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LGBT Human Rights in U.S. Foreign Policy

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

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

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

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

Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Tom Malinowski and Ugandan Activist Frank Mugisha Respond to New York Times article “U.S. Support of Gay Rights in Africa May Have Done More Harm Than Good”

To the Editor:

American Support for Gay Rights May Leave Africans Vulnerable” (front page, Dec. 21) does a disservice to Africans and others around the world defending human rights, including those of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons.

Violence and legislation targeting L.G.B.T.I. persons long predates American engagement on this issue, and the article offers no real evidence that discriminatory laws adopted in recent years are a reaction to American government pressure.

It cites that we have spent more than $700 million to support “gay rights groups and causes” globally when that figure mostly encompasses public health programs that aid a broad range of individuals, including but not limited to L.G.B.T.I. persons.

American policy, which is supported by many countries, is simply to assert that people should not be subject to violence or discrimination simply because of who they are. “Do no harm” is the most important principle guiding our efforts, which are shaped in consultation with local communities.

And these local efforts have often been successful — including a campaign by Ugandans that culminated in the striking down of a repressive anti-L.G.B.T.I. law by their country’s Constitutional Court in 2014. We will continue to stand by those whose only crime is to demand the same human rights as everyone else.

TOM MALINOWSKI
Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor

_______________________________________________

To the Editor:

The underlying narrative of this article about anti-gay sentiment in Nigeria is that L.G.B.T.I. Africans are pawns of Western interests.

While Uganda is not Nigeria, I have found quite the opposite to be true in my country. The United States government by and large follows our lead before taking action on our behalf. And when security interests are on the line, it often takes significant pressure to get foreign governments to act on any human rights issue.

Here in Uganda, American donors paid attention only when American evangelicals like Scott Lively, Rick Warren and Lou Engle preached vitriol against gays, which prompted Ugandan legislators to propose the death penalty for gays in 2009.

In Uganda, as L.G.B.T.I. people, we sounded the global alarm because lives were at risk with such proposed legislation, and funders waited for instructions from us. We advised the American government on how to minimize harm, and it listened.

There will always be backlash to activism. That is not news.

Instead of elevating the significance of American influence, it would have been better if the article had focused on African politicians who employ any narrative at their disposal — including “neocolonial” ones — to maintain their power at the expense of scapegoated minorities like L.G.B.T.I. people, regardless of what the United States may, or may not, do.

Is there more violence now that L.G.B.T.I. people are more visible in Nigeria and elsewhere? Maybe, but it is homophobia, not funding, that is at fault.

FRANK MUGISHA
Executive Director, Sexual Minorities Uganda
Kampala, Uganda

To consolidate an Obama legacy, entrench support for global LGBT rights

White HouseRepost from The Hill by Raymond Smith

With attention increasingly turning to the legacy of the Obama administration, one area of civil rights seems sure to be viewed as a breakthrough success: the recognition and advancement of equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. And while this legacy is already on solid footing on the domestic front, many opportunities still exist to entrench support for LGBT rights globally.

In 2008, Obama ran as a “fierce ally” of the LGBT community, yet many were unimpressed by the early months of his administration. In 2009, the LGBT magazine The Advocate ran a parody of his iconic “Hope” poster with the caption “Nope?” Shortly before the 2012 election, however, the same magazine ran a cover with his face superimposed on the grand seated statue in the Lincoln Memorial.

What changed so drastically over time? The evolution of the administration began with a host of incremental steps, such as ensuring hospital visitation rights to same-sex partners and lifting the ban on entry to the U.S. to people with HIV. Over time, Obama led the successful repeal of the ban on “gays in the military” and ensured the enactment of an LGBT-inclusive hate crimes bill. Using the bully pulpit, he filmed a segment for the “It Gets Better” campaign in support of LGBT teens, and in his second inaugural address, he cited the landmark Stonewall Riots of 1969 alongside Seneca Falls and Selma as turning points in civil rights history.

Perhaps most of all, Obama personally endorsed same-sex marriage and his administration refused to defend the unconstitutional Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Since the Supreme Court overturned DOMA in 2013, the administration has been diligent and proactive in extending the full range of marriage equality rights with regard to immigration, access to federal programs, taxation and more. At the same time, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act this year has begun to be interpreted, for the first time, to confer federal anti-discrimination protections on transgender people.

Much less noticed has been an equally impressive parallel track taken with regard to promotion of LGBT rights around the world. Three years ago this week, in December 2011, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a speech emphasizing that “gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.” The phrasing echoed her famous speech as first lady on women’s rights, given in Beijing 15 years prior, which signaled the inclusion of gender equality as a central focus of U.S. foreign policy.

Concurrently, Obama issued a “Presidential Memorandum on International Initiatives to Advance the Human Rights of LGBT Persons.” Unlike on the more scattered and improvised domestic-policy side, this one landmark document has served as a coherent strategic blueprint for action by the federal government.

The memorandum contains several major elements, including combating anti-LGBT criminalization abroad, protecting LGBT refugees and asylum seekers, responding to anti-LGBT human rights abuses internationally, providing targeted foreign assistance and engaging international organizations to secure LGBT rights. In all of these areas, the State Department has outlined a range of accomplishments.

For example, a Global Equality Fund has been established to bridge government, companies and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to provide emergency and long-term assistance. The fund promotes LGBT rights through a small grants program, an emergency protection rapid response mechanism, and long-term capacity-building efforts for human rights organizations overseas. Protections for asylum seekers has also been expanded; in one notable case, a Ugandan LGBT rights activist was recently provided asylum rather than being forced to return to a potentially fatal environment in his home country.

Likewise, embassies around the world have begun proactively engaging with governments and human rights organizations. And at the United Nations, the U.S. is a charter member of the LGBT Core Group, which in September issued a ministerial declaration on “Ending Violence and Discrimination against Individuals Based on Their Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.”

Despite these crucial steps, much more work remains to be done. “The U.S. blueprint for action can be a powerful force, but only if its approach is consistent and guided by the understanding that all rights are indivisible and universal,” said Jessica Stern, executive director of the New York-based International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.

“Achieving change will demand focused attention. One crucial step forward would be the immediate creation of a Special Envoy for LGBT Rights at the State Department,” Stern noted. Such an envoy would act as a high-level advocate for LGBT concerns, working within the State Department, bilaterally with other countries and through multilateral organizations. The position of special envoy is the focus of bill introduced last summer by Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.).

Likewise, the Council for Global Equality, a Washington-based NGO with the goal of advancing an American foreign policy inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity, “has identified a series of actionable next steps that could advance the Administration’s commitment by moving the government from a reactive posture to a longer-term human rights protection agenda,” according to the council Chair Mark Bromley. These objectives, added Bromley, “are designed to harmonize the Administration’s commitments into a coherent human rights policy — and an enduring legacy of President Obama.”

In addition to creation of the special envoy position, other priority areas include:

  • Requiring automatic policy reviews whenever foreign countries enact new anti-LGBT policies. The review could be triggered by legislation, changes in enforcement patterns or failure to protect LGBT populations. Such a thorough review was conducted after the passage of a particularly repressive anti-gay law in Uganda last year, but it’s unclear that comparable reviews have been undertaken in the case of similar laws enacted in Nigeria and, most recently, Gambia.
  • Mandating that government contractors and grantees globally have LGBT non-discrimination policies as pre-conditions for contracts or assistance. Such a move would parallel an executive order issued last summer banning anti-LGBT discrimination policies among government contracts within the U.S. for domestic contactors.
  • Strengthening policies to protect LGBT rights in multilateral organizations such as the U.N., the World Health Organization, the World Bank, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the Organization of American States. The U.S. should also advocate for adequate funding and staffing for such policies to be enforced and monitored.
  • Establishing annual reports and other mechanisms to make information more widely available about federal effort in the realm of global LGBT rights, and also holding more extensive consultations with a range of stakeholders about how best to implement the memorandum.

Whatever further steps the Obama administration takes, some critics will inevitably dismiss the relevance of LGBT rights, or consider LGBT rights a marginal issue when it comes to the forging of a presidential legacy that will stand the test of time.

But such voices have been proven wrong before. They’re the same ones that in the 1960s saw no need for the Civil Rights Act, in the 1970s resisted signing the Helsinki human rights accords, in the 1980s rejected sanctions against apartheid South Africa, in the 1990s mocked steps to advance a global women’s rights agenda and in the 2000s endorsed human rights abuses in the name of fighting terrorism.

Yet, today, each of these incidents is recalled as a badge of honor — or a mark of shame — for the president who presided over them. So, too, will today’s struggle for LGBT rights, both at home and abroad, be recalled as a substantive and productive element of the Obama legacy.

 

Smith is a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute; an adjunct assistant professor of political science at Columbia University and New York University; and author of Importing Democracy: Ideas from Around the World to Reform and Revitalize American Politics and Government.

 

The World Bank: Why It Should Consider Gay Rights

The Council for Global Equality participated in the set of meetings referenced in the article below. The Council also helped bring LGBT human rights activists to Washington DC to attend the week long set of meetings.

Repost from The Economist

THE ECONOMIST ran an editorial recently arguing that “the World Bank’s focus on gay rights is misguided” (“Right cause, wrong battle“, April 12th). We received a lot of letters on the subject, some of which appear in this week’s issue. The following letter is from some of the gay activists who attended the meeting to discuss gay rights with Jim Kim, the World Bank’s president:

SIR – On behalf of the LGBT activists that were at the World Bank spring meeting and who had the opportunity to engage with the president of the bank, Jim Kim, we would like to respond to your leader arguing that Mr Kim’s attempts to address discrimination against gays in Uganda and elsewhere will hurt the bank’s objectives regarding development. You argued against the World Bank’s involvement in “gay rights”, and perpetuated several misconceptions, inaccurately describing the courageous activists that met Mr Kim, and oversimplified their campaign for more effective safeguard policies.

You criticised the bank’s postponement of a loan to Uganda in response to the government’s passage of its Anti-Homosexuality Act, and asserted that the bank was prioritising “gay rights” over poverty alleviation. Although you attempted to downplay the importance of addressing discrimination in Uganda by citing the pervasive discrimination found against women and others around the world, it is precisely this prevalence of discrimination that makes this problem too big to ignore.

In fact, the sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) activists you referred to have asked the bank to address both gender and SOGI together in its efforts on discrimination. These communities face similar structural discrimination and marginalisation that lead to the inability to escape the poverty cycle. A growing body of evidence demonstrates that discrimination can lead to extreme poverty. In India, estimated costs of homophobia could be near 2% of GDP. The bank simply cannot afford to ignore discrimination if it hopes to achieve its goals of ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity.

You also quoted the bank’s Articles of Agreement, which outline its purpose as an institution focused solely on “economic considerations” and “not a place for political advocacy.” Limiting the bank’s mission to what is written in the Articles, however, would mean that it should still be focused on rebuilding Europe after the second world war. Neither “poverty” nor “shared prosperity”—both goals the bank has adopted over the past two decades—appear in the Articles. The institution has evolved since they were first drafted. The past 70 years have provided a wealth of research and lessons learned that demonstrate the links between poverty and discrimination.

The World Bank has already adopted several social and environmental safeguard polices that “condition” its funds on certain procedures that both it and borrowers must follow. They require due diligence and action plans when a country anticipates having to resettle people for a project, or when indigenous peoples might be affected. These policies have been replicated at nearly all development institutions, and although not perfect, are essential in preventing harm and providing opportunities for affected communities to engage in the development process and share in its benefits.

You think that the safeguards should be eliminated in order to be a more attractive lender. Such a race to the bottom would, however, be counterproductive, and would ultimately undermine the World Bank’s efforts at poverty reduction. Instead it must work in countries to ensure safeguards are effective and responsive to the needs of marginalised communities.

For the first time, the bank is undertaking a comprehensive review of all of its social and environmental safeguard policies. Despite its efforts in recent years to “mainstream gender” in its work, the World Bank has never adopted a mandatory policy on how to ensure its projects and programmes are gender inclusive and avoid exacerbating inequalities that lead to poverty. Furthermore, it has entirely overlooked the inclusion of sexual and gender minorities in its broader agenda.

The Uganda loan demonstrates that the bank currently has no way to ensure its projects avoid inequalities on the ground or contribute to possible human-rights violations on the basis of gender, sexual orientation or gender identity. Rather than being cancelled, the loan has been put on hold to allow the bank time to research the effects that the loan would have on SOGI communities. To make this research systematic prior to this stage in loan disbursement, the World Bank must adopt a safeguard policy on gender and SOGI that would prevent exclusion and recognise these individuals as important stakeholders in its work.

Despite your implication, the activists who visited Washington are not asking the bank to divest from countries like Uganda. Rather they are asking it to go into complex, discriminatory societies with their eyes open and to anticipate the risks before further marginalising vulnerable communities.

We continue to believe that the World Bank should do everything in its power to ensure that its investments are not creating or exacerbating existing inequalities, that it uses its power and influence to encourage its clients to ensure equitable distribution of economic growth benefits, and that the institution itself respects the rights of individuals, regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

Andrea Quesada
Bisi Alimi
Hasan Abdessamad
Mirosława Makuchowska
Xiaogang Wei

Officials: Uganda’s leader to sign anti-gay bill

Repost from the Associated Press

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni plans to sign a bill into law that prescribes life imprisonment for some homosexual acts, officials said Friday, alarming rights activists who have condemned the bill as draconian in a country where homosexuality already has been criminalized.

Museveni announced his decision to governing party lawmakers, said government spokesman Ofwono Opondo.

In Twitter posts on Friday, Opondo said the legislators, who are holding a retreat chaired by Museveni, “welcomed the development as a measure to protect Ugandans from social deviants.”

Museveni’s decision was based on a report by “medical experts” presented at the retreat, saying that “homosexuality is not genetic but a social behavior,” said Opondo. Continue Reading

Op-Ed “Demonizing Gays in Africa”

Repost from the New York TimesBy 

As acceptance of gays and lesbians has grown in the United States and Europe, intolerance and persecution has been rising in other parts of the world. African nations are leaders in this cruel and dehumanizing trend.

The latest alarms were triggered by a ban in Nigeria on same-sex relationships that was passed by Parliament in May and signed by President Goodluck Jonathan on Jan. 7. Nigeria is a leading oil producer and Africa’s most populous country, and the ban is considered the most significant setback yet to gay rights on the continent.

Although gay sex has been illegal in Nigeria since British colonial rule, the draconian new law criminalizes homosexuality, banning same-sex marriage and prescribing years in prison to anyone who makes a “public show” of same-sex relationships or participates in gay organizations. Even people who simply support gays are subject to criminal arrest and penalties.

Before the new law was enacted, convictions for gay sex were rare in the southern part of Nigeria and occasional in the mostly Muslim north. But since the law went into effect, as Adam Nossiter has reported in The Times, arrests of gays have multiplied and some people have sought asylum overseas. According to Amnesty International, homosexuality is illegal in 38 of 54 countries in Africa. It carries the death penalty in Mauritania, Sudan and Somalia; in northern Nigeria, where Islamic law is practiced, the penalty can be death by stoning. In Senegal, the press regularly “outs” gays and same-sex relations carry a penalty of five years in prison. Another severe law has been passed by Uganda’s Legislature, but President Yoweri Museveni has not and should not sign it.

Such laws violate commitments made by United Nations members in theUniversal Declaration of Human Rights and other human rights documents.

If these nations cannot do the humane thing, they should at least consider their self-interest. For any leader who values stability, it makes no sense to promote new laws that foment greater hostility among people, like in Nigeria, where there is already ethnic tension.

Even in countries where antigay laws are not enforced, they provide an excuse for abuse — including blackmail and extortion — by police, Amnesty International said. It is unlikely that any of these countries can reach their full economic potential because many foreign entities may find it too risky to invest in such hostile environments. These governments, in abusing their citizens, are moving in dangerous and destructive directions.

Ban Ki-moon condemns persecution of gay people in Russia

Click image to watch short video of the speech

Click image to watch short video of the speech

Repost from The Guardian

The United Nations secretary-general has used a speech ahead of theWinter Olympics in Sochi to condemn attacks on the LGBT community, amid growing criticism of Russia‘s so-called “gay propaganda” laws.

Ban Ki-moon, addressing the IOC before Friday’s opening ceremony, highlighted the fact that the theme of the UN’s human rights day last December was “sport comes out against homophobia”.

“Many professional athletes, gay and straight, are speaking out against prejudice. We must all raise our voices against attacks on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex people,” he said. “We must oppose the arrests, imprisonments and discriminatory restrictions they face.”

“The United Nations stands strongly behind our own ‘free and equal’ campaign, and I look forward to working with the IOC, governments and other partners around the world to build societies of equality and tolerance. Hatred of any kind must have no place in the 21st century.” Continue Reading


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