Posts Tagged 'United Nations Human RIghts Council'

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.

 

Reflecting UN Progress on Transgender Day of Remembrance

Transgender Day of RemembranceNovember 20, 2014 — Today, on Transgender Day of Remembrance, we remember brave transgender individuals around the world who have been killed because of who they are or how they appear in the world. It therefore seems fitting, on a day like today, to reflect on a draft resolution adopted yesterday by the United Nations that recognizes the sad reality that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals are too often targeted and killed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The UN resolution, which condemns “extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions” committed by both government and non-governmental agents, recognizes that certain vulnerable groups of persons – generally those who face broader social exclusion and discrimination – are at particular risk of targeted killing. And when they are attacked, governments are far less likely to investigate the cases or prosecute the perpetrators. Perhaps no such group is at greater risk than transgender individuals – those who dare to live authentic lives in defiance of gender expectations or stereotypes.

Public health groups estimate that the life expectancy of a transgender woman in Latin America is between 30 and 35 years, and possibly lower in parts of Central America. And for regions where transgender homicides are completely ignored and statistics purposefully obscured, the measure of a transgender life may be even lower. Extreme violence goes a long way in explaining these shocking disparities.

In the context of this somber day of remembrance, it is comforting to recognize that the struggle for global equality is gaining ground, even in the culture wars of the United Nations. An effort yesterday by Saudi Arabia to strip the reference to vulnerable groups in the resolution on extrajudicial killings, which was clearly understood as an attempt to strip the sexual orientation and gender identity language from the text, was roundly defeated, with eighty-two governments across all regions voting to name the violence against LGBT individuals and keep the reference to vulnerable groups in the text. Only fifty-three governments supported the Saudi deceit, which represents a growing consensus around LGBT rights as human rights.

The final text was adopted in committee yesterday with only one vote in opposition, and it will now go to the full UN General Assembly for a vote in December. The United States, which in the past has supported the spirit of the text but abstained on technical legal grounds, joined the growing majority in voting for the resolution this year. That represents an additionally important victory for human rights.

The vote at the United Nations yesterday, on the heels of the adoption of another, stand-alone resolution on “human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity” at the United Nations last month, represents a turning point in the way the United Nations responds to human rights violations targeting LGBT individuals. And while its impact may not yet be measured in lives saved or years lived, it represents concerted advocacy and increasing political will within the United Nations. And that growing consensus will eventually be measured in human development – in both the quantity and the quality of the years lived by transgender youth of tomorrow.

U.N. Human Rights Council adopts LGBT resolution

Photo: @gustavopecoraro

Photo: @gustavopecoraro

Press Statement from ARC International

(Geneva, September 26, 2014) – The United Nations Human Rights Council resolution on combatting violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (L.27/Rev.1), adopted today, Is a critically important achievement for upholding the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 25 human rights groups said today. The resolution follows a resolution adopted three years ago in June 2011, when the Council passed the first ever UN resolution on human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Uruguay, and 42 additional co-sponsors introduced the resolution. In its presentation to the Council, Chile stated that “this resolution does not seek to create new rights…there are some whose rights are more violated and need more protection.“ Colombia added “the report that we request is part of existing international law.“ The resolution survived a total of seven hostile amendments, introduced by Egypt on behalf of ten States, seeking to strip the resolution of all references to sexual orientation and gender identity. Brazil stated that the proposed amendments would “seek to radically change the purpose and focus of the resolution and changes its substance.”  Ultimately, the resolution was passed by a vote of 25 in favor, 14 against, and 7 abstentions, with support from all regions and an increased base of support since 2011.

“The leadership of these Latin American states reflects strong commitment to human rights for all and follows the significant progress that is being made by governments and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, travesti, and intersex activists in the region,” said Andres Rivera Duarte from the Observatorio Derechos Humanos y Legislación, Chile.

The resolution asks the High Commissioner for Human Rights to update a 2012 study on violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity (A/HRC/19/41), with a view to sharing good practices and ways to overcome violence and discrimination. The resolution expresses grave concern at acts of violence and discrimination in all regions of the world committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. This resolution demonstrates that this issue remains on the agenda of the Human Rights Council and sends a message of support to people around the world who experience this type of violence and discrimination, said the 25 groups.

“While we would have preferred to see an institutionalized reporting mechanism, the council has still sent a strong message of support to human rights defenders working on these issues. We look forward to States implementing the outcomes of these reports,” said Jonas Bagas, of TLF Share in the Philippines. Continue reading ‘U.N. Human Rights Council adopts LGBT resolution’

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

Op-Ed “Demonizing Gays in Africa”

Repost from the New York TimesBy 

As acceptance of gays and lesbians has grown in the United States and Europe, intolerance and persecution has been rising in other parts of the world. African nations are leaders in this cruel and dehumanizing trend.

The latest alarms were triggered by a ban in Nigeria on same-sex relationships that was passed by Parliament in May and signed by President Goodluck Jonathan on Jan. 7. Nigeria is a leading oil producer and Africa’s most populous country, and the ban is considered the most significant setback yet to gay rights on the continent.

Although gay sex has been illegal in Nigeria since British colonial rule, the draconian new law criminalizes homosexuality, banning same-sex marriage and prescribing years in prison to anyone who makes a “public show” of same-sex relationships or participates in gay organizations. Even people who simply support gays are subject to criminal arrest and penalties.

Before the new law was enacted, convictions for gay sex were rare in the southern part of Nigeria and occasional in the mostly Muslim north. But since the law went into effect, as Adam Nossiter has reported in The Times, arrests of gays have multiplied and some people have sought asylum overseas. According to Amnesty International, homosexuality is illegal in 38 of 54 countries in Africa. It carries the death penalty in Mauritania, Sudan and Somalia; in northern Nigeria, where Islamic law is practiced, the penalty can be death by stoning. In Senegal, the press regularly “outs” gays and same-sex relations carry a penalty of five years in prison. Another severe law has been passed by Uganda’s Legislature, but President Yoweri Museveni has not and should not sign it.

Such laws violate commitments made by United Nations members in theUniversal Declaration of Human Rights and other human rights documents.

If these nations cannot do the humane thing, they should at least consider their self-interest. For any leader who values stability, it makes no sense to promote new laws that foment greater hostility among people, like in Nigeria, where there is already ethnic tension.

Even in countries where antigay laws are not enforced, they provide an excuse for abuse — including blackmail and extortion — by police, Amnesty International said. It is unlikely that any of these countries can reach their full economic potential because many foreign entities may find it too risky to invest in such hostile environments. These governments, in abusing their citizens, are moving in dangerous and destructive directions.

Free and Equal: A Global Public Education Campaign Combatting Homophobia and Transphobia

United Nations Free and EqualOn 16 July, human rights defender and journalist Eric Lembembe was brutally tortured and murdered in Cameroon. Cases like these are reported far too often throughout the world.

A 2011 report by the UN Human Rights Office found an alarming pattern of brutal violence and widespread discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in all regions. In 76 countries, adult same-sex relationships are criminalized, exposing lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals to the risk of arrest, imprisonment, torture, and even, in five countries, the death penalty.

While attitudes are shifting and many Governments are slowly making progress implementing reforms including anti-discrimination and hate crime laws, more work remains to be done, in all regions, to tackle hate-motivated violence and discrimination against LGBT people.

At a press event in Cape Town, South Africa, UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay, together with Archbishop Desmond Tutu and South African Constitutional Court Justice Edwin Cameron, launched Free & Equal, an unprecedented global public education campaign to promote greater respect for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people everywhere.

Speaking at the launch, Pillay argued that eradicating discrimination of any kind required more than just changes in laws and policies; it took a change in people’s hearts and minds as well.

“Changing attitudes is never easy,” she said. “But it has happened on other issues and it is happening already in many parts of the world on this one. It begins with often difficult conversations. With this campaign, we want to help start and inform millions of conversations among people around the world and across the ideological spectrum.”

In addition to engaging fact sheets and articles, Free & Equal will generate a stream of creative content – including short videos, infographics and testimonies –all designed to dispel common misconceptions and negative stereotypes and encourage people to look at the lives of LGBT people through the eyes of LGBT people and their families. All campaign materials will be made available on the campaign’s website, UNFE.org.

UN Human Rights OfficePillay described Nelson Mandela as a great source of inspiration for the campaign and recalled his faith in education as the best weapon against prejudice. “He used to say that people are not born hating one another; they learn to hate,” Pillay said. “And that if people can learn to hate, they can be taught to love—that love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

The Free & Equal campaign was conceived and developed by the UN Human Rights Office and is implemented in partnership with the Purpose Foundation—a non-profit organization that develops global social-media driven campaigns on human rights issues.

Several global celebrities have already pledged their support for the campaign including musician Ricky Martin, South African singer Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Bollywood actress Celina Jaitly, Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho, and Brazilian singer Daniela Mercury.

You can learn more about Free & Equal and sign up to receive campaign materials and updates by visiting the campaign website at UNFE.org, or follow the campaign at facebook.com/free.equal or via Twitter @free_equal.

United Nations Moves Forward on LGBT Rights

Opening up U.S. assistance programs to LGBT populationsThe United Nations process to discuss a Human Rights Council resolution on sexual orientation and gender identity ended in Oslo on Tuesday with a conclusions document that calls for a special UN mechanism for ongoing attention to human rights abuses based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In 2011, the South African government, together with a group of other supportive nations, led a successful resolution on LGBT issues that called for a high-level panel discussion as well as a report outlining the vast array of human rights abuses that take place every day across the globe based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Oslo was the wrap up event after regional meetings took place earlier this year in Latin America, Europe, Asia, and parts of Africa. Over 200 governmental and non-governmental delegates were invited to Oslo for an event co-hosted by South Africa and Norway, representing over 60 countries for two days of intense discussions and debates. Highlights of the conference included video messages from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon as well as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillar. Both strongly called for a new mechanism to regularly track and report on human rights abuses based on sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as chronicle promising practices for combating such abuses. Many side conversations about promising developments took place with government representatives in attendance. Moldovan government officials talked about their new Equality Council, which will launch in the summer to help implement their new Anti-Discrimination Law, which should help protect against anti-LGBT bias. Vietnam is revising their Family Law, and the government is seriously considering expanding the definition of family to be fully inclusive of same-sex relationships. Many other governments discussed both their problems as well as their practices in addressing discrimination and violence.

The Council for Global Equality participated in two regional pre-meetings together with two of our member organizations, the National Center for Transgender Equality as well as the National Center for Lesbian Rights. We drew attention to the many issues here in the United States that stand in the way of full equality for LGBT Americans. We also worked with our colleagues from the regions to ensure that the array of LGBT human rights concerns would be addressed in the next steps that the UN Human Rights Council takes in its next resolution on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Council was very pleased that the United States government’s participation in this important process was strong and steadfastly supportive of its LGBT citizenry, as well as its commitments to LGBT people globally. Other governments, particularly South Africa, were similarly clearly supportive of moving the bar higher in the next iteration of this resolution coming up in June. LGBT advocates and supportive governments around the world are ready to encourage additional governmental co-sponsors of the coming resolution, as well as to ensure that the 47 members of the HRC vote in favor of it’s passage. As Ban Ki -Moon said in his video message to the conference: Together we can make the world safer, freer, and more equal for everyone.


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