Posts Tagged 'Senate'

Homophobia is Defeated but Not Yet Deterred: Next Steps in the Struggle for Equality in Uganda and Beyond

Reports from Uganda this week suggest that the notorious “Anti-Homosexuality” bill, which has been pending in the country’s parliament since last year, may finally be quashed.  The head of a special committee that was set up by the President to investigate the proposal announced the committee’s recommendation that the bill should be withdrawn from parliament.  This is welcome news, even if many human rights activists are justifiably concerned that the bill could be revived at a later date, when the rest of the world is not paying as close attention.  But for now, following an unprecedented campaign of condemnation that was led at every step by Uganda’s own civil society movement and amplified by governments and civil society leaders the world over, it looks like this sad effort is finally about to tossed on the junk heap of intolerance, where it belongs.

The “kill the gays bill,” as it came to be known in many circles, represented one of the most pernicious assaults on LGBT rights in any country anywhere, with provisions that would have instated the death penalty as punishment for same-sex relationships, while requiring every Ugandan to turn suspected homosexuals over to the authorities.  It was breathtaking in its unrelenting intolerance.  But even if the reports are true and the President of Uganda has decided that the bill’s popularity is outweighed by its potential cost to Uganda’s reputation and foreign aid, the bill’s proponents show no sign of giving up.  To the contrary, they remain committed to an agenda of hate, and they are still being encouraged in that campaign by religious bigots from the United States.  Earlier this month, U.S. evangelist and anti-gay crusader Lou Engel was in Uganda encouraging the bill’s passage.  He called Uganda “ground zero” in the global crusade against civil liberties for LGBT individuals.  And so it is.  But while the dust has yet to settle over that distant ground, it appears that homophobia and transphobia have been temporarily defeated, even if the proponents of intolerance have hardly been deterred.

This is an important time to take stock of where we are, and where we need to go.  Even with the defeat of the kill the gays bill, homosexual conduct still remains criminalized in Uganda.  The existence of the law continues to provide cover—and encouragement—to the police and the public, often even to family members, to harass, extort and commit violence against the country’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens.  That intolerance is amplified in the media, and it seems to be spreading to other regions of Africa, with the help of religious bigots from various faith traditions.  The human rights landscape is bleak, but the struggle continues and the human rights community is more united than ever.

There is more good news to be found in the campaign itself.  The campaign against the bill was waged and won by Ugandans for Ugandans.  They requested and directed outside pressure, but they were very much in charge of the timing and tactics of the international campaign against the bill. Indeed, there is an impressive coalition website in Uganda,, to help coordinate the struggle against the bill and the larger movement for LGBT equality in the country.  Moreover, after responding so forcefully to the request for international solidarity, the Obama Administration and leaders from both political parties in the U.S. Congress have pledged to carry on, declaring that the effort must now shift to broader legal reform, including total decriminalization of consensual conduct in Uganda and elsewhere.

Decriminalization has emerged as a leading human rights priority of the Obama Administration, and Secretary Clinton is one of the most outspoken proponents of this new doctrine.  In the 2003 case of Lawrence v. Texas, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a homosexual sodomy law in Texas, stating that sometimes “laws once thought necessary and proper serve only to oppress.”  As a matter of foreign policy, the Obama Administration, with Secretary Clinton on the diplomatic offensive, now makes this same argument on the world stage.  In an odd way, a handful of religious bigots in the United States and Uganda provided the necessary clarity to help crystallize this new foreign policy doctrine.

In Uganda, the United States is flexing its diplomatic muscle.  We are defeating intolerance, we are formulating policy, and we are assembling a new diplomatic toolkit to confront these sensitive human rights issues.  But much more remains to be done to help build a human rights culture.  As we continue to address these human rights struggles in Uganda, while also meeting them head on in other countries and different diplomatic contexts, we must do so with the humility of our own national shortcomings and the understanding that tolerance alone is not enough.  It is relatively easy to stand in opposition to ludicrous laws in other countries.  It is another matter altogether to commit ourselves and our human rights policy to building global equality.  This will require a new investment of development assistance to prioritize the rights and needs of LGBT communities abroad, including through broad-based legal reform.  As the dust settles on ground zero, we see that the arc of justice is indeed long, but as it bends it takes on a refracted hue.

Senate Committee Passes Feingold Amendment Strengthening LGBT Protections Worldwide

Senator Russ FeingoldApril 27, 2010 – U.S. Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) offered an amendment today in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to help the State Department address LGBT human rights concerns abroad. The amendment tracks language already adopted last year by the U.S. House of Representatives. Read more.

U.S. Senate Passes Resolution Condemning the “Anti-Homosexuality” Bill in Uganda

The U.S. Senate has unanimously passed a resolution introduced by U.S. Senators Russ Feingold (D-WI), Tom Coburn (R-OK), Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Susan Collins (R-ME) condemning the “Anti-Homosexuality” bill in Uganda and calling for all countries to decriminalize consensual homosexual relations. Read More.

The Council for Global Equality presents a joint statement emphasizing the ongoing need to protect the basic human rights of LGBT Americans

In December, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law held a groundbreaking hearing on U.S. implementation of human rights treaties.  The Council for Global Equality and the Human Rights Campaign presented a joint statement to emphasize the ongoing need to protect the basic human rights of LGBT Americans.  The statement is now available on the website of Chairman Durbin.  Since the United States must present several international reports in 2010 on our country’s compliance with human rights obligations under UN treaties that the Senate has ratified, the hearing frames an important opportunity that exists this year to entrench human rights discussions and set LGBT-focused human rights priorities for the United States.

As noted in our testimony, under the Constitution of the United States, treaty obligations are the “supreme law of the land,” but they have rarely animated our domestic civil rights struggles.  Legal complexities limit the direct domestic application of international human rights treaties in United States courts.  Unfortunately those complexities have also occasionally isolated the United States from the larger international human rights movement.  In simple terms, the lack of domestic treaty enforcement means that the struggle for full legal equality for LGBT Americans has rarely been understood within the context of a larger global effort to secure fundamental human rights for all individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or geographic location.

Nonetheless, the international movement in support of LGBT rights has been shaped by our own domestic civil rights struggle for LGBT equality here in the United States, just as surely as the international campaign has also shaped our domestic movement.  The two movements are inextricably linked.  That means that as we fight to secure full rights and responsibilities for LGBT Americans, we have an equally important opportunity to contribute to the larger global movement for LGBT equality.  And if we begin to cloak our domestic advances in human rights terms, with reference to our international human rights obligations, we can simultaneously contribute to the international effort to define a fully inclusive understanding of global justice.  We firmly believe that LGBT Americans should pick up the mantle of Eleanor Roosevelt, whose vision gave birth to the modern human rights movement, and proclaim a new era of U.S. leadership to advance human rights for all.

The testimony notes that we look forward to working with this Committee and with the Obama Administration to give full implementation to our human rights obligations, and to ensure that they extend to all LGBT Americans.  Those obligations include swift passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act.  As we make progress, we will also continue to speak out on behalf of LGBT individuals in other countries who are simultaneously struggling to defend their lives and their livelihoods and to protect their families from the abuse and violence that have tormented all of us for far too long.

Human Rights Day

Human Rights Day: Today, December 10, is UN “Human Rights Day.” The date marks the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in the United Nations. With Eleanor Roosevelt’s leadership, the UDHR gave birth to the modern human rights movement. It is a document that reflects America’s founding values of liberty, justice and opportunity for all. And so it is also fitting that President Obama is in Norway today accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his support for multilateral institutions in advancing peace, security and human rights.

One of this year’s leading human rights challenges within the United Nations has been the ongoing effort of many governments, the United States included, to affirm that LGBT rights are human rights. The Council for Global Equality is pleased that President Obama and Secretary Clinton have embraced this modern human rights struggle.

In her Senate confirmation, Secretary Clinton highlighted the President’s own commitment to human rights, emphasizing that “President-Elect Obama said during the campaign that human rights violations based on sexual orientation must be ‘part and parcel of any conversations we have about human rights.’ If confirmed, I will work to ensure that our country stands on principle against human rights abuse or prejudice of any kind.” Under the Secretary’s leadership, LGBT rights are now “part and parcel” of all of our human rights conversations. But dialogue alone is not enough; there is far more to accomplish, both at home and abroad.

At the United Nations last December, 66 countries submitted a ground-breaking statement on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity. The statement recognizes that LGBT rights are indeed human rights and calls on all countries to decriminalize consensual homosexual relations and protect the rights of LGBT individuals. Unfortunately senior Bush officials refused to join the statement, a decision that left the United States out of step with our neighbors and as one of the only countries in the entire “Western Group” that failed to sign. In March 2009, the Obama Administration reversed course and announced full U.S. support for this important new human rights campaign. President Obama’s decision came just a few weeks after the U.S. State Department released an annual report on human rights that was the most comprehensive to date on sexual orientation and gender identity concerns, pointing to a growing pattern of human rights abuse directed against LGBT people around the world.

But how exactly do we turn those commitments, those human rights “conversations,” into meaningful protection? We must begin by moving beyond a reporting agenda, or even a conversation-focused agenda, to adopt a new human rights protection agenda.  And nowhere is that challenge more evident than in Uganda today. The Ugandan parliament is currently considering a bill that is so homophobic on its face that its provisions sound implausible to even the most conservative ear. As such, the bill in Uganda’s parliament, which includes a death penalty provision and criminalizes those who fail to report suspected homosexuals to the authorities, is quickly becoming a modern human rights Rubicon; its passage would lay bare the frailty of the UDHR’s revolutionary call for human rights and dignity for all.

Joining many other nations around the world, the United States must make it absolutely clear to Uganda that the passage of the bill would substantially impact our bilateral relationship and our health investments in that country. This is crucial, because opposition to this bill is testing our global capacity to protect the rights of a highly demonized minority in a politically charged context. So far we are losing.

The State Department, in close coordination with the U.S. Embassy in Uganda, is saying all of the right things. But unfortunately, despite our annual U.S. investment of nearly $300 million to support HIV prevention care and treatment in Uganda, we do not seem to be having much influence in scuttling a proposal that would undermine our massive health expenditure by criminalizing HIV outreach to a highly vulnerable community. The bill’s passage is increasingly likely. If it passes, it would jeopardize our country’s future health investments, insult our new President’s human rights commitments and diminish our country’s leadership.

On this Human Rights Day, the world’s leaders are focused on President Obama’s speech in Norway. But the question is this: Will he use his global stature and the prestige of the Nobel Peace Prize to back up those words? Will he honor his commitments to human rights for all, including the world’s most vulnerable minority communities? That answer may soon become evident in Uganda.

For more information on Uganda’s “Anti-Homosexuality” bill and the Council’s work to expose its human rights implications, visit

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