Archive for the 'U.S. Department of State' Category

Calling for Pride at State Department

CGELtrThe Council for Global Equality joined member organizations today to call on Secretary Pompeo to recognize LGBTI Pride month, despite his failure to do so last year.  Pride month provides an opportunity for the State Department to issue a call for international solidarity and a commitment to working with all countries to address violence and discrimination against LGBTI people everywhere – particularly transgender people, who face the most extreme violence within our community.  The letter comes after the State Department refused to sign or issued confusing clarifications to important international declarations last month marking the International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia, Interphobia and Transphobia – IDAHOBIT.

Without a Pride statement from the State Department, the Trump Administration must be seen as deliberately rejecting international standards and alliances in a calculated effort to delegitimize the rights of LGBTI people, with explicit exclusion of transgender people.  This “America Alone” stance undermines our country’s international alliances and its long history as a champion of human rights in international fora – and it undermines the growing international consensus around human rights for LGBTI persons everywhere. 

Read the full letter here.



State Department Human Rights Reports, Part II: Undermining Trump’s Refugee Policies**

One of the more surprising aspects of this year’s country human rights reports, released in Washington last Wednesday, is that the State Department’s own findings undermine the Trump Administration’s legal efforts to limit refugee protections here in the United States — especially the safe third country agreements that the United States negotiated last year with Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

Those agreements allow the United States to expel asylum seekers to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.  Yet the human rights reports make abundantly clear that it is manifestly unsafe for LGBTI individuals to seek asylum in that region.

By its own admission, Guatemalan authorities cannot protect asylum seekers.  And the State Department’s report on Guatemala notes that “UNHCR [the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] reported that identification and referral mechanisms for potential asylum seekers were inadequate.  Migration authorities lacked adequate training concerning the rules for establishing refugee status.”

In reality, the situation facing LGBTI asylum seekers in Guatemala is far worse than even the report describes.  The State Department’s report admits that “According to LGBTI activists, gay and transgender individuals often experienced police abuse. The local NGO National Network for Sexual Diversity and HIV and the Lambda Association reported that as of October, a total of 20 LGBTI persons had been killed, including several transgender individuals the NGOs believed were targeted due to their sexual orientation. Several were killed in their homes or at LGBTI spaces in Guatemala City. LGBTI groups claimed women experienced specific forms of discrimination, such as forced marriages and forced pregnancies through ‘corrective rape,’ although these incidents were rarely, if ever, reported to authorities. In addition, transgender individuals faced severe discrimination.”

So why is it that the United States is now arguing in court that LGBTI asylum seekers are safe in Guatemala?

Last January, a group of civil rights and refugee organizations brought suit against the United States based on the safe third country agreement with Guatemala.  The suit represents the claims of a group of refugees, including a gay man from El Salvador who sought asylum in the United States but was sent, instead, to Guatemala by U.S. officials to pursue his asylum claim there, despite his strong objections and the country’s horrific record of human rights abuses against LGBTI individuals.

In the lawsuit, the refugee groups argue that: “Because of the Rule, vulnerable asylum seekers are shut out of the United States and left to seek protection in countries with barely functioning asylum systems that cannot adequately protect them. . . . The result is a deadly game of musical chairs that leaves many desperate asylum seekers without a safe haven, in violation of U.S. and international law.” Indeed, after being sent to Guatemala, local officials told the Salvadoran man in this case that they could not protect him — and advised him to flee to Mexico. (See more here.)

Safe indeed.  As the Department’s own human rights reports make clear, the so-called safe third country agreements that the United States is implementing with Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras are nothing but a farce, especially for LGBTI asylum seekers.

When asked about this hypocrisy at the reports’ rollout, Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) Robert Destro stammered and hedged: “I don’t think there is any inconsistency whatsoever.”  Shame – the inconsistency is obvious.  It’s also deadly.

** This is part two of a three-part series of blogs analyzing the State Department’s annual human rights reports, which were released with little fanfare last week. While it is a difficult time to be sharing anything that is unrelated to coronavirus, we believe that the strength and accuracy of these reports is vital to a robust human rights policy and to our country’s leadership in the world. Read part one here.

Human Rights Orgs Sue Sec. Pompeo for Unlawful Commission Designed to Redefine Human Rights, Undercut Universal Protections for Women, LGBTQI Individuals and Others

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Friday, March 6, 2020
Unalienable Rights Commission Intent on Privileging Religious Freedom Over Other Rights, Appears Set to Provide Trump Administration Roadmap to Deny Equal Rights for All
Slanted Membership, Withheld Records and Closed Door Meetings Violate Federal Law

New York, NY — Today, a coalition of international human rights organizations sued the Trump administration for creating and operating the State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights in violation of the Federal Advisory Committee Act. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo unlawfully created the Commission in July 2019. Since then it has been working behind closed doors to articulate a definition of human rights that is grounded in certain religious traditions and that will eliminate rights for LGBTQI individuals, restrict sexual and reproductive health and rights and remove protections for other marginalized communities across the globe. The Commission’s establishment — and its mandate to fundamentally reconsider the U.S.’s commitment to human rights — represents yet another way in which the Trump administration has eroded U.S. human rights commitments and practices, both domestically and abroad.

Democracy Forward filed today’s lawsuit on behalf of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE), the Council for Global Equality, and Global Justice Center.

“The Trump administration’s agenda is on display at the Supreme Court this week for all to see,” said Kerry Kennedy, President of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “Our lawsuit is bringing light to their attempts to export their misogynistic and homophobic policies around the world—policies which would deny women basic reproductive health rights like access to contraceptives, would deny LGBTQI people recognition as rights holders, and would hand over who gets rights and who doesn’t to religious sects and autocrats.”

“The Trump administration is continuing its pattern of illegally outsourcing policymaking to hand-picked groups to reach pre-determined outcomes,” said Democracy Forward Executive Director Anne Harkavy. “This time, Secretary Pompeo seeks to use an unlawful advisory committee to redefine human rights and undercut protections for women and the LGBTQI community across the globe, so we are suing to stop him.”

“The State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights is just another stepping stone in the White House’s agenda to roll back well-established human rights for women and the LGBTQIA+ community. Disturbingly, this Commission includes members who have loudly opposed women’s rights and sexual and reproductive rights, but excludes the voices of those who would forcefully advocate for these rights,” said Serra Sippel, President of the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE). “CHANGE objects to this unlawfully biased Commission, and is proud to join this lawsuit to hold the U.S. accountable to its commitments to human rights and sexual and reproductive health and rights.”

“Secretary Pompeo often argues that the modern proliferation of human rights claims cheapens the currency of human rights,” noted Mark Bromley, Chair of the Council for Global Equality. “But it is this illegal Commission, with its warped use of religious freedom and natural law to deny rights, that cheapens the very notion of religious freedom and our country’s proud tradition of standing up for the rights of those who are most vulnerable.”

“Secretary Pompeo’s illegal Commission is part of the Trump administration’s wider attack on a human rights system that has firmly established access to safe abortion as a protected right under international law,” said Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center.

Secretary Pompeo established the Commission with the predetermined goal of recasting human rights based on what the State Dept. called the “founding principles of natural law and natural rights.” This terminology has previously been employed to justify curtailing human rights and, in particular, restricting reproductive freedom and rejecting equal treatment for LGBTQI individuals. Proponents of this view, like Secretary Pompeo, assert that historically marginalized communities’ successes in claiming their rights have led to a “rights proliferation,” which they claim has diluted the very meaning of rights and caused unworkable tension and chaos within the international legal system. Secretary Pompeo has crudely dismissed the rights of historically marginalized groups as rewards for political “pet causes.”

The Federal Advisory Committee Act requires any outside advisory group that provides recommendations or advice to a federal agency maintain a balanced membership, fulfill a public interest need and operate transparently. The Commission is violating all these requirements. It is unlawfully:

  • Stacked with members who have staked out positions hostile to LGBTQI and reproductive rights, such as the belief that marriage equality is “nonsensical,” homosexuality is “one of the signs of the End Times,” and that women should not be given contraceptives to prevent transferring the Zika virus to newborns
  • Sidelining mainstream human rights groups, as well as career diplomats within the State Department, who have advised administrations of both political parties about U.S. human rights commitments and the role they should play in foreign policy
  • Holding closed door meetings to conduct significant Commission business outside of the public’s view and scrutiny, including efforts to redefine human rights terminology and commitments
  • Failing to provide adequate notice of meetings and to release key documents to the public

Since assuming office, the Trump administration has made clear its intention to reduce the United States’ role in human rights protection overseas. The establishment of the Commission is yet another means of achieving this retreat from global human rights leadership.

This is all the more concerning in the context of Secretary of State Pompeo’s speech to Concerned Women for America at the Trump Hotel, where Pompeo professed his personal belief that human rights should be grounded in religion rather than law: “I know where those [human] rights came from. They came from our Lord, and when we get this right, we’ll have done something good, not just I think for the United States but for the world.”

The Commission has also spurred both concern and action from Congress. In response to the administration’s May 2019 announcement of its intent to establish the Commission, five members of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations raised alarms about the Commission’s membership. The next month, more than 20 U.S. Senators wrote to Secretary Pompeo in July 2019 seeking information “as part of Congress’ role in ensuring compliance with FACA.” That same month, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Eliot Engel and more than 50 other Members of Congress wrote to Secretary Pompeo questioning why the Commission, which has a mission duplicative of the State Department’s own human rights office, is even necessary. Last summer, the House of Representatives passed an amendment sponsored by Rep. David Cicilline that would block the State Department from expending funds on this Commission.

The Trump administration has a record of illegally outsourcing federal policymaking. Democracy Forward obtained a court order that prevents the Department of the Interior from relying on recommendations provided by a committee — stacked with oil and gas industry insiders — that was established in violation of FACA. Similarly, Interior disbanded the International Wildlife Conservation Committee — a deceptively named trophy hunting council stacked with trophy hunters, donors to the Trump administration, and firearms manufacturer — after Democracy Forward challenged the unlawfully established advisory panel.

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