechnya and elsewhere around the world.” For this to remain true, member governments must honor their commitments.  This is perhaps most important with respect to the domestic commitments of member governments.  Progress realized against these commitments at home will provide even more credibility – and an important measure of humility – when advocating for human rights on the global stage.

U.S. Joins 14 Countries in Calling for a Response to LGBTI Atrocities in Chechnya

At a large human rights meeting in Warsaw, Poland, the United States and 14 other governments are trying to hold Russia accountable for atrocities committed against its LGBT citizens in Chechnya.  U.S. Ambassador Michael Kozak explained to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) that: “The United States joined 14 other participating States in invoking the OSCE’s Vienna Mechanism, requiring Russia to provide a serious response to reports of appalling abuses by Chechen authorities against persons for their perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity, as well as against human rights defenders, lawyers, and members of independent media and civil society organizations.

Ambassador Kozak is referring to a decision to invoke a rarely-used human rights mechanism that was triggered two weeks ago by 15 OSCE governments (Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States).  The “Vienna Mechanism,” as it’s known at the OSCE, now requires the Russian government to respond within ten days to a specific set of questions on human rights abuses in Chechnya, including, most pointedly, this key question: “How have Russian federal authorities investigated allegations of violations and abuses reportedly committed against actual or perceived LGBTI persons, and how have they arrived at the conclusion (as repeated by Russian authorities) that no such violations or abuses have occurred and that no LGBTI persons exist in Chechnya?

The ten-day deadline just passed without a response from Russia.  The next step in this diplomatic dance is to invoke the OSCE’s “Moscow Mechanism.”  The Moscow Mechanism moves beyond a cordial request for information and empowers independent fact-finding experts to prepare an official report on the atrocities and human rights obligations in Chechnya.  LGBTI and allied human rights advocates are at the Warsaw meeting this week to call on governments to take that next step to invoke the Moscow Mechanism – and to do so sooner rather than later.

The OSCE has its origins in a 1975 agreement that facilitated security negotiations between East and West during the Cold War.  At the end of the Cold War, it was reinvented as an institution that promotes security, democracy and human rights across 57 countries in North America, Europe and Asia, with special attention to the promotion of human rights and democracy in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

More recently, the member governments of the OSCE agreed to address hate crimes as a priority human rights and security challenge across the region, pledging to support effective training, education, legislation, prosecution and data collection to respond to bias-motivated crimes directed at minority communities.  To date, the OSCE’s engagement has focused on responses to hate crimes targeting religious and ethnic minorities, including strong responses to anti-Semitism and discrimination against Muslims and Roma in Europe.

Increasingly, however, the OSCE also has been addressing hate crimes targeting LGBTI citizens.  This is an important development that is moving forward despite the objections of Russia and the Vatican and other OSCE states that cling to anti-LGBTI laws and policies.  By invoking the Moscow Mechanism in this particular case in Chechnya, the OSCE would for the first time empower independent experts to establish, conclusively, whether Russia has violated its human rights commitments as a result of its failure to protect its own LGBTI citizens from torture, arbitrary detention and extrajudicial execution.  Sadly, the world already knows the answer to that question.  But it is important to establish the facts through an official record that could provide the basis for additional actions at the OSCE, the United Nations and in OSCE member countries.  It is also crucial that the OSCE not turn a blind eye to the violence because of the sexual orientation of the victims.

This is primarily and most importantly an effort to respond to impunity for LGBTI hate violence in Russia.  But it also sets an important precedent within the OSCE, as 15 of the organization’s leading members – and leading funders – have taken collective action against LGBTI violence.  Civil society must build on this momentum to insist that the OSCE strengthen its capacity to respond to LGBTI hate crimes in the same way across all OSCE countries.

Remembering Senator McCain’s Commitment to Human Rights

Last December, U.S. Senators John McCain and Ben Cardin sent a letter to President Trump on the anniversary of Human Rights Day, urging him to “recommit our country to upholding human rights as one of our founding principles.”  The date should have been a celebration of America’s leadership in creating and championing the world’s modern human rights institutions.  Instead, the letter underscored deep concern with the Trump Administration’s abject failure to speak out in support of fundamental human rights at home or abroad.

In writing to the President, these two moral leaders of the Senate argued forcefully that “protecting human rights at home and abroad is important not only to our national character, but also to our security interests.”  Pointing to a range of human rights challenges facing individuals and nations the world over, including the stark reality that “LGBT individuals are deprived of basic human rights in dozens of countries,” the letter challenged President Trump “to reaffirm that no government can be legitimate if it abuses the people it is meant to serve – and that the rule of law is universal, without exception.”

We regret that President Trump did not speak out in defense of human rights then, and that to date he has continued to defend – even praise – leading human rights abusers ranging from President Putin in Russia to President Dutarte in the Philippines.  And at the United Nations, instead of standing up to human rights dictators and fighting to improve the human rights mechanisms we helped create, the United States has pulled out of the Human Rights Council, thereby sidelining any voice or moral leadership we might otherwise hope to muster.

On this sad occasion of the passing of Senator McCain, President Trump has chosen to belittle the man and what he stood for, instead of joining fair-minded Americans of both parties in praising him for his heroic service to our country and steadfast defense of its founding ideals.  How small-minded and sad.  May the rest of us, as we mourn the passing of Senator McCain – and with him an animating force behind our country’s moral compass – recommit ourselves to upholding human rights as a tribute to Senator McCain and other compatriots who have fought, and still fight, to secure human rights at home and abroad.

 

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

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.


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