Archive for the 'SOGI' Category

State Department Retains LGBTI Special Envoy: What Does It Mean? Will it Respond to Global Call from LGBT Advocates?

Last week’s Congressional notification that the Trump Administration has decided not to abolish the LGBTI human rights Special Envoy position was an unexpected surprise.

We know there are many dedicated State Department officials who believe passionately that the United States must stand for human rights, including equality and dignity for LGBT individuals everywhere, as a cornerstone of our foreign policy. And recent reports suggest Secretary Tillerson may have raised well-documented cases of LGBT persecution in Chechnya with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov in a letter this summer. Yet, we’ve seen very little indication that Administration leaders care about a comprehensive human rights policy, or LGBT rights, after all:

  • A number of concrete actions – the ban on trans military service, opposition to federal employment protections, and the decision to rescind Obama-era guidance on protections for transgender students in public schools – have been injurious to LGBT citizens at home.
  • “America First” policies have slammed the door on refugees and immigrants, more than 75,000 LGBT DREAMers included – and on the international cooperation needed to stand for fairness and equality abroad.
  • Secretary Tillerson astoundingly has sought to separate democratic “values” from the pursuit of narrower, arguably raw, national “interests” (see his speech here) – turning his back on U.S. diplomatic priorities pursued across the postwar years.
  • President Trump’s expansion of the “Global Gag Rule” to all U.S. global health funding, including global AIDS funding through PEPFAR, undermines our investments in sexual and reproductive health and rights, with equally devastating impact for LGBT individuals who may now be forced to depend on faith-based implementers that are unlikely to be as welcoming or effective in supporting the health and rights of LGBT communities.
  • And the impact of these policy shifts is becoming clear: only last week, the Washington Post traced a sharp uptick in human rights abuses in Egypt to messages that President Trump conveyed in his May meeting with that country’s president.

In this light, how are we to understand retention of the Special Envoy position? Is it mere window dressing? Or will the Administration use the position vigorously to tackle a global crisis in hate crimes, abuse, and legal discrimination against LGBT people?

We are concerned that, in the first seven months of this Administration, the Department’s Special Envoy hasn’t been directed to make a single overseas trip to engage foreign governments on any of the LGBT-related human rights violations so carefully documented in the Department’s annual human rights reports. That concern is only amplified by Secretary Tillerson’s decision (as reflected in the Congressional notification) to co-hat the Special Envoy’s targeted responsibilities with the much larger duties of a Deputy Assistant Secretary (DAS) – a situation that exists now, but that was intended to be temporary, given personnel shifts and shortfalls. That co-hatting may well bury the Special Envoy’s substantive responsibilities under heavy managerial and substantive duties of the kind that any DAS carries.

But a broader question is whether the Administration can carry genuine moral authority to engage, even modestly, on LGBT human rights while its policies at home, and its lack of engagement on human rights abroad, have been so troubling.

The global credibility of the Special Envoy position, then, is directly proportional to the Administration’s record on Constitutional protections at home. It requires the thoughtful and deliberate inclusion of LGBT populations in appropriate bilateral economic, development, and health programs. It too requires regular engagement with other countries on problems impacting LGBT populations, all the while acknowledging that our country’s record in this sphere remains troubled. And it requires swift condemnation of hate crimes and hate groups – not the “blame on both sides” cop-out the President used in his troubling response to far-right violence in Charlottesville this summer.

LGBT advocates from around the world have urged President Trump to honor our country’s commitment to human rights. See their video here. Eight months later, we reiterate their call. Keeping the Special Envoy may be a start – but only if the Administration honors our country’s call to equality with humility, funding, and concrete action.

Kenya’s Reelected Leader Must End Horrifying Anal Exams

Repost from the Advocate

Kenya, the economic and political powerhouse of Eastern and Central Africa, held an election this week to choose the fifth president of the country since independence. While the vote is still being contested by opposition leader Raila Odinga, it appears that incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta just won a second and final term. When it comes to defending the human rights of Kenya’s LGBTIQ citizens, Kenyatta’s record is critically important to our emerging democracy.

During President Obama’s visit to Kenya in 2015, Kenyatta said, “We share a lot of things, but gay issues are not among them. … There are some things that we must admit we don’t share. It’s very difficult for us to impose on people that which they themselves do not accept. This is why I say for Kenyans today the issue of gay rights is really a nonissue.” Kenyatta was responding to Obama, who emphasized the need for Kenya to stop discriminating against gays and lesbians, saying, “I’ve been consistent all across Africa on this. When you start treating people differently because they’re different, that’s the path whereby freedoms begin to erode. And bad things happen.”

During an interview with CNN in October 2015, Kenyatta underlined that what he meant when responding to Obama was not that gays have no rights. “I will not allow people to persecute any individuals, or beat and torture them,” he said, adding that “we have to understand that these are processes and they take time … and this is where I am saying we have to get synergies. You are not going to create the U.S., Great Britain, or Netherlands in Kenya, or in Nigeria or Senegal overnight.”

President Kenyatta’s lack of leadership on LGBTIQ issues is of great concern. The unsupportive public statements have offered license to state officers who continue to harass and arrest gays and lesbians; political cover to those who deny LGBTIQ citizens access to medical, educational, and other social services; and a justification for hate crimes committed by the general public. The use of forced anal exams to “prove” homosexual activity stands out as a particularly brutal form of torture in this larger context. Continue Reading

House LGBT Caucus Commends Foreign Affairs Committee Approval of Bipartisan Chechnya Resolution

Washington D.C.— The Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus commended the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) for passing H.Res.351, a bipartisan resolution condemning the detention, torture, and murders of gay and bisexual men in Chechnya.  H.Res.351 was introduced by LGBT Caucus founding member and former HFAC Chair Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-27) on May 23rd and has 52 bipartisan cosponsors, including HFAC Chairman Rep. Ed Royce (CA-39) and Ranking Member and LGBT Caucus Member Rep. Eliot Engel (NY-16).  H.Res.351 passed in committee by a unanimous voice vote.

“This resolution demands that Russian and Chechen authorities end the violence against innocent men in Chechnya, and hold the perpetrators accountable.  The rights to personal safety, freedom of association and freedom from violence are universal values, regardless of a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, race, religion, or any other characteristic,” said LGBT Equality Caucus Co-Chair Rep. David Cicilline (RI-01).  “I commend Rep. Ros-Lehtinen for introducing this resolution and for her ongoing leadership on LGBT equality.  I also thank Chairman Royce and Ranking Member Engel for making passage of this resolution a priority and their dedication to ending this horrible situation in Chechnya.  We hope that Speaker Ryan will call a floor vote on this resolution and show the world that the United States is still a leader on human rights for all.”

Since early March, Chechen law enforcement officials have arrested and detained over 100 gay men in prisons, with reports of torture and starvation. Initial reports and confirmation by human rights organizations confirmed three deaths, with up to 20 deaths now reported. Both the U.S. State Department and US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley have condemned the reports. On April 7th, 2017, Rep. Cicilline and Rep. Alan Lowenthal (CA-47) led a bipartisan letter signed by 50 members of Congress calling on Secretary of State Tillerson to condemn the violence during his trip to Russia.

Please contact Roddy Flynn at 202-257-8416 or roddy.flynn@mail.house.gov with press inquiries.

The mission of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus is to promote lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) equality. The bi-partisan LGBT Equality Caucus is strongly committed to achieving the full enjoyment of human rights for LGBT people in the U.S. and around the world. By serving as a resource for Members of Congress, their staff, and the public on LGBT issues, the Caucus works toward the extension of equal rights, the repeal of discriminatory laws, the elimination of hate-motivated violence, and the improved health and wellbeing for all regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.

USAID Nominee Should Affirm that Investments in LGBT Development Have Real Impact

President Trump has nominated Ambassador Mark Green as the new Administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).  The Council looks forward to his confirmation hearing, where we trust he will affirm USAID’s commitment to inclusive development that recognizes LGBT citizens as both agents and beneficiaries of effective U.S. development assistance.

The Council has worked closely with USAID to ensure that LGBT individuals are included in the full range of human rights, health, economic empowerment and development assistance policies that the United States carries out abroad.  We are particularly pleased that the Agency has adopted new regulations prohibiting USAID and its partners from discriminating against LGBT or other minority communities when providing taxpayer-funded goods and services from the American people.

During his confirmation hearing, we hope Ambassador Greene pledges to uphold the principle that USAID must not discriminate against LGBT communities, and that he affirms the Agency’s ongoing commitment to integrating the needs of LGBT populations into all sectors of development support.

Please watch this video to hear how our investments in LGBT development can have real impact on human lives.

Cardin Statement on LGBT Rights, Issues at Start of Trump Administration

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, released the following statement Tuesday:

“At the confirmation hearings of Rex Tillerson and Nikki Haley, it caught my attention when neither of them would say the phrase ‘LGBT’. I’ve now heard from constituents and activists that the State Department and White House websites have been scrubbed of LGBT content at the outset of the Trump Administration, including the recent apology former Secretary Kerry issued in response to my letter regarding the Department’s disturbing role in the McCarthy Era’s Lavender Scare – when approximately 1,000 dedicated civilians lost their jobs due to their perceived sexuality. This is alarming to me. I encourage the Administration to makes its public information portals reflective of all Americans and our values, and I will be monitoring this closely. We cannot and will not turn back the clock on the hard-fought civil rights of the LGBT community. Instead we must strengthen and expand them. I am continuing to ready legislation to compel the State Department to review its actions during the Lavender Scare and make amends.”


Related Content: U.S. State Department Should Apologize for “Lavender Scare

Remarks opposing a UN General Assembly Amendment to Delay the Mandate of the UN Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Amb. Samantha PowerAmbassador Samantha Power
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
December 19, 2016

AS DELIVERED

Thank you, Mr. President. The United States will vote “no” on the amendment proposed by the African Group to delay part of the report by the Human Rights Council, and we strongly encourage other countries to join us in rejecting this amendment.

You have heard, and may hear more, so-called procedural arguments made by other countries for adopting this amendment. These arguments are unsubstantiated, unjustified, and unprecedented.

The UN Human Rights Council currently has 57 mandate holders under special procedures – 43 on thematic issues, and 14 on countries or territories. Yet never before has the General Assembly sought to challenge a special procedures mandate holder after it has been appointed and is fully functioning.

The supporters of this amendment say that they have concerns about what they call the “legal basis” for the mandate for the Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. On the surface, raising concerns about one out of the more than a hundred resolutions adopted this year by the Human Rights Council may not seem like such a big deal. But for the General Assembly to seek to open the Human Rights Council’s report over the contents of a single resolution – a resolution creating a mandate that is squarely within the Council’s authority – would set a hugely problematic precedent.

In previous years, the purpose of this General Assembly resolution has been simply to “take note” of the Human Rights Council’s annual report. Were this amendment to be adopted, it would, going forward, be fair game for the General Assembly to open up and re-litigate resolutions that have long history of going into effect immediately. That would undermine the authority, the independence, and the efficiency of the Human Rights Council.

In addition to setting this dangerous procedural precedent, this amendment is deeply flawed on the merits. The proponents of the amendment argue in their explanatory note that their reason for seeking a delay was that, “there is no international agreement on the definition of the concept of ‘sexual orientation and gender identity.’” That is patently false. The issue of violence or discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is well established and well understood. It has been referred to in resolutions and statements adopted by the Human Rights Council, the UN Security Council, and the UN General Assembly. It has been the focus of nearly 1,300 recommendations under the Universal Periodic Review, leading to recommendations that have been accepted by more than 100 UN Member States, including several of the countries that proposed this amendment. And it has been addressed repeatedly by various regional bodies, including the Organization of American States, the European Court of Human Rights, and the African Commission on Human Rights and Peoples’ Rights.

In reality, this amendment has little to do with questions around the definition of sexual orientation and gender identity. Instead, this amendment is rooted in a real disagreement over whether people of a certain sexual orientation and gender identity are, in fact, entitled to equal rights. And it is being driven by a group of UN Member States that believe it is acceptable to treat people differently because of who they are or who they love.

For our part, the United States believes that discriminating against people on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity is no different from discriminating against people for the color of their skin, for discriminating against them because of their sex, or because of their nationality. It is wrong. Such discrimination cuts against the very essence of the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This is not an issue of the North trying to impose its values on the South; it is an issue of respecting the dignity and human rights of all people, everywhere. That is what we mean when we say that LGBTI rights are universal human rights.

The United States also believes that the resolution creating the Independent Expert to address violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is well-merited by the facts on the ground. For who here today would argue that LGBTI people are treated equally around their world, or that they are not subject to violence and discrimination? Nobody can argue that on the basis of the facts. This is a world we live in which, according to a report issued in 2015 by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, “the overall picture remains one of continuing, pervasive, violent abuse, harassment, and discrimination affecting LGBT and intersex persons in all regions…often perpetrated with impunity.” A world today in which it is still considered acceptable in certain places to throw people off of the rooftops of buildings, or to prevent them from forming a local organization, or to deny them a seat in a classroom – simply because of who they are or who they love. In that world – in our world, the world of today – we have every reason to want an independent expert to monitor and seek to prevent violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

That includes addressing the issue right here in the United States. For while LGBTI people no longer have to hide who they love to serve in our nation’s military or our Foreign Service – people in the United States can still be fired from a job because of their sexual orientation, and an estimated four in every 10 transgender people in America attempt suicide – approximately 30 times the national average. We, too, have seen our share of horrific violence against LGBT people. As many of you will remember, on June 12 of this year, a gunman attacked innocent civilians at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida, killing 49 innocent people. These individuals were targeted simply because they were LGBT people.

Let me close. One of the victims in that attack was 32-year-old Christopher Leinonen, who, as a teenager, was brave enough to be the only student to come out of the closet in his high school of 2,500 people. Christopher endured taunts, harassments, and even threats for telling people who he was and for founding his school’s first gay-straight alliance.

Tell me, why would any Member State stand in the way of trying to prevent violence like the attack at that Orlando nightclub?

If you believe that people should not be discriminated against, or harassed, or attacked, or killed for who they are and for who they love, please join the United States in voting against this amendment. Thank you.

###

Related Content: 

U.N. committee again rejects motion to suspend LGBT watchdog (Washington Blade)

African States Narrowly Fail to Stop UN Gay Rights Envoy Work (Voice of America VOA)

SOGI Mandate Safeguarded in Face of Hostility

Joint Civil Society Press Statement
21 November 2016 (New York) — The United Nations mandate of the Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) has been safeguarded despite hostile contestation at the 71st Session of the 3rd Committee of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York City.
LGBTIQ activists and organizations around the world quickly mobilized to voice their concerns on the implications of the hostile resolution to national governments as well as at the United Nations headquarters in New York. A joint statement endorsed by 850 organizations from 157 countries around the world, highlighted the need for states to respect the authority of the Human Rights Council and to vote in favour of upholding the SOGI Independent Expert mandate.
“A lot can be accomplished when forces join hands. We are encouraged by this voting result and in the confirmation that States believe in the mechanisms of the Human Rights Council. It is vital that the integrity of the Human Rights Council remains intact and is not further undermined in the Third Committee,” stated Jessica Stern, Executive Director, OutRight Action International, the only US based LGBTIQ organization with consultative status at the United Nations.
The SOGI Independent Expert position on the “Protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation, and gender identity (SOGI),” was mandated by the passing of a historic resolution A/HRC/RES/32/2 on June 30 of this year, and is held by Vitit Muntarbhorn, a human rights expert from Thailand. A campaign of 628 nongovernmental organizations from 151 countries advocated for the adoption of the resolution and for the establishment of the position.
In early November, Botswana, on behalf of the African Group, presented a hostile resolution on the Human Rights Council Annual Report, specifically targeting the SOGI Independent Expert Mandate. The resolution contested the legality of the creation of the mandate, essentially arguing that SOGI are not universally recognized as human rights and are not codified in international law. The resolution called for an indefinite postponement of the mandate until consensus could be reached on the definition of SOGI and the legal basis to which the mandate was created, the African Group statement read,
“We are alarmed that the Council is delving into matters which fall essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of States counter to the commitment in the United Nations Charter to respect the sovereignty of States and the principle of non-intervention. More importantly, it arises owing to the ominous usage of the two notions: sexual orientation and gender identity. We wish to state that those two notions are not and should not be linked to existing international human rights instruments.”
In response to the African Group resolution, submitted by Botswana, Monica Tabengwa, Botswana human rights activist and director of Pan Africa ILGA commented,
“We are deeply disappointed that Botswana led this fallacious move by the Africa Group to remove gains at the HRC to include SOGI protections within the existing human rights framework. Let us remind everyone that the SOGI mandate is about real people and their right to secure lives, to be free of violence and discrimination and that these lives can’t be postponed or deferred indefinitely. We deserve more from our governments”
The SOGI Independent Expert was created after adoption of a resolution in the Human Rights Council in June 2016, initiated by seven Latin American countries, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico and Uruguay. They, plus El Salvador (LAC 8), countered the African Group’s attempt to postpone the mandate by introducing an amendment to the resolution deleting the hostile paragraph.
An explanatory note provided by the eight Latin American countries on their submitted amendment in support of preserving the SOGI mandate and the integrity of the HRC reads,
“The seriousness of the consequences (…) lies in the fact that never before has a country or group of countries attempted to challenge a special procedures mandate by the Human Rights Council with an appointed and fully functioning mandate holder. (…) If the General Assembly reopens the Council’s annual report and use a selective approach to which resolution it seeks to block or defer indefinitely it would fundamentally undermine the authority granted to the Council by the General Assembly, thus having far reaching implications well beyond the specific resolution under consideration.”
While all 193 countries in the UN General Assembly had the right to vote, only 178 exercised their vote, resulting in the passing of the LAC 8 amendment, leading to the failure of the hostile resolution and dissipation of the immediate threat against the establishment of the SOGI Independent Expert. In total, 84 countries voted in favor of the LAC 8 amendment, 77 voted against the amendment, and 17 countries abstained from voting.
LGBTIQ civil society in the Asia and the Pacific region have vocalized their support for the SOGI Independent Expert, hoping that a representative from the region would help progress protections for people of diverse sexual orientation and gender identity. In response to the voting, Ryan Silverio, Regional Coordinator for the ASEAN SOGIE Caucus said,
“Today we are reminded of the fundamental mission of the Council, and the UN’s commitment to promote human rights and equality for all. We are encouraged by the open dialogue with ASEAN member states in the lead up of the vote, and are particularly thankful to Thailand for showing leadership to protecting this mandate,”
The failure of the proposed hostile resolution is significant not only because it reinstates the authority of the Human Rights Council, but it also allows forward movement on the work of the SOGI Independent Expert- a crucial stride in the UN’s commitment towards protecting the universality of human rights, especially for vulnerable communities. It reinforces the notion that people cannot be left behind and states must protect all people from discrimination and violence based on their SOGI.
“The SOGI Independent Expert position is vital in bringing to light the horrific acts of violence and discrimination many people face because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. These abuses happen everywhere; no region or country is immune to them. Having concrete documentation showing the consequences of homophobia and transphobia on the lives of people and recommendations on how to address these challenges from an HRC Special Procedure mandate holder will help states take responsibility to protect LGBTQI persons. It will be much harder to ignore the facts,” commented Micah Grzywnowicz, trans activist and international advocacy advisor at RFSL, the Swedish Federation for LGBTQ Rights.
While the hostile resolution did not pass today, civil society has warned that future attempts to stop the progress of the SOGI Independent Expert are not out of the question.
The Expert will be tasked with assessing implementation of existing international human rights law, identifying best practices and gaps, raising awareness of violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, engaging in dialogue and consultation with States and other stakeholders, and facilitating provision of advisory services, technical assistance, capacity-building and cooperation to help address violence and discrimination on these grounds.
“As always, the fight continues to ensure that States don’t cherry pick which human rights to protect. We must continue to be vigilant and to mobilize to ensure that universality and non-discrimination triumphs at all levels. We must also ensure that we are working together to create change which will benefit all LGBTIQ people. Safeguarding human rights principles remains prime to peace and security for all people everywhere, anytime,” said Steve Letsike, Director of Access Chapter 2, a South African LGBTIQ human rights organization.

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