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Investigation and Legislation

Capitol Hill ImageLike many, we were struck by the false alternative given in President Trump’s “State of the Union” address between legislation and investigation.  Surely the Congress has the constitutional responsibility to do both, and surely both are needed in our system of government.

But on human rights, we offer this spin:  Congress should investigate the Administration’s arm’s-length stance from our country’s traditional embrace of human rights and the rule of law as core elements of our foreign policy.  That investigation may inform the need for new human rights legislation to follow.

Last week, the Council wrote to the President with our concerns about Russia’s failure to investigate and hold accountable Chechen leaders responsible for the unlawful round-ups, detentions, and murders of LGBT Chechen citizens.  (Read our letter here.)  These reprehensible actions – occurring as they did barely a week after a report by a human rights expert, commissioned by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), into responsibility for this latest round of anti-LGBT repression – are hardly an accident.  Nor is Russia’s cold-shouldered response to this tragedy.

But we are concerned at how little the Administration appears to have done in response to this recurrent tragedy.  the brutality being carried out in Chechnya deserves more than a tepid, three-day-late statement by a Deputy Spokesperson at the State Department, distributed in writing in the Department’s briefing room.  It needs to be raised – with outrage, by the way – in bilateral dialogue between our senior-most leaders.  It deserves a concerted interagency response, one that evidences how a lack of accountability may imperil bilateral science, exchange, and business relations that Russia reputedly wants to preserve.  And it requires, too, a strong and clear public response by the President.

Congressional hearings, in both houses, should examine this matter.  They should examine, too, other questions that have been raised regarding our government’s attachment to human rights.  What are we doing in response to the gruesome murder in Turkey of a U.S.-based journalist – a crime that our country’s own intelligence community lays at the door of Saudi Arabia?  Why has the President embraced so many dictators – Putin, el-Sisi, Erdogan, Duterte – who are violating human rights in their own countries, with impunity?  What practical impact do our annual human rights reports have on U.S. bilateral policies and programs?  And which of these tools and programs can be put in play to encourage reform?

Americans are taught in school the value of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  Political leaders – including in the White House – regularly affirm these values.  We have every right to know why this Administration has done so little in that vein.

So let’s have that investigation.  Let’s have hearings in each house of Congress, and invite the White House to offer its best evidence that human rights remain at the core of our foreign policy.  We’re not seeing it.  It’s time to ask why.

Congress Introduces GLOBE Act

Capitol Hill Image#GLOBEAct December 13, 2018 — Today’s introduction of the “Greater Leadership Overseas for the Benefit of Equality (GLOBE) Act” by House Representative Dina Titus (D-NV) represents a high-water mark in Congress’s awareness of, and commitment to, advancing and protecting LGBTI human rights.  Read the press release here.

Titus’ bill sets a high bar for what U.S. leadership can and should do to advance LGBTI human rights and to include those populations within our country’s strategic development goals.  This is more than appropriate, given the strong role the U.S. traditionally has played in advancing human rights, a role that includes advocacy for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 70th anniversary of which was celebrated earlier this week.

That leadership has been sorely absent in recent years.  President Trump’s embrace of dictators, from Russian President Putin to Egyptian President Sisi, is far removed from traditional U.S. efforts to support resilient and fair democratic development as a long-term strategic priority.  His treatment of immigrant and refugee communities, and his shoulder-to-shoulder stance beside those responsible for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, have shocked the world.  And his development and gender policies have short-changed the needs of marginalized communities around the world.

The new bill would correct this imbalance with regard to one of those communities, that of LGBTI people – documented in many State Department country human rights reports as among society’s most disadvantaged populations.  It would strengthen our country’s attention to bias-motivated violence directed against LGBTI populations; encourage sanctions against those deemed responsible for human rights abuse; support decriminalization for LGBTI communities; and codify assistance tools and health program availability for those communities.  Importantly, it also would simplify and speed the accommodation of LGBTI refugees; encourage leadership on LGBTI equality issues in multilateral organizations; and better support the families of U.S. LGBTI diplomatic, consular and technical staff in their assignments to advance American interests abroad.

In all of these respects, the GLOBE Act offers a full-throated embrace of democratic and human rights values.  The Council for Global Equality is proud to be among the many endorsers of this legislation.  We urge its speedy re-introduction and passage in the next Congress.

Read the full text and an outline of the bill. 

McCain & Cardin Urge President Trump To Recommit To Upholding Human Rights

Sen. John McCain and Sen. Ben CardinPress Statement from Sen. John McCain and Sen. Ben Cardin

Washington, D.C. ­– U.S. Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Ben Cardin (D-MD), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, sent a letter to President Trump today as the world marks the 69th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Human Rights Day this Sunday, December 10th. In their letter, the senators expressed concern about the Trump administration’s failure to strongly assert the United States’ commitment to human rights at home and abroad, and urged the President to recommit the nation to these fundamental values as we mark this important occasion.

“Since its ratification nearly 70 years ago, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been a beacon of hope for the world’s most oppressed peoples. The declaration serves as the basis of our country’s human rights policy and the United States has continued to rely on its legal significance and international standing to advance human rights across the globe. However, for much of the past year, our national voice on international human rights issues has been largely silent,” the senators wrote.

They continued: “This was strikingly apparent during your recent trip to Asia, where our delegation failed to raise major human rights concerns or name dissidents who languish in dark prisons across the region for no other reason than their brave defense of democracy and human rights. The Administration’s silence combined with confusing statements from Secretary Tillerson, who has suggested that our country’s fundamental values can be separated from the foreign policies we pursue, sows confusion both at home and abroad. At this time of increasing uncertainty and growing security challenges, it is imperative that we reassert the United States’ commitment to our human rights obligations, and ask other countries to join us in reaffirming the centrality of human rights as the cornerstone of peace and security.”

 

The letter is below and here.

December 8, 2017

President Donald J. Trump
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20500

Mr. President:

The world will mark the 69th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Human Rights Day this December 10. On this momentous occasion, we write to ask that you recommit our country to upholding human rights as one of our founding principles, and respectfully call on other countries to do the same.

Since its ratification nearly 70 years ago, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been a beacon of hope for the world’s most oppressed peoples. The declaration serves as the basis of our country’s human rights policy and the United States has continued to rely on its legal significance and international standing to advance human rights across the globe. However, for much of the past year, our national voice on international human rights issues has been largely silent.

This was strikingly apparent during your recent trip to Asia, where our delegation failed to raise major human rights concerns or name dissidents who languish in dark prisons across the region for no other reason than their brave defense of democracy and human rights. The Administration’s silence combined with confusing statements from Secretary Tillerson, who has suggested that our country’s fundamental values can be separated from the foreign policies we pursue, sows confusion both at home and abroad. At this time of increasing uncertainty and growing security challenges, it is imperative that we reassert the United States’ commitment to our human rights obligations, and ask other countries to join us in reaffirming the centrality of human rights as the cornerstone of peace and security.

Sadly, disregard for fundamental freedoms and human dignity has too often become the norm. Iran, Turkey, Russia, Egypt, and Venezuela currently hold scores of political prisoners, torturing them and trampling on their fundamental freedoms. Sri Lanka, Burma, and China continue to repress their religious and ethnic minorities. Security forces in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo have unlawfully detained and tortured civilians. The Philippines has reported an unprecedented number of extrajudicial killings by police. LGBT individuals are deprived of their basic human rights in dozens of countries. Worse still, at this time of growing human rights abuses, human rights organizations are being shut down at an alarming rate by countless repressive governments around the world.

These are only a few of the many instances in which America’s voice cannot remain silent. Protecting human rights at home and abroad is important not only to our national character, but also to our security interests as countries that respect their citizens are less likely to breed terrorism and are better able to focus on political and developmental problems that otherwise undermine stability. Governments who respect human rights also serve as more capable and reliable partners when facing common security threats, and they help provide business climates in which bilateral trade and investment interests grow.

As President, we need your voice in strongly asserting our country’s respect for human rights at home and abroad. We ask that you use the upcoming anniversary of the Universal Declaration to reaffirm that no government can be legitimate if it abuses the people it is meant to serve – and that this rule is universal, without exception.

Sincerely,

John McCain

Benjamin L. Cardin

###

Funding Opportunity: Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Request for Statements of Interest: Promotion and Protection of the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons

The Global Equality Fund (GEF), managed by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) announces a Request for Statements of Interest (SOIs) from civil society to promote and protect the human rights of LGBTI persons. LGBTI persons face violence and discrimination in all regions. Violence targeting any vulnerable group undermines collective security. This request is seeking creative and new ideas to address violence and discrimination targeting LGBTI persons, which undermine society’s collective security, and programs that provide LGBTI communities with the tools to prevent, mitigate and recover from violence.

The GEF supports civil society organizations working to protect and advance the human rights of LGBTI persons globally. Partners of the Global Equality Fund include the governments of Argentina, Australia, Chile, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Uruguay, as well as the Arcus Foundation, the John D. Evans Foundation, FRI: the Norwegian Organization for Sexual and Gender Diversity, the M•A•C AIDS Fund, Deloitte LLP, the Royal Bank of Canada, Hilton Worldwide, Bloomberg LP, Human Rights Campaign, Out Leadership, and USAID.

Programs supported by the GEF are part of DRL’s overall marginalized populations program, which aims to support the human rights of persons with disabilities, racial and ethnic minorities, women and girls, LGBTI persons and other marginalized groups.

PLEASE NOTEDRL strongly encourages applicants to immediately access www.grantsolutions.gov or www.grants.gov in order to obtain a username and password. GrantSolutions.gov is highly recommended for all submissions and is DRL’s preferred system for receiving applications. To register with GrantSolutions.gov for the first time, Please refer to the Proposal Submission Instructions for Statements of Interest at: http://www.state.gov/j/drl/p/c12302.htm.

The submission of a SOI is the first step in a two-part process. Applicants must first submit a SOI, which is a concise, 3-page concept note designed to clearly communicate a program idea and its objectives before the development of a full proposal application. The purpose of the SOI process is to allow applicants the opportunity to submit program ideas for DRL to evaluate prior to requiring the development of full proposal applications. Upon review of eligible SOIs, DRL will invite selected applicants to expand their ideas into full proposal applications.

CLICK FOR MORE INFORMATION ON HOW TO APPLY

Council for Global Equality Releases Human Rights Rebuke in Advance of Trump-Putin Meeting this Week

Leading human rights and LGBT organizations in the Council for Global Equality wrote to Secretary Tillerson to express outrage at the Administration’s continued denigration of the value that the United States traditionally has placed on human and democratic rights in the conduct of U.S. diplomacy.  The letter expresses particular shock at Secretary Tillerson’s failure to raise bipartisan U.S. concerns over the ongoing kidnappings, torture and murders of those suspected of being gay, lesbian or bisexual in Chechnya.

The letter notes that neither President Trump nor Secretary Tillerson has spoken out against specific human rights infringements.  To the contrary, the Administration’s embrace of a range of dictators, from Russian President Putin to Egyptian President Sissi, sends a signal that is out of keeping with America’s character and interests.

The signatories call on the Administration to raise immediately, and with overdue stress, the need for Russia to investigate atrocities in Chechnya during a meeting with President Putin this week.  President Trump must demonstrate, in his statements and policies, that the values we express as a nation are core not only to our identity but to what we aspire to achieve in the world.

Ros-Lehtinen, Engel, Issa, Cicilline, Royce, and Smith Introduce Bipartisan Resolution on Violence in Chechnya

United States CongressMay 23, 2017

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, made the following statement after introducing bipartisan resolution, H. Res. 351, condemning the violence and persecution in Chechnya. Joining Ros-Lehtinen in introducing this resolution were U.S. Reps. Eliot L. Engel (D-NY), Darrell Issa (R-CA), David Cicilline (D-RI), Ed Royce (R-CA), and Chris Smith (R-NJ).

Click to read the full resolution

Statement by Rep. Ros-Lehtinen: “For over a month, hundreds of gay or perceived to be gay Chechens have been arrested, many have been tortured, and some even killed. This bipartisan resolution sends a clear message to Chechnya and Russia authorities and any oppressor that the U.S. will not stand idly while these human rights atrocities are being committed. The U.S. government needs to continue to speak up to help those who are being indiscriminately targeted, and we must pressure Russia to uphold its international commitment to prevent any further abuses from happening while perpetrators are brought to justice.”   

Statement by Rep. Engel: “We’ve heard chilling reports of authorities in Chechnya detaining, torturing, and even killing men from the LGBT community over the last several weeks. We are witnessing the unfolding of a horrific tragedy and it’s long past time that the Kremlin start protecting its own citizens—all of them—regardless of sexual orientation. That’s why I introduced this bipartisan resolution with my colleagues—to send a clear signal that Republicans and Democrats alike call on President Putin to respect and promote the dignity of all persons and provide safe haven for all those fleeing such horrific persecution.”

Governments and Human Rights

Governments and Human RightsThe 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.

Moving the needle on respect for LGBT people is a process, of course. Governments must play a role in that process – in molding attitudes, not just reflecting them, and in forming policies that promote and reinforce cross-society acceptance and cooperation. We believe all governments – ours yes, but also those of every other country, friend and foe alike – should be held accountable for:

  • The tone that governing officials’ homo- or trans-phobic public rhetoric sets within society;
  • Failure to redress legally sanctioned discrimination or bias-motivated crimes against LGBT individuals;
  • The degree to which LGBT individuals are accorded equal access to services and opportunities, including health care, employment, education, and housing;
  • Whether LGBT civil society organizations are able to register and function unimpaired;
  • The prevalence of transgender-specific violence, abuse, and documentation issues, particularly in cases involving government action or inaction.
  • Abuse of government and police powers, e.g. the use of tangential laws regarding loitering to arrest or detain LGBT individuals arbitrarily; the use of foreign agent or tax laws to place disproportionate restrictions on LGBT civil society; physical abuses by police, prison, and hospital officials; and bribery solicited by such officials in order either to provide services or to avoid abusive treatment; and
  • The media climate in which LGBT rights are explained to and understood by the public, particularly when government-sponsored or –influenced media outlets are involved.

In addition, we should work with countries to understand intersex issues as a related set of human rights concerns. In this context, governments must be held accountable for policies or practices that unnecessarily and adversely impact the childhood development and adult health and sexuality of intersex persons. Appropriate government officials, including our own, must also enter into a new dialogue with intersex persons to identify best practices in the diagnosis, treatment and lifelong support for intersex health.

We know that the U.S. does not run the world by fiat. But we also recognize our responsibility, as citizens of a country that wields outsized influence in the world, to ensure this influence is put to positive use. We therefore hold our government accountable for encouraging foreign counterparts to guarantee the conditions in which the promise of the Universal Declaration can be realized for all citizens.

If fault is to be found in U.S. human rights policy, it certainly isn’t in our country’s attention to LGBT human rights, as the December 20 New York Times article alleges. Nor is it in failing to listen to the voices of local activists, as the Times article also suggests has been the case: to the contrary, we’ve found this Administration very much attuned to those local voices in framing its diplomatic dialogue and actions.

The fault we find, rather, is in this Administration’s lack of consistency in showing that human rights matter – and that deliberate abuse of those rights damages the fabric of our bilateral relationships.

Across this Administration’s tenure, the Council has urged that actions by foreign governments that abridge the human rights of any minority group automatically trigger a measured review of how those actions might impact U.S. programs in-country and, of consequence, potential U.S. policy responses.

We know, of course, that U.S. policy goals in any given country sometimes compete against each other. But if support for human rights is a principle, neither it nor its deterrent value should be shunted aside when inconvenient – not even when Nigerian oil contracts, Pacific trade deals, or terrorism concerns are in play.

We also see an urgent need for greater Administration transparency in the funding it provides for LGBT and other human rights programs, and in how those programs are evaluated. The State Department and USAID are embarrassingly far apart in how they measure their LGBT-related programming dollars – no doubt a contributing factor to the highly inflated, erroneous figure of $700 million reported in the New York Times. And unfortunately the World Bank and other multilateral development funders have yet to institute mechanisms needed to include LGBT minorities – who are so often denied basic livelihoods and excluded from the economic life of their own country – in the development opportunities that Bank programs are intended to promote.

Common counting practices, clear programmatic goals, and honestly reflective measurements of program results are basic to good governance.


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