Posts Tagged 'Human Rights Reports'

A Call on Secretary Pompeo to Respond to Rising Violence and Discrimination Against LGBTI People Globally

Newly confirmed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pledged, in answers to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, that he will “…ensure that human rights, democracy, and the equal treatment of all persons will remain fundamental to U.S. foreign policy.”  We call on Secretary Pompeo to set aside his anti-LGBT record to hold countries accountable for the grave human rights abuses catalogued, once again, in the State Department’s annual Human Rights Reports. 

While the latest round of State Department Human Rights Reports, released on April 20, fail to report adequately on reproductive rights (see the concerns reflected by our members Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch), they reveal an all-too-familiar tableau of societal and government hostility and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people around the globe.

The trends are alarmingly clear: LGBTI violence and discrimination remain on the rise in all geographic regions. 

Let’s look at the facts.

Government Incitement of Hate

Being gay, lesbian or transgender remains a death penalty offense in countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, with reports of executions carried out against two young men by militia in Somalia.  And no fewer than 102 country summaries (28 in Africa, 14 in East Asia and the Pacific, 16 in Europe and Eurasia, 13 in the Near East, 11 in South and Central Asia, and 20 in the Western Hemisphere) in this year’s State Department reports specifically cite violence against LGBTI people or criminalization of same-sex conduct as among the most significant human rights issues pervading those countries.

Many of the reports point to governing authorities as bearing responsibility for the climate of violence and abuse experienced by LGBTI people.  This is particularly the case in Chechnya, a federal republic of Russia, where officials are responsible for roundups and murders of more than 100 individuals suspected of being LGBTI – a genocidal tragedy that some believe may rise to the level of crimes against humanity.  Russian federal authorities have taken no action to stem that violence.

  • But the role of governing officials in encouraging violence against the LGBTI community is not confined to Russia. For example: In Tanzania, a deputy minister tweeted “The war against promotion and normalization of homosexuality in Tanzania is real.” As a result, the report notes that LGBTI persons were afraid to report violence and other crimes, including those committed by state agents.
  • In Azerbaijan, police arrested, beat and tortured 83 LGBTI people; in the Aceh province of Indonesia, two men were publicly caned 83 times for consensual private sex acts.
  • In Nigeria, police arrested approximately 70 individuals, including 13 minors, at a Lagos hotel. At the end of the year, 27 adults and 13 minors were still awaiting trial, and the hotel owner and two staff faced up to ten years in prison for “aiding and abetting homosexual activities” in violation of the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act.
  • In Egypt, Iran, Kenya, Liberia, Paraguay, Romania, South Africa, South Sudan and Tunisia, there were reports of harassment, arrests, detainment, violence, sexual assault or abuse by police or security forces of those suspected of being homosexual or transgender.
  • In Egypt, Uganda and Uzbekistan, increases in harassment and arrests were reported, along with the preposterous and egregious use of forced anal exams to “prove” homosexuality.
  • Brunei amended their secular penal code to increase the minimum punishment for male same-sex behavior to 20-50 years of incarceration.
  • In Tajikistan, government authorities compiled a registry of hundreds of persons in the LGBTI community as part of a purported drive to promote moral behavior and protect vulnerable groups in society.

In these circumstances, it comes as little surprise that country reports note that LGBTI populations fear seeking help from the police in a range of countries, from Armenia to Bosnia-Herzegovina to Sierra Leone.

Government Inaction Also a Problem

But government incitement to violence isn’t the only problem identified in the reports.  This year’s reports make clear that some governments simply don’t fulfill their responsibilities to protect LGBTI citizens, or indeed to ensure that LGBTI citizens are provided justice:

  • The investigation and/or prosecution of violent crimes against LGBTI people is cited as unreliable or insufficient in a wide range of countries, including Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, El Salvador, Greece, South Africa, Ukraine and Iraq. And in Chile, government authorities were reluctant to use new hate crimes laws to charge violent offenders.
  • Lesbians endure the practice of “corrective rape” to “cure” their homosexuality in places such as Democratic Republic of Congo, Kyrgyz Republic and Zimbabwe.
  • In countries such as Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Latvia, Turkey, and in much of Africa, anti-discrimination laws fail to specify sexual orientation or gender identity as classes worthy of protection.
  • There is weak enforcement of existing anti-discrimination laws in a range of countries, including Albania, Bulgaria, Georgia and South Africa.
  • In Sierra Leone, school authorities expelled two female secondary school students for kissing, although they were eventually allowed to return after local groups pressed authorities to reverse the decision.
  • In Ecuador, LGBTI organizations and the government both reported that private centers confined LGBTI persons involuntarily to “cure” or “dehomosexualize” them, using exceptionally cruel methods, including sexual violence.
  • And in Poland, the office charged with monitoring discrimination against the LGBTI community showed little engagement in its areas of responsibility.

Societal Discrimination Remains Unchecked

In these circumstances, it’s no surprise that in many countries, LGBTI people face discrimination that negatively impacts their housing, employment, health care and educational access, and indeed family relations.

  • Reports on Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bolivia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cambodia, Dominican Republic, Ghana, Honduras, Pakistan and Romania make clear that employment in particular is a problem for openly-LGBTI individuals.
  • LGBTI activists in Mozambique, Senegal, Timor Leste and Namibia reported discrimination in access to social services, including educational and public health facilities.
  • In Bolivia, the Bolivian Coalition of LGBTI Collectives reported that 72 percent of transgender individuals abandoned their secondary school studies due to intense discrimination.
  • Religious leaders in Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe are singled out for fueling discrimination and violence.
  • In Saint Lucia, the report notes widespread societal discrimination, recognizing that LGBTI persons face daily verbal harassment.
  • And though many countries forcibly exclude LGBTI citizens from military service, in Armenia and Azerbaijan that exclusion comes at a steep price: it results in documentation noting that the person in question has a mental disorder, clearly a red flag in their ability to obtain future employment.

Transgender Recognition

Many of this year’s reports more fully reference problems impacting transgender communities around the globe – a welcome change in reporting.  Still, the reports make clear a patchwork of national efforts – coupled with a fair amount of confusion —in dealing with transgender issues.  The overall picture remains severely troubling:

  • In countries from Oman to Peru and the Philippines, and many other countries cited throughout the reports, the existence of transgender persons as a group of people is not recognized by law, nor (consequently) are their rights protected, including their right to change national identity documents to recognize their gender identity.
  • In Burma, transgender women reported being frequently charged under so-called shadow and disguise laws, reporting higher levels of police abuse and discrimination than other members of the LGBTI community. In Malaysia, a survey by a local transgender rights group reported more than two-thirds of transgender women experienced some form of physical or emotional abuse.
  • At the other extreme, the report highlights a High Court ruling in Botswana that allows individuals to change their gender upon declaration, and without having to undergo surgery, a best practice that is also singled out for commendation in Argentina, Belgium, Norway and Ukraine.  And in Argentina, the report notes that the law also requires public and private health-care plans to cover some parts of hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgery.
  • Laws and/or standard procedures governing the ability of transgender individuals to change their identity remain vague and incomplete in countries from Russia to Romania. In the latter, there was no right to a preferred gender identity in the absence of sex-reassignment surgery, an invasive requirement that is documented in too many countries to highlight here.
  • In Lithuania, individuals are now permitted to go through gender reassignment procedure, but in the absence of corresponding legislation, civil authorities still refuse to register gender reassignment.
  • Sterilization is still a subject of debate in many countries and is listed throughout the report as a human rights abuse under the term “coercion in population control.” It is not, however, reported under that category as it impacts transgender people around the world. In Slovakia, authorities generally required confirmation that a person had undergone permanent sterilization before issuing new identity documents. While Turkey’s Constitutional Court revoked a Civil Code provision requiring that transgender persons be sterilized prior to the formal gender reassignment, that sterilization requirement remained in force at the end of 2017. In many other reports that claim there is no forced sterilization, the Council for Global Equality notes that while this may be true in respect to many citizens, there is in fact a forced sterilization requirement for transgender citizens in countries ranging from Japan to approximately 20 European countries.
  • In Ukraine, regulations still prevent sexual identity reassignment for married individuals or those with minor children.
  • And in Moldova, as in many other countries, the government flatly disallows persons to change the gender listed on their identity cards or passports.

Some Good News

There was some good news impacting LGBTI communities in a variety of countries:

  • Ukraine’s report assesses that freedom of assembly for LGBTI groups is somewhat greater than in past years.
  • In Morocco and Namibia, questions of sexuality, sexual orientation, and gender identity have been addressed more openly than in the past, and Namibian authorities authorized a Pride parade along the main thoroughfare of the capital for the first time.
  • In Germany, a constitutional court ruled that birth certificates cannot offer only a binary choice of “male” or “female.” And in Canada, the government pledged to review its policy on collecting personally identifiable gender information and further pledged to do so only if there are “legitimate purposes.”
  • The government of the Netherlands increased efforts to counter discrimination against transgender individuals.
  • In Serbia, an openly lesbian woman became the country’s first Prime Minister, and in India, the first transgender person joined the state police force.
  • The Constitutional Court of Colombia ruled that transgender persons faced discrimination and social rejection and recommended measures to increase respect in the classroom.
  • And the report describes a whole-of-government effort by the government of Spain to tackle the issue of LGBTI hate crimes through police training, better reporting, and victim assistance.

And Now – A Call on Secretary Pompeo….

As we read the reports, we can’t help asking how Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will fulfill his leadership duties in responding to this deteriorating human rights landscape.  To wit:

  • This year the State Department specifically calls out public officials in countries from Albania to Tanzania for their homophobic statements. If the statements and actions of foreign government officials constitute an incitement to hate, will Secretary Pompeo condemn them?  And will he apologize for his own past homophobic statements, in order for our condemnations to be credible?
  • Will Secretary Pompeo recognize the rights and concerns of LGBTI Americans who seek to confront foreign officials with these human rights concerns?
  • And can we realistically expect Secretary Pompeo – who, at his confirmation hearing, refused to distance himself from past negative judgments of gay people – to show leadership in advancing LGBTI rights abroad?

These issues weigh heavily as Secretary Pompeo takes up the reins of the State Department. We remain concerned.  But if he stands with us – with all fair-minded Americans – to support human rights for everyone, we, in turn, will stand with him, to advance universal human rights and full inclusion for vulnerable and marginalized minority communities everywhere.

Our Secretary of State must reflect Constitutional principles and America’s call to equality.  We call on Secretary Pompeo to set aside his well-documented prejudices and do just that.

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. Continue reading ‘State Department Reports on Bias-Motivated Violence’

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.

Serious Human Rights Abuses Directed at LGBT Populations in Every Region

2012 Human Rights ReportsThe State Department’s latest country human rights reports, released April 19, confirm the lack of respect that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people face in many areas of the world. However, the reports also point to a range of serious human rights abuses directed at LGBT populations in every region.

The Obama Administration has made a commendable effort to catalog instances and trends of LGBT abuse worldwide. We were pleased that Secretary Kerry specifically lauded the Department’s expanded coverage of LGBT rights in a speech marking the release of this year’s reports.

Of no surprise, hate crimes top the list of violent actions directed against LGBT people in many countries. But even more appalling, are the numerous instances of government officials’ complicity in LGBT abuse. For instance:

  • In Jamaica, prison wardens reportedly were involved in numerous incidents of violence against gay inmates.
  • In Chile, gay prisoners were denied access to hygienic services.
  • In Libya, a government-affiliated brigade arrested, detained, and beat 12 allegedly gay men who were at a private party.
  • A military unit in Moldova beat two gay men while verbally abusing them on grounds of their sexual orientation.
  • Cameroonian police detained three men, and jailed them for a week, because two of the men appeared effeminate; beat them until they confessed to being gay; then sentenced them to five years in prison.
  • In El Salvador, police officers allegedly physically abused a gay teenager, then made a phone call after which three gang members appeared and beat the teenager further.
  • In Kyrgyz Republic, LGBT groups documented 18 cases of police extortion.
  • Zimbabwean police raided the offices of an LGBT support organization; arrested 44 of its members; outed those members to families and employers (with consequences to jobs and family ties); and effectively closed the organization.

Many country reports also offer clear examples in which government authorities failed to fulfill their responsibility to protect the rights of LGBT citizens. As examples:

  • In El Salvador, for instance, police officers are alleged to have verbally and physically abused a 17-year-old gay adolescent, forcing him off a bus and then calling local gang members who beat the victim unconscious.
  • In Namibia, police ridiculed LGBT citizens who reported abuse.
  • When hundreds of demonstrators in Burkina Faso demanded that a gay couple leave their home, police took no protective action.
  • And LGBT citizens in the former Soviet Union faced extreme challenges to their democratic freedoms of speech and assembly: in Ukraine, a gay pride event was canceled after police said they would not protect participants in the face of extremist threats of violence; in Russia, the city of Moscow refused to allow a gay pride march to proceed.

These and other cases of government action and inaction deserve serious protest, and we trust that the State Department has directed our ambassadors to make clear our government’s official concern. Equally important, we hope our embassies in these and other countries are using all other available diplomatic tools to raise the profile of LGBT rights, and are targeting our foreign assistance to respond to the needs of LGBT communities.

The 2012 reports also underscore a clear need for attention to infringements of the rights of transgender people, including cases of extreme violence and targeted killings:

  • In Nicaragua the report highlights the murder of a young transgender woman, whose body was found with signs of sexual assault.
  • Transgender individuals in Indonesia are routinely abused, detained, and forced to pay bribes by local authorities.
  • Japanese authorities refused to list a married transgender man’s two-year-old son, who was conceived by artificial insemination, as a legitimate child.
  • In Malaysia, transgender Muslim citizens were fined under Sharia law for dressing and posing as women.
  • In Uganda, a local news station aired a video of police taunting a transgender individual by forcing the individual to undress in front of jeering onlookers.
  • In the United Arab Emirates, a transgender sex worker was beaten, tortured, and raped repeatedly while in prison.

Unfortunately these cases are not unique. The reports bear witness to similar violations and indignities against transgender individuals in every region of the world. We hope that all embassies will examine more carefully the situation of transgender people in their host countries, with a view to raising awareness with government officials well in advance of next year’s reports.

Some of this year’s reports also indicate emerging areas of human rights concern:

  • “Reparative Therapy”: The United Arab Emirates government forced some caught in consensual same-sex activity to undergo psychological treatment and counseling, while the Chinese government and some school districts promoted “reparative therapy” to avoid having LGBT children.
  • Internet and Religious Freedom: LGBT religious groups in South Korea saw their internet forum taken down, and Korea’s National Human Rights Commission refused to rectify this infringement of religious freedom.

We urge the Administration to take suitable steps to address these new efforts at intolerance, which we know are spreading to other countries and regions.

We are not raising these country-specific examples from the reports because they are in any way unique. To the contrary, these specific instances are highlighted here because we know them to be extremely typical of violations we have seen replicated the world over. Our hope, however, is that the human rights reports will cast an uncommon light – and appropriate shame – on these common violations.

Finally, despite all of these concerns, we are encouraged by a number of positive signs that some governments are beginning to address inequalities in how LGBT people are treated. For instance:

  • Colombian authorities created a national public policy framework for LGBT rights, along with a working group aimed at identifying problems of LGBT abuse and exclusion that call for community solutions.
  • The Cypriot Ministry of Education allowed an anti-homophobia training program to be carried out for teachers, the first-ever LGBT awareness training allowed in that country’s schools.
  • In Bangladesh, two government ministries led a pilot job training project for transgender citizens, instituted an awareness program to alter negative views of transgender people, and established a foundation through which the program can continue.
  • Montenegro passed legislation to provide government funds for gender reassignment surgery.
  • An Algerian gay rights group has been allowed to advertise advocacy and support efforts for the Algerian LGBT community through a website and Facebook account.
  • Increased media freedom in Tunisia has increased the flow of LGBT-related information to members of the LGBT community.
  • Kenyan LGBT advocacy organizations noted that homophobic hate speech had declined due to improved enforcement of hate speech laws and better media self-regulation.
  • And Poland’s legislature now includes both openly gay and transgender members – a political process breakthrough that portends greater awareness of the rights of LGBT citizens in that country.

We applaud these instances of leadership in efforts to promote fully inclusive societies. They both echo and amplify the growing appreciation in our own country that LGBT citizens deserve nothing more, or less, than full dignity and equal treatment under the law.

Download the full compendium of sexual orientation and gender identity references in the report here.

Listen to joint briefing by the White House and State Department on the annual Human Rights Report

Listen to a joint briefing by the White House and State Department on the annual Human Rights Report here.  (duration 58:21—Please note it will take a moment for playback to begin)

The State Department released its annual human rights report on May 24 this year.  (Copies are available on www.humanrights.gov.)  The Congressionally mandated report chronicles human rights conditions in every country, and it now includes a section on “Societal Abuses, Discrimination, and Acts of Violence Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.” Following the release of the report, the Council organized this briefing to discuss human rights trends impacting LGBT communities abroad.  The briefing featured Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Dan Baer and White House National Security Council Director for Human Rights and Gender, Liz Drew, who discussed the trends and highlighted the steps the Administration is taking to respond.  Listen here.

We also invite you to visit our website www.globalequality.org, where you will find information on LGBT reporting in the Human Rights Reports over the past few years.  You can also download our new NGO Guide, Accessing U.S. Embassies: A Guide for LGBT Human Rights Defenders, which  highlights the various diplomatic tools that U.S. embassies use to advance a range of human rights and development objectives for LGBT communities abroad.

Related: A Widespread Pattern of Abuses Against LGBT People Worldwide Featured Again in 2011 Human Rights Report to Congress

Human Rights Reports 2011, Congressional Briefing

(L) Amb. Michael Guest (ret.), Senior Advisor, The Council for Global Equality (R) Dr. Daniel Baer, Deputy Assistant Secretary, U.S. State Department

The Council for Global Equality on Friday participated in a Congressional briefing hosted by the LGBT Equality Caucus to mark the release of the U.S. State Department’s annual Human Rights Report. The briefing was moderated by the Council’s Senior Advisor, Amb. Michael Guest (ret.), with Dr. Daniel Baer, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, highlighting trends in the LGBT human rights records of the 194 countries reviewed in this year’s report.  Members of the international human rights advocacy community and Congressional staff attended the briefing.

Read a compendium of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) references in the report.

Click here to view video (also in Spanish) from the U.S. State Department marking the release of the reports.
Click here to read a story by the Washington Blade on the release of the reports.


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