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

State Department Reports on Bias-Motivated Violence

Secretary Kerry Releases the 2015 Human Rights Report

Secretary Kerry Releases the 2015 Human Rights Report

April 21, 2016 – Last week, the State Department released its accounting of human rights abuses committed in 2015. As usual, this year’s human rights report offers disturbing pictures of violence being committed against LGBT people worldwide, from Afghanistan to Honduras to Kenya.

Recognizing the magnitude of such violence, the White House last June convened a “Conversation on Combatting Bias-Motivated Violence Against LGBT Persons Around the World.” At that meeting, Obama Administration officials highlighted initiatives by the U.S. government and private sector actors to address bias-motivated violence targeting the LGBT community, recognizing in particular the need for law enforcement, judges, legislatures, governments, and civil society to work together to respond comprehensively and decisively to such violence. Unfortunately, this year’s human rights report reminds us that there is much more work to do. It also provides a glimmer of hope, recognizing some of the unique steps that a handful of governments are taking to acknowledge, document and respond to extremely high levels of bias-motivated violence targeting LGBT individuals.

In this year’s report, targeted LGBT killings are cited in countries ranging from Germany to Honduras and Russia to Pakistan.   Attacks are commonly identified as occurring in both public and private spaces. The Mali report explains that “family members, neighbors, and groups of strangers in public places committed the majority of violent acts, and police frequently refused to intervene.” But even in the home, the report recognizes that LGBT individuals are targeted for abuse and sexual violence by family members, including in countries ranging from Belize to Romania and Cambodia to Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwe report notes that “some families reportedly subjected their LGBTI members to ‘corrective’ rape and forced marriages to encourage heterosexual conduct.” In Ecuador, “LGBTI organizations and the government continued to report that private treatment centers confined LGBTI persons against their will to ‘cure’ or ‘dehomosexualize’ them.” Although illegal, the clinics also reportedly used extreme treatments, including rape.

The vast majority of the country reports cite a reluctance on the part of victims – characterized as outright fear – to report such abuse to authorities in the belief that they would be ignored at best but also potentially targeted by the police for filing the complaint. The South Africa report discusses the “secondary victimization” of individuals, particularly lesbian and transgender women, including cases in which police harassed, ridiculed, and assaulted victims of sexual- and gender-based violence who reported abuse.

In many other cases, from Azerbaijan to Kenya and from Guatemala to Turkey and Indonesia to Sri Lanka, the report notes patterns of abuse of LGBTI citizens by police or other security forces, or other inappropriate police action. The Bolivia report cites a study that found that 82 percent of those surveyed “knew of at least one person whom police had arbitrarily detained due to sexual orientation or gender identity.” Police in all regions regularly extorted money from presumed LGBT individuals by threatening to arrest or expose them, including when LGBT individuals attempted to report violence or seek protection. In Mexico and Venezuela, cases of violence are often recorded by the police as “crimes of passion” that are then ignored in the belief that they are little more than domestic squabbles between jilted lovers.

In some countries, such as Cameroon and Lebanon, LGBTI persons were subject to gang violence. In others, such as the Dominican Republic, Latvia and Japan there were reported instances of school bullying. Bullying and violence directed at transgender students was particularly severe. The report cites a Bolivian study finding “72 percent of transgender individuals abandoned their secondary school studies due to intense discrimination.”

In Iran, security forces specifically targeted LGBT individuals for raids, rectal examinations, and beatings during incarceration. In Ghana, the report emphasizes sexual violence committed against gay men in prison. In Morocco, even after arresting the perpetrator of a violent bias-motivated crime, police made the victim undress, and then blackmailed him to his family. In Syria, gay men faced horrifying consequences from two angles: those suspected of being gay were thrown from rooftops by ISIS, while security forces often based arrests and even torture on accusations of homosexuality.

Apart from underscoring an urgent need for greater police training, this year’s reports also make clear that, in far too many countries, clearer and stronger laws are needed to lay the groundwork for action against LGBT-related hate crimes. From Egypt to Iraq and from the Bahamas to Mongolia laws to protect LGBT people either do not exist or are too weakly construed to offer any real protections. Even in countries such as Brazil that have taken important steps to protect their LGBT citizens, the report cites legal impediments that make it difficult to prosecute LGBT hate crimes. Moreover, a lack of official and specific LGBT-related statistics in most countries makes it difficult to ascertain the depth of the problem.

In addition, the reports detail far too many instances in which government officials and others in positions of influence have fueled an atmosphere of violence against LGBT persons. These instances have included Albania, Georgia, Hungary, Kyrgyz Republic and Zimbabwe, where homophobic statements or other divisive language by government leaders seem to condone violence. In other countries, such as Algeria, Dominican Republic, Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda, statements by religious leaders have inflamed tensions.

The report notes, however, that some governments are taking steps to respond to these common patterns of violence. El Salvador, Honduras and Suriname have adopted new hate crime-related laws that could assist in the prevention and prosecution of LGBT hate crimes. Nicaragua has a new, if untested, prosecutor for sexual diversity, and Honduras has a relatively new Violent Crimes Task Force to investigate LGBT violence. In July, the government of Malawi accepted a recommendation from the UN Human Rights Council and committed to prosecuting the perpetrators of LGBT violence. Sierra Leone’s Human Rights Commission conducted outreach to the LGBT community to encourage individuals to submit complaints and to request investigations into bias-motivated crimes. South Africa has a “National Intervention Strategy” and set up rapid response teams from civil society and government to ensure that law enforcement officers respond “promptly and professionally” to crimes against the LGBT community. The report notes that most of these government initiatives have only delivered limited accomplishments to date, but they provide a foundation for additional action.

Given this year’s report, the Council for Global Equality looks forward to working with the White House, the State Department and the Justice Department to energize the initiatives put in place last June at the White House to ensure that U.S. government assets are deployed to respond to such egregious violence. To do so, we should invest in training and resources for police who are willing to reform their structures to respond to hate crimes; work closely with other governments to showcase longstanding FBI efforts to collect and disaggregate LGBT hate crime data in our own country in the hope that they will do likewise; promote the decriminalization of homosexual relationships, cross dressing laws and other legal impediments that reduce LGBT individuals to criminals and invite arrest, harassment and abuse at the hands of the police; and deploy our diplomatic resources, including our new Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons, to implore foreign officials everywhere to respond promptly and professionally to LGBT violence whenever it occurs.

Click here for more information on the 2015 Human Rights Reports (including transcripts from the briefing as well as video)

Nisha Ayub Receives the 2016 Woman of Courage Award

Secretary Kerry's Remarks at the 2016 International Women of Courage Award

The Council for Global Equality congratulates Nisha Ayub, Director of SEED Malaysia, for receiving the 2016 Woman of Courage award from Secretary of State John Kerry at a ceremony in Washington DC today. She is the first transgender woman to ever receive this award. Ms. Ayub has been challenging Malaysia’s harsh treatment of transgender citizens, including the anti-cross dressing laws.

This award is not just about me–it’s about recognition and acceptance of trans people in regards to their gender identity. Today I am being fully recognized as a woman.

She previously met President Obama on his visit to Malaysia last year.

(Remarks by Secretary Kerry about Nisha Ayub at 21:21)

Read Secretary Kerry’s remarks

Learn more about the award and this year’s recipients.

Learn more about Nisha Ayub.

Related Content: Nisha dedicates Women of Courage Award to all transwomen (The Star Online)

LGBT Human Rights and Foreign Policy

The Council for Global Equality posted a series of four blog posts on LGBT human rights issues and foreign policy over the past week. The posts touch on public diplomacy, national values, the current Administration’s actions and the lack of discussion of human rights during this presidential election cycle. Below is roll up of all four posts with links to the full postings.

The Place of Human Rights The Place of Human Rights

Another new year. Another chance to put things right. For the Council for Global Equality, that means elevating the place of human rights – including those of LGBT, intersex and other vulnerable minorities – in America’s foreign policy. Continue Reading 


LGBT Human Rights in U.S. Foreign Policy

LGBT Human Rights in U.S. Foreign Policy

A 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. Continue Reading.


Governments and Human Rights Governments and Human Rights

The Council pays particular attention to the role that foreign governments play, or fail to play, in preserving and advancing the rights of their LGBT citizens. In our own country, we’ve seen how policies pursued by this President have helped empower greater respect and protections for LGBT persons. The same could happen in many countries abroad. Continue Reading.


Matters of the Heart Matters of the Heart

Our country increasingly has come to terms with the need for fairness toward LGBT Americans – and few have questioned the premise that LGBT human rights abuse, like all human rights abuse, must be challenged. Continue Reading.

Matters of the Heart

Matters of the Heart - The Council for Global EqualityOur country increasingly has come to terms with the need for fairness toward LGBT Americans – and few have questioned the premise that LGBT human rights abuse, like all human rights abuse, must be challenged.

But as we enter this election year, we’re disappointed to see how little discussion there’s been of human rights in either party’s presidential campaign. Fair treatment of human beings is, after all, common to many religious traditions, and it seems to us important that both major political parties regularly reaffirm the importance our country attaches to the protection of human rights for all.

Even more, we’re deeply concerned that the inflamed Republican primary rhetoric over immigration and refugees is harming our country’s image as a beacon of hope in today’s troubled world. It’s hardly a partisan comment to ask that both parties reaffirm our country’s proud tradition of welcoming those who flee persecution. Nor is it partisan to ask that those who call for the protection of Christian refugees from abuse and injustice show equal concern for the plight of LGBT refugees, who are among those most negatively impacted by wars across the Middle East.

We will continue to press the Obama Administration toward policies that assure the wellbeing of LGBT people worldwide – and we hope it will be eager to reach as broadly positive a legacy in this respect as possible. But we also want that legacy to carry over to a new Administration – one in which the new President, from whichever party, speaks to America’s strength as a nation of bright compassion, not as a nation of fear, and distrust, and hatred.

2016 will be crucial from both respects: an administration that can leave behind a powerful legacy of standing for fairness and equality, and an electoral cycle that should reaffirm those principles, rather than shrinking from their embrace. We ask that all of those who value liberty and equality, and who are committed to notions of fairness, make this a year of progress on both accounts.

The Place of Human Rights

The Place of Human RightsAnother new year. Another chance to put things right.

For the Council for Global Equality, that means elevating the place of human rights – including those of LGBT, intersex and other vulnerable minorities – in America’s foreign policy.

The year of 2015 brought incredible progress on LGBT rights around the world. Marriage equality was won here in the United States as well as in Mexico and Ireland; Malta passed the world’s most protective law for transgender and intersex citizens; and Mozambique got rid of its colonial-era anti-sodomy law once and for all.

Yet challenges and dangers continue to confront LGBT people. ISIS continues to hunt down and kill suspected LGBT individuals in its territory. Refugees fleeing persecution last year reached a new post-World War II high, with LGBT refugees among the most vulnerable of them. And from Russia to Egypt, a broad array of countries continue to deny rights to their own LGBT citizens while leading the charge at the United Nations to deny human rights to LGBT individuals everywhere.

We enter the last full year of the Obama Administration with pride and respect for what our country has helped accomplish to ensure that LGBT people are no longer excluded from universal human rights protections. A White House conference last year identified new opportunities for our embassies to respond to escalating violence against LGBT persons globally. A new U.S. Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons is mobilizing diplomatic efforts to challenge LGBT human rights violations and to build alliances in the quest for equality. And last year, the Administration sought to build a case for global support for LGBT refugees fleeing targeted persecution, including through the first-ever briefing on that topic for the UN Security Council in August.

Perhaps most important, the Obama Administration last year leveraged our public diplomacy and development tools as never before to promote citizen exchanges, highlight the voices and messages of local LGBT leaders and help fund LGBT organizations to promote global equality. The President himself spoke in support of LGBT rights in many of his travels abroad. These efforts, amplified by our investments in educational and development opportunities through USAID and the State Department’s growing Global Equality Fund, bear witness to the Obama Administration’s unprecedented commitment to equality for LGBT individuals everywhere.

If we are to hold other governments accountable for how they honor and safeguard the rights of their LGBT citizens, we must continue to push our own towards even greater consistency and impactful actions. Over the next two weeks, we will set forth the expectations we hold of our own government in this regard.

The steps that are – or aren’t – taken in 2016 will etch the final and most compelling stories of this Administration’s human rights legacy. Then it will be up to us, the human rights community, to hold the next Administration accountable to this country’s proud tradition of standing up for universal human rights at every turn.

US government says it will now use the term ‘sexual rights’

Repost from the Washington Post

UNITED NATIONS — The U.S. government says it will begin using the term “sexual rights” in discussions of human rights and global development.

The statement at a U.N. meeting this week comes after years of lobbying from groups who have argued that the U.S. should show global leadership on the rights of people of all gender identities and sexual orientations.

The statement, posted on a State Department website, says sexual rights include people’s “right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality, including sexual and reproductive health, free of coercion, discrimination, and violence.”

The Washington-based Center for Health and Gender Equity pointed out the statement Thursday and said it was delighted.

“On one level, it’s symbolic. It also sends a signal to the global community that sexual and reproductive health and rights are a part of the global development agenda,” Serra Sippel, the center’s president, told The Associated Press. She said it follows “huge strides” made under the Obama administration on LGBT issues.

The announcement comes days before more than 150 world leaders gather at the U.N. to launch an ambitious set of development goals, including one of gender equality. One of the agenda’s many targets is to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights by 2030. Continue Reading

The State of LGBT Rights Abroad

The State of LGBT Rights Abroad

The three-month-late State Department release of the 2014 country human rights reports on June 25 passed largely under the radar. We’ll leave aside the obvious question as to why the Department, and Congress, allowed this mandated report to slide so far down the calendar. The substance of the report, after all, deserves note.

As in previous years, the newly released reports document a continued lack of respect for the lives, livelihoods and rights of LGBT people around the world:

  • Laws criminalizing LGBT relations and relationships exist in every corner of the globe, from Kuwait to Singapore and from Turkmenistan to Zambia; anti-discrimination protections exclude LGBT people from the Czech Republic to Egypt and from Pakistan to the Philippines.
  • In countries as wide-ranging as Algeria, the Dominican Republic, Indonesia and Sierra Leone, LGBT populations face barriers to critical health service needs.
  • Media – even including government outlets – have engaged in anti-gay public messaging from Armenia to Angola and from Georgia to Mongolia and Singapore.
  • LGBT organizations have been denied registration in Botswana, Bulgaria, and Afghanistan, and in many more countries it would be unthinkable to attempt to register such an organization.
  • Transgender people lack protections or find it difficult, if not impossible, to change their identity documents in countries ranging from Ecuador to Cyprus, from Tajikistan to Vietnam and even in countries such as Thailand and the Philippines, with increasingly strong and visible transgender rights movements; many more countries require unwanted medical procedures or forced sterilization before a person can access appropriate identity documents, including countries ranging from Belgium to Iran.
  • And, like in our own country, there is ample evidence that LGBT people too often are denied employment, education and housing opportunities or are subjected to inhumane and coercive medical practices and so-called “conversion therapies.”

These cases, of course, are in addition to the well-known and –documented homophobia of countries like Russia, Uganda and much of the Arab world.

The most egregious violations documented in the reports center on bias-motivated crimes and abuse – committed far too often, and with impunity, by government authorities. Many reports describe national police as subjecting LGBT people to arbitrary arrest or extortion, or even of being complicit in LGBT-directed hate violence. In dozens of countries, the reports describe police and other government authorities as having turned a blind eye to LGBT hate crimes, failing either to protect against or to prosecute those crimes.

By commission or omission, these violations challenge the integrity of the governments concerned. But the integrity of our own government’s human rights credentials is also at stake. A country that documents and champions human rights must make clear that LGBT human rights abuse has real consequences to the strength and extent of bilateral relations – something that this Administration has recognized but which has not occurred with the consistency required to have a deterrent effect. Equally important, the U.S. needs to use its bilateral law enforcement tools imaginatively to help partner countries prevent, investigate, and prosecute human rights abuse. In so doing, U.S. support must help change the fundamental mindset of other governments, especially those close U.S. friends and allies who insist on treating their LGBT citizens as criminals undeserving of protection – or, indeed, of the rule of law.

At a White House conference earlier this summer, the Administration showcased some of those international law enforcement tools. An important conclusion from that conference was that “improving access to justice for LGBT persons will require both an overall strengthening of the institutions that safeguard the rule of law, and increased education and training for law enforcement officials on promoting human rights and protecting vulnerable communities, including LGBT communities.”

The U.S. can, and should, take immediate action to impact that conclusion. U.S. Legal Attaches stationed abroad can proactively urge foreign governments to collect and disaggregate data on hate crimes abuse directed against LGBT people, to focus attention toward needed areas. Indeed, the United States is one of the few countries around the world that is trying to collect and disaggregate this data within its own jurisdiction. Justice Department legal advisors can provide host governments with needed expertise on legal reform tools. Overseas police training programs can offer greater attention to international LGBT bias-motivated violence. Inter-agency attention to bias-motivated violence abroad might benefit from enhanced coordinative structures or processes. And the U.S. can more purposefully support LGBT-affirming policies in other countries, and better match foreign assistance to LGBT civil society needs.

In short, the State Department devotes sizeable resources to documenting human rights abuses abroad each year; it needs to more purposefully use that documentation to drive U.S. human rights policy and funding priorities overseas. This is not only a matter of using taxpayer dollars wisely, but of demonstrating our commitment to the fundamental human rights that our country is right to champion.


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