Posts Tagged 'Human Rights Watch'

To consolidate an Obama legacy, entrench support for global LGBT rights

White HouseRepost from The Hill by Raymond Smith

With attention increasingly turning to the legacy of the Obama administration, one area of civil rights seems sure to be viewed as a breakthrough success: the recognition and advancement of equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. And while this legacy is already on solid footing on the domestic front, many opportunities still exist to entrench support for LGBT rights globally.

In 2008, Obama ran as a “fierce ally” of the LGBT community, yet many were unimpressed by the early months of his administration. In 2009, the LGBT magazine The Advocate ran a parody of his iconic “Hope” poster with the caption “Nope?” Shortly before the 2012 election, however, the same magazine ran a cover with his face superimposed on the grand seated statue in the Lincoln Memorial.

What changed so drastically over time? The evolution of the administration began with a host of incremental steps, such as ensuring hospital visitation rights to same-sex partners and lifting the ban on entry to the U.S. to people with HIV. Over time, Obama led the successful repeal of the ban on “gays in the military” and ensured the enactment of an LGBT-inclusive hate crimes bill. Using the bully pulpit, he filmed a segment for the “It Gets Better” campaign in support of LGBT teens, and in his second inaugural address, he cited the landmark Stonewall Riots of 1969 alongside Seneca Falls and Selma as turning points in civil rights history.

Perhaps most of all, Obama personally endorsed same-sex marriage and his administration refused to defend the unconstitutional Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Since the Supreme Court overturned DOMA in 2013, the administration has been diligent and proactive in extending the full range of marriage equality rights with regard to immigration, access to federal programs, taxation and more. At the same time, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act this year has begun to be interpreted, for the first time, to confer federal anti-discrimination protections on transgender people.

Much less noticed has been an equally impressive parallel track taken with regard to promotion of LGBT rights around the world. Three years ago this week, in December 2011, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a speech emphasizing that “gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.” The phrasing echoed her famous speech as first lady on women’s rights, given in Beijing 15 years prior, which signaled the inclusion of gender equality as a central focus of U.S. foreign policy.

Concurrently, Obama issued a “Presidential Memorandum on International Initiatives to Advance the Human Rights of LGBT Persons.” Unlike on the more scattered and improvised domestic-policy side, this one landmark document has served as a coherent strategic blueprint for action by the federal government.

The memorandum contains several major elements, including combating anti-LGBT criminalization abroad, protecting LGBT refugees and asylum seekers, responding to anti-LGBT human rights abuses internationally, providing targeted foreign assistance and engaging international organizations to secure LGBT rights. In all of these areas, the State Department has outlined a range of accomplishments.

For example, a Global Equality Fund has been established to bridge government, companies and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to provide emergency and long-term assistance. The fund promotes LGBT rights through a small grants program, an emergency protection rapid response mechanism, and long-term capacity-building efforts for human rights organizations overseas. Protections for asylum seekers has also been expanded; in one notable case, a Ugandan LGBT rights activist was recently provided asylum rather than being forced to return to a potentially fatal environment in his home country.

Likewise, embassies around the world have begun proactively engaging with governments and human rights organizations. And at the United Nations, the U.S. is a charter member of the LGBT Core Group, which in September issued a ministerial declaration on “Ending Violence and Discrimination against Individuals Based on Their Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.”

Despite these crucial steps, much more work remains to be done. “The U.S. blueprint for action can be a powerful force, but only if its approach is consistent and guided by the understanding that all rights are indivisible and universal,” said Jessica Stern, executive director of the New York-based International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.

“Achieving change will demand focused attention. One crucial step forward would be the immediate creation of a Special Envoy for LGBT Rights at the State Department,” Stern noted. Such an envoy would act as a high-level advocate for LGBT concerns, working within the State Department, bilaterally with other countries and through multilateral organizations. The position of special envoy is the focus of bill introduced last summer by Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.).

Likewise, the Council for Global Equality, a Washington-based NGO with the goal of advancing an American foreign policy inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity, “has identified a series of actionable next steps that could advance the Administration’s commitment by moving the government from a reactive posture to a longer-term human rights protection agenda,” according to the council Chair Mark Bromley. These objectives, added Bromley, “are designed to harmonize the Administration’s commitments into a coherent human rights policy — and an enduring legacy of President Obama.”

In addition to creation of the special envoy position, other priority areas include:

  • Requiring automatic policy reviews whenever foreign countries enact new anti-LGBT policies. The review could be triggered by legislation, changes in enforcement patterns or failure to protect LGBT populations. Such a thorough review was conducted after the passage of a particularly repressive anti-gay law in Uganda last year, but it’s unclear that comparable reviews have been undertaken in the case of similar laws enacted in Nigeria and, most recently, Gambia.
  • Mandating that government contractors and grantees globally have LGBT non-discrimination policies as pre-conditions for contracts or assistance. Such a move would parallel an executive order issued last summer banning anti-LGBT discrimination policies among government contracts within the U.S. for domestic contactors.
  • Strengthening policies to protect LGBT rights in multilateral organizations such as the U.N., the World Health Organization, the World Bank, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the Organization of American States. The U.S. should also advocate for adequate funding and staffing for such policies to be enforced and monitored.
  • Establishing annual reports and other mechanisms to make information more widely available about federal effort in the realm of global LGBT rights, and also holding more extensive consultations with a range of stakeholders about how best to implement the memorandum.

Whatever further steps the Obama administration takes, some critics will inevitably dismiss the relevance of LGBT rights, or consider LGBT rights a marginal issue when it comes to the forging of a presidential legacy that will stand the test of time.

But such voices have been proven wrong before. They’re the same ones that in the 1960s saw no need for the Civil Rights Act, in the 1970s resisted signing the Helsinki human rights accords, in the 1980s rejected sanctions against apartheid South Africa, in the 1990s mocked steps to advance a global women’s rights agenda and in the 2000s endorsed human rights abuses in the name of fighting terrorism.

Yet, today, each of these incidents is recalled as a badge of honor — or a mark of shame — for the president who presided over them. So, too, will today’s struggle for LGBT rights, both at home and abroad, be recalled as a substantive and productive element of the Obama legacy.

 

Smith is a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute; an adjunct assistant professor of political science at Columbia University and New York University; and author of Importing Democracy: Ideas from Around the World to Reform and Revitalize American Politics and Government.

 

LGBTI Rights Around the World: A Work in Progress

kyleknight-photoRepost: IRIN Humanitarian News

BANGKOK (IRIN) — In recent years, the world has seen enormous human rights gains with respect to sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. However, there have also been substantial setbacks — ranging from discriminatory legislation, to impunity for brutal violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people.

Charles Radcliffe, chief of the Global Issues Section at the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), noted: “Supporting LGBT rights work around the world is about recognizing that hostilities toward LGBT people are deeply ingrained in societies and that changing those mindsets and protecting these people is the duty of governments.”

Same-sex marriage is now legal in 17 countries and parts of two others; a handful of countries legally recognize gender based on self-identification alone, with Argentinaand Nepal leading the way and Denmark recently joining their ranks. A 2014 Indian Supreme Court judgment in favour of transgender rights showed what one legal scholar, gesturing to Nepali and Pakistani court cases, called “the possibility of developing a unique South Asian jurisprudence on transgender rights.” Continue Reading

Gambia: President Should Reject Homophobic Law

President Yahya Jammeh of GambiaRepost from Human Rights Watch

(Dakar) – President Yahya Jammeh of Gambia should not sign a new Criminal Code amendment that would increase the punishment for “aggravated homosexuality” to life in prison, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said today. The measure would further add to the climate of fear for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people in Gambia.

Several provisions of the law violate international human rights law and amount to persecution on the basis of real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Sections of the law are similar to the harsh homophobic legislation that was annulled in August 2014 in Uganda.

“President Jammeh should not approve this profoundly damaging act that violates international human rights law,” said Stephen Cockburn, deputy regional Director for West and Central Africa director at Amnesty International. “Gambia’s National Assembly and the President should not endorse state-sponsored homophobia.” Continue Reading

International Law and the Uncertainty of Rights for LGBT People

Human Rights WatchRepost from Human Rights Watch
Written by Graeme Reid

For lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT)people the law is a paradox. The law can operate as an instrument of repression and control, but also as a tool for resistance and liberation. We find fragments of our collective histories in court records. Here we find a sorry history of people in countries across the world convicted of loitering, sodomy, cross-dressing or so-called “crimes against nature.”

For a vulnerable minority, and an unpopular one, domestic and international law has proven to be an indispensable tool, sometimes the only tool, for LGBT people to claim a space in the world. Two decades ago in a 1994 case, the UN Human Rights Committee in Toonen v. Australia asserted the right to privacy for same-sex consenting adults under international law. In 1998, South African courts repealed the Immorality Act and five years later, in 2003, Lawrence v. Texas saw the remaining sodomy laws in the US declared unconstitutional.

Yet some 76 countries around the world maintain discriminatory LGBT laws. Britain exported its sodomy laws to the empire, where many remain in force. These laws not only hold the threat of arrest and prosecution, but have other profound implications for LGBT people as well. Even in the many countries where sodomy laws are seldom enforced, such as India and Uganda, they still symbolize national discrimination against LGBT people.

Human Rights Watch has reported these laws are routinely used for blackmail and extortion, in settings as diverse as KyrgyzstanJamaica and Uganda. Such laws contribute to a climate of prejudice and hostility in which violence occurs with impunity. The passage of the anti-propaganda laws in Russia led to a peak in violence against LGBT people. In Nigeria, the immediate effect following the enactment of draconian legislation was mob violence against gay men. The law in these places means that LGBT people must live a shadow existence under the threat of violence. Continue Reading

Cameroon: Rights Abuses in ‘Homosexuality’ Prosecutions


Human Rights Watch has released a 55 page report titled “Guilty by Association: Human Rights Violations in the Enforcement of Cameroon’s Anti-Homosexuality Law,” which documents 10 case studies of arrests and prosecutions under article 347 bis of Cameroon’s penal code, which punishes “sexual relations between persons of the same sex” with up to five years in prison. The report finds that most cases are prosecuted with little or no evidence.

Visit Human Rights Watch to download the report as well as to read a summary of the report.

Ambassador Robert P. Jackson, U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Cameroon released this statement to the Cameroonian press as a response to the report.

We commend Cameroon for its ongoing efforts to enhance socio-economic development and modernize its economy, as outlined in the Vision 2035 strategy.  We consider these goals to be fully achievable and well within Cameroon’s reach.  Just as achieving these goals will be a national accomplishment, undertaking them must be a national effort, involving the full participation of every Cameroonian.  It follows that in order for every citizen to make a meaningful contribution, he or she should enjoy the full measure of his or her fundamental freedoms, as guaranteed in the universal Declaration of Human Rights.

As we approach the International Day Against Homophobia (“IDAHO”), we would like to underscore that human rights pertain to all persons, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, or other differences, including sexual preferences.  Under no circumstances in this day and age should hate crimes, violence, or discrimination be socially acceptable or legally permissible.  Imprisoning people on the basis of unproven accusations or text messages violates the freedoms guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  A pluralistic society can only thrive when each member acknowledges and respects the diversity within it. Incidents of torture and physical abuse, as documented by Human Rights Watch, are a sobering reminder of the work that remains to be done if we are to achieve, in practice, what we so often propose, in theory:  “On Est Ensemble.”

‘Traditional Values’ code for human rights abuse?

Repost from CNN.com by Graeme Reid, Human Rights Watch

The U.N. Human Rights Council recently passed a resolution on “traditional values of humankind” as a vehicle for “promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms.” It sounds innocuous, but its implications are ominous. Indeed, it is an immediate threat to the rights of many vulnerable groups – including women and lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) people. And it flies in the face of the founding principles of universality and indivisibility enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

This is the third Russian-sponsored traditional values resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council. The second, in 2011, called for a study, and the resulting draft study is highly critical of “traditional values” as a framework, criticizing the concept as “vague, subjective and unclear.” The third, though, adopted on September 27, affirms traditional values as a valid framework for human rights.

Underpinning this is an argument that homosexuality is a moral issue and not a rights issue at all. A pernicious development is the recent proliferation of laws in Eastern Europe and Central Asia that seek to curtain freedom of speech by clamping down on “homosexual propaganda” under the pretext of “protecting children.” These laws are vaguely defined and have the effect of outlawing any supportive messages or activism around LGBT issues. Continue Reading

Serbia: Revoke Ban on Belgrade Pride Parade

Repost from Human Rights Watch

(Berlin) – Serbia’s ban on the Belgrade Pride Parade, scheduled for October 6, 2012, violates the country’s international legal obligations and should be immediately repealed. On October 3, the Interior Ministry announced that based on an assessment of security risks, it was blocking the peaceful demonstration and all other public gatherings on the same date.

“The government of Serbia should protect the freedom of assembly and expression of the Serbian lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community and their straight allies instead of forbidding them to assemble and march on the streets of Belgrade,” said Boris Dittrich, LGBT rights advocacy director. “Pointing to security risks without any visible effort to come up with a reasonable plan to make the Belgrade Pride Parade happen is succumbing to threats of violence. Basic human rights are being thrown overboard.” Continue Reading


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