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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.

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.

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.

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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