Posts Tagged 'US State Department'

Remarks by Ambassador Samantha Power at the White House Dialogue on Global LGBT Human Rights

Ambassador Samantha Power
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
Washington, DC
June 29, 2016

It’s amazing to be here and to be with all of you. This is a really important thing to do, particularly in light of recent events, but anyway, to step back, and to look back at what has been achieved in this last five years. From the diplomatic corps representatives who are here, to civil society representatives – each of you have played a really critical role in bringing us to where we are today. I’m only going to speak very briefly, but do want to pull a few of the highlights out of the last five years and look at the legacy of the Presidential Memorandum, which is itself just a symptom of the President’s leadership.

Five years ago, when I was in the position occupied brilliantly now by Steve Pomper, I had the privilege, along with Ambassador David Pressman, who you will hear from a little bit later, of helping President Obama shepherd this historic LGBT memorandum through the U.S. government. When he signed the Presidential Memorandum – I remember as if it was yesterday – the response inside the government, as well as outside the government, was immediate. And in particular, I will never forget the outpouring of emotion from people around the United States – again, whether inside or outside the government – but also around the world, when they heard that LGBTI rights was being embedded, as Josh put it, into the DNA of the U.S. government.

I don’t know why it resonates so much more when one sees one’s own issue in the kind of sterile bureaucratese that is the lifeblood of government, but, you know, if every other issue that is a priority lives in those documents and in those directives, why not LGBTI rights? And sure enough, putting it into that form and having that directive go out to all the agencies and departments that are part of the U.S. government, it’s game-changing. It means it’s there forever; it means someone has to take it away. And it really was a historic step that the President took, and one of the many reasons I’m incredibly proud to get to work for him and to represent him.

So the idea that there’s this memorandum that dedicates the U.S. government and our foreign policies, a matter of national interest, to fighting the criminalization of LGBTI status; to directing significant resources to empowering LGBTI groups abroad; to responding swiftly and meaningfully when governments have repressed LGBTI rights. These are words on a page, but they spring off the page when they affect – as Josh, again, put it – real people.

On the conference call that we convened to walk people through the components of this Presidential Memorandum – which I should say was issued the same day Secretary Clinton gave her amazing speech in Geneva, where you could’ve – I wasn’t there, but I gather – could’ve heard a pin drop when she said “LGBTI rights are human rights; human rights are LGBTI rights and all universal rights.” We convened a conference call, and what I remember most about that call was one woman, describing her life as a lesbian woman with her partner, deciding where she could travel with her children abroad, and knowing her whole life that there were “No Go Zones” that were sort of off-limits – parts of the map that may as well not have been on the map for the purposes of her and her children and her partner. And she said, “Suddenly with this memorandum – even though we’re so far from that day – it’s the first time I see my government announcing to the world that its ambition is that there will be no ‘No Go Zones’ for me and my family. And because if these rights were universal rights, it would be so weird! We would actually never have to have that thought, that voice in the back of our heads, of thinking, you know, is that a place that is going to be friendly to me? Is it going to be hostile to me? Is it going to be criminal to love in the way that I can love in my home?” And, you know, as someone who hasn’t had to have that voice in her head, it really, really struck me what universality actually means and what a denial of universality means concretely for people who don’t – who can’t experience and don’t see their rights fully realized.

So this Presidential Memorandum sets out to end the “No Go Zones” and to expand enjoyment of rights in a deep, deep way. We have been implementing it, also in a deep way. The progress abroad, of course, is not like what we have had the amazing fortune of witnessing or experiencing here in this room. In some ways, some of the setbacks abroad I feel are a reaction in a way to some of the progress that has been made here, for all of the challenges that lie ahead even within our own borders. But even abroad we are making headway, and I can see it, as someone who worked here at the White House on these issues for four years, and now up in New York for three years. It’s different, it’s really different pushing this agenda internationally.

Five years ago, I would never have foreseen being able to hold a UN Security Council meeting – a mere meeting – on the topic of violence against LGBTI persons. And yet on August 24, 2015, we and Chile co-sponsored this meeting. Also, lots of countries in the UN family – even those who aren’t great on these issues at home – they showed up. And they heard one of the most powerful presentations any of them will ever hear: Subhi Nahas sharing his story of fleeing his home in Syria after being threatened by ISIL and even threatened by his own family. Subhi was recently honored as a Logo Trailblazer and as one of the Grand Marshals of New York City’s 2016 Pride March.

But I compared to that day – I’m not sure which is more amazing, to actually be speaking in front of the world about the need to change norms and implement human rights standards equally, without prejudice to whom we are applying them to, versus hanging out with Bill de Blasio and the other Pride March. But Subhi did a tremendous job. And the way we will change policy is we will change hearts and minds. And that is the order in which we are progressing in New York.

Five years ago, the United Nations did not even think about granting benefits to the families of same-sex UN employees. But a courageous UN Secretary-General put forward a UN bulletin granting those benefits. And I’m very proud of the fact that last year, the United States and a group of countries committed to non-discrimination and equality were able to thwart a very spirited Russian effort to force the Secretary-General to pull back his directive actually securing same-sex benefits – benefits for same-sex couples. So, that was another one that if you look at the 193 countries in the UN and the policies they have at home, it was not obvious that we were going to be able to sustain support for the Secretary-General’s important directive. But because – as we always say on my team – we want it more, and because we had such great support from civil society, the Russians were thwarted in a very, very lopsided vote, in fact, and were unable to defy the will of the Secretary-General.

Five years ago, one could not have dreamed that we would end up, in any circumstance, able to secure a Security Council condemnation of the targeting of people on the basis of sexual orientation. But out of the horrific Orlando attack and the heartbreak of that, we knew that we had to do everything in our power to try to unite a very, very divided Security Council. And on Monday, June 13, for the first time in the UN’s 70-year history, the Security Council denounced violence targeting people “as a result of their sexual orientation.” Even countries like Russia and Egypt did not block this effort.

And five years ago, I would never have imagined that we would be able to bring a diverse, regionally cross-cutting group of UN ambassadors to Stonewall for a monumental meeting of a new network that we are part of in New York, called the LGBT Core Group. And this was just an amazing meeting, where you had countries from Asia, Latin America, Europe – not yet Africa – but sitting around the table and talking about redoubling our efforts to push this agenda around the world. The UN is just a venue; it’s a forum – we shouldn’t confuse forum with substance. But if we can work it at the center and then get the change out into the capillaries, through the governments and their representatives and their citizens, we will turn the tide against discrimination internationally.

So we have come a long way in these five years, but the next five years start today. And I think it is invigorating that the Obama Administration – and thanks hugely to the leadership of Steve Pomper and Ambassador Rice – are not letting up in our efforts to promote LGBTI rights internationally.

I think we need to work very concretely to try to get more countries, more governments, to issue directives along the lines that President Obama had the foresight to issue five years ago. I will have the privilege of attending, with Special Envoy Berry, the Global LGBTI International Conference in Montevideo, Uruguay on July 13. And there, ministers and civil society activists from around the world will discuss how we can better promote LGBTI rights and inject, again, this agenda into various countries’ foreign policy agenda, but also into inclusive development. And I hope that any of the governments represented here will send ministers to that meeting. We are seeking to secure the highest level of representation possible.

I want to end just on a sobering note, and the reminder that for all of this progress – some of it in form, a lot also in substance – more than 70 countries still criminalize same-sex relationships, legislators continue to pass discriminatory laws, and LGBTI civil society actors face harassment and discrimination. And we need a global coalition of diverse voices, but also of united voices, standing up against hatred. We should all be able to love openly without hiding in the shadows. Nobody should ever have to have that voice in their head. We’ve got to eliminate the “No Go Zones” once and for all.

And I want to thank you, really and truly, for all of your work in this regard. We wouldn’t be here without you. And we won’t get where we need to get going forward unless we stay united. So I thank you, and I thank you very much for having me.

Deteriorating Human Rights in The Gambia

Yahya JammehMay 3, 2016 – The Council for Global Equality joined 15 leading human rights organizations in writing to the State Department and the White House this week to express ongoing concern over the deteriorating human rights landscape in The Gambia following a series of arbitrary arrests involving police brutality and possible torture. This adds to concerns that we have raised with the Obama Administration over the past several years, including pointed questions about the targeted persecution of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals in The Gambia.

The government’s arrests and harsh suppression of protests last month, in advance of elections anticipated at the end of the year, have been condemned by local, regional and international human rights leaders. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reported that an opposition leader died in April under suspicious circumstances shortly after his arrest. The government’s brutal treatment of the opposition and the suppression of protests have been condemned by the United Nation’s Secretary-General, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the ECOWAS Commission and the State Department. There have been similar statements of concern from leading civil society in the region, including IHRDA, WACSOF and the NGO Forum at the African Commission. This latest crackdown is only the most recent chapter in a long line of abuses perpetrated against independent voices by President Jammeh’s regime since he seized power in 1994.

President Jammeh has also continued his inflammatory rhetoric against LGBT Gambians. In March 2016, when addressing the opening of the National Assembly, he said that homosexuality is “ungodly,” and “I will never tolerate it here in The Gambia. Those who will be caught practicing it will face the full force of the law.” These remarks are not empty rhetoric – the Gambian criminal code was amended in October 2014 to include much harsher sentences for various acts defined as “aggravated homosexuality.” LGBT Gambians have since been subjected to arrest and detention, torture, and other ill-treatment by state security forces.

In light of these reports, the Council for Global Equality has renewed its call to take further actions against President Jammeh and his government. In particular, as previously requested, we have urged the Obama Administration to consider visa bans against Gambian officials guilty of grave human rights abuses, and to consider using the sanctions powers available under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), which have been used in the past to respond to human rights abuses in countries such as Belarus, Venezuela and Zimbabwe. We have also asked the Obama Administration to cut any remaining security assistance to the government in the wake of these abuses. We urge the Obama Administration to take these steps now, before the pre-election violence spirals out of control in the shadow of elections later this year.

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.

In this year’s report, targeted LGBT killings are cited in countries ranging from Germany to Honduras and Russia to Pakistan.   Attacks are commonly identified as occurring in both public and private spaces. The Mali report explains that “family members, neighbors, and groups of strangers in public places committed the majority of violent acts, and police frequently refused to intervene.” But even in the home, the report recognizes that LGBT individuals are targeted for abuse and sexual violence by family members, including in countries ranging from Belize to Romania and Cambodia to Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwe report notes that “some families reportedly subjected their LGBTI members to ‘corrective’ rape and forced marriages to encourage heterosexual conduct.” In Ecuador, “LGBTI organizations and the government continued to report that private treatment centers confined LGBTI persons against their will to ‘cure’ or ‘dehomosexualize’ them.” Although illegal, the clinics also reportedly used extreme treatments, including rape.

The vast majority of the country reports cite a reluctance on the part of victims – characterized as outright fear – to report such abuse to authorities in the belief that they would be ignored at best but also potentially targeted by the police for filing the complaint. The South Africa report discusses the “secondary victimization” of individuals, particularly lesbian and transgender women, including cases in which police harassed, ridiculed, and assaulted victims of sexual- and gender-based violence who reported abuse.

In many other cases, from Azerbaijan to Kenya and from Guatemala to Turkey and Indonesia to Sri Lanka, the report notes patterns of abuse of LGBTI citizens by police or other security forces, or other inappropriate police action. The Bolivia report cites a study that found that 82 percent of those surveyed “knew of at least one person whom police had arbitrarily detained due to sexual orientation or gender identity.” Police in all regions regularly extorted money from presumed LGBT individuals by threatening to arrest or expose them, including when LGBT individuals attempted to report violence or seek protection. In Mexico and Venezuela, cases of violence are often recorded by the police as “crimes of passion” that are then ignored in the belief that they are little more than domestic squabbles between jilted lovers.

In some countries, such as Cameroon and Lebanon, LGBTI persons were subject to gang violence. In others, such as the Dominican Republic, Latvia and Japan there were reported instances of school bullying. Bullying and violence directed at transgender students was particularly severe. The report cites a Bolivian study finding “72 percent of transgender individuals abandoned their secondary school studies due to intense discrimination.”

In Iran, security forces specifically targeted LGBT individuals for raids, rectal examinations, and beatings during incarceration. In Ghana, the report emphasizes sexual violence committed against gay men in prison. In Morocco, even after arresting the perpetrator of a violent bias-motivated crime, police made the victim undress, and then blackmailed him to his family. In Syria, gay men faced horrifying consequences from two angles: those suspected of being gay were thrown from rooftops by ISIS, while security forces often based arrests and even torture on accusations of homosexuality.

Apart from underscoring an urgent need for greater police training, this year’s reports also make clear that, in far too many countries, clearer and stronger laws are needed to lay the groundwork for action against LGBT-related hate crimes. From Egypt to Iraq and from the Bahamas to Mongolia laws to protect LGBT people either do not exist or are too weakly construed to offer any real protections. Even in countries such as Brazil that have taken important steps to protect their LGBT citizens, the report cites legal impediments that make it difficult to prosecute LGBT hate crimes. Moreover, a lack of official and specific LGBT-related statistics in most countries makes it difficult to ascertain the depth of the problem.

In addition, the reports detail far too many instances in which government officials and others in positions of influence have fueled an atmosphere of violence against LGBT persons. These instances have included Albania, Georgia, Hungary, Kyrgyz Republic and Zimbabwe, where homophobic statements or other divisive language by government leaders seem to condone violence. In other countries, such as Algeria, Dominican Republic, Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda, statements by religious leaders have inflamed tensions.

The report notes, however, that some governments are taking steps to respond to these common patterns of violence. El Salvador, Honduras and Suriname have adopted new hate crime-related laws that could assist in the prevention and prosecution of LGBT hate crimes. Nicaragua has a new, if untested, prosecutor for sexual diversity, and Honduras has a relatively new Violent Crimes Task Force to investigate LGBT violence. In July, the government of Malawi accepted a recommendation from the UN Human Rights Council and committed to prosecuting the perpetrators of LGBT violence. Sierra Leone’s Human Rights Commission conducted outreach to the LGBT community to encourage individuals to submit complaints and to request investigations into bias-motivated crimes. South Africa has a “National Intervention Strategy” and set up rapid response teams from civil society and government to ensure that law enforcement officers respond “promptly and professionally” to crimes against the LGBT community. The report notes that most of these government initiatives have only delivered limited accomplishments to date, but they provide a foundation for additional action.

Given this year’s report, the Council for Global Equality looks forward to working with the White House, the State Department and the Justice Department to energize the initiatives put in place last June at the White House to ensure that U.S. government assets are deployed to respond to such egregious violence. To do so, we should invest in training and resources for police who are willing to reform their structures to respond to hate crimes; work closely with other governments to showcase longstanding FBI efforts to collect and disaggregate LGBT hate crime data in our own country in the hope that they will do likewise; promote the decriminalization of homosexual relationships, cross dressing laws and other legal impediments that reduce LGBT individuals to criminals and invite arrest, harassment and abuse at the hands of the police; and deploy our diplomatic resources, including our new Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons, to implore foreign officials everywhere to respond promptly and professionally to LGBT violence whenever it occurs.

Click here for more information on the 2015 Human Rights Reports (including transcripts from the briefing as well as video)

Nigerian activists respond to New York Times article “U.S. Support of Gay Rights in Africa May Have Done More Harm Than Good”

The Coalition for the Defense of Sexual Rights (CDSR) has issued a statement regarding the recent article published by New York Times alleging that US supports for LGBT rights in Nigeria may have done more harm than good.

_________________________________________________________________________

Coalition for the Defense of Sexual Rights- Nigeria

Statement on the backdrop of New York Times article on US Support for LGBT Rights in Nigeria

The Coalition for the Defense of Sexual Rights (CDSR), an umbrella body of organizations working to secure the human rights of all Nigerians, inclusive of LGBT rights is alarmed at the recent article published by New York Times alleging that US supports for LGBT rights in Nigeria may have done more harm than good. CDSR dissociates itself from the article and condemned it for its lack of journalistic rigour.

First reaction to the article was what was the aim of the author of the article? There are questionable assertions in the article and we are taken aback that some people say the support they receive from the US or the West has backfired on advocacy. CDSR stance on such statements is that it lacks rigour. Also quoting a community member who does not understand the process of advocacy or the relationship that advocates have with the US and other western nations is a slap to the journalism that produce the article. Also the statement credited to a leading member of CDSR and an early pioneer of LGBT activism in Nigeria, Ms. Dorothy Aken’Ova is misleading.

We categorically state that US and other western nations support for LGBT rights in Nigeria has actually brought our issues to the front burner of politics and policy making. In fact to a large extent, it has contributed to the visibility that we enjoy as a community and using that visibility to strengthen our advocacy. What has been challenging in the past was the tactics employed in the past by the West in speaking first without local consultations. This was especially after the comments of Prime Minister David Cameron on cutting aid to nations that had or were proposing discriminatory laws and policies regarding sexual orientation. The policy has since changed in that local activists are consulted first before any decision is adopted by the West, especially the US. Key members of CDSR are a testament to that. Recently, the US Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour, Steven Feldstein was in Lagos and met with activists. His key question was how should the US react?

CDSR welcomes the removal of USAID logo from documents of its partner organizations as it seeks to counter the cultural imperialism rhetoric that is being used by the right wing. However, the removal of the logo or not from these documents or office spaces does not in its entirety backfire on advocacy. This is because the conversation and advocacy to shift the rhetoric of cultural imperialism is a call of local activists and organizations working to promote human rights on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity for Nigerians. It is our call and we are constantly in discussion with each other on how to turn the table around. We must be able to challenge the hypocrisy of singling out LGBT rights out of all the humanitarian work that the US or other western nations fund.

And the issue of human rights violations has always been there before the advent of the anti-gay law. It won’t go away anytime sooner, US efforts or not. We state categorically that the anti-gay law caused a shift in human rights violation but to heap that blame on US support for LGBT rights in Nigeria lacks merit. We must remember that we had a government and system in place that was eager to use minorities’ lives as a politicking campaign and agenda.

And the case of police stopping and searching people on grounds of their perceived sexual orientation, there are plans to address the issues and raise them in the local media. Not raising this issue on the home front, especially in the media but then raising it on international media only contributes to the cultural imperialism that the article was referring to.

As the title of the anti-gay law in Nigeria was carefully worded to win the hearts and minds of Nigerians, the title of the article and its contents dance to the tune of our oppressors. Coming out in public to quote figures that the US support LGBT rights with is at the detriment of frontline activists, advocacy and our community members. It is in line with the notion that homosexuality is a western import. Caution must not be thrown to the wind especially as to how much the US or other western nation funds LGBT rights within media spaces. CDSR believes that such statements are for internal circulation as part of financial accountability of donor agencies.

CDSR is also alarmed that the article failed to mention the promotion of hate and the support of criminalization of homosexuality by the World Congress of Families but was quick in quoting an outrageous amount in US support of LGBT rights. CDSR expects that as a global media house, New York Times will balance its stories, cross-check facts and use its platform to call out against hate groups.

In correction of the misleading information as contained in the article, CDSR urges the New York Times to reproduce a more balance and unbiased article, and when seeking information on LGBT rights advocacy to speak with known frontline activists.

Finally, CDSR continues to count on the support its receives from the west and other donor agencies in ensuring that human rights for all Nigerian citizens becomes a reality without exclusion of any group.

Signed:

Coalition for the Defense of Sexual Rights

 

Employee Plus One: Marriage and the War for Talent

Michael Guest, The Council for Global EqualityBy Michael Guest, Senior Advisor, The Council for Global Equality, as published in The Foreign Service Journal

In 2001, I was sworn in as our country’s first Senate-confirmed, openly gay ambassador. Six years later, I pulled the plug on my Foreign Service career, in protest of the State Department’s refusal to remedy policies that discriminated against gay and lesbian Foreign Service families stationed abroad.

Those twin milestones seem like ancient history now. Today partnered gay and lesbian employees are covered by the same transfer, housing, training and other support policies their straight married colleagues have long enjoyed. The policy changes pioneered at State have become a template for similar accommodations across the federal foreign affairs agency community.

In addition, six openly gay ambassadors, one a career officer, have been tapped by the Obama administration to serve our country. A new special envoy position has been created to strengthen how we integrate lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues into our broader human rights policy goals.

Yet these appointments are less remarkable than the paucity of organized public or congressional opposition to the notion that LGBT human rights matter, or that a gay person can represent our country abroad. Continue Reading.

LGBT and Intersex Youth Issues in Development

IDAHOT May 17 2015

In honor of the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia (IDAHOT), the Council for Global Equality is pleased to release the report from the 2014 Conference to Advance the Human Rights of and Promote Inclusive Development for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex (LGBTI) Persons. The conference was co-sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and USAID, with support from the Council for Global Equality.

The theme for this year’s IDAHOT events is “Stand with LGBTQI Youth: Fight for visibility, respect and equality.” Here in the United States, studies show that over 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBT. Across the world, similarly startling statistics reveal the disproportionate vulnerability that LGBT and intersex youth face due to bullying in schools and online, abuse and expulsion from home, forced marriages, denial of health services, discrimination at work, and increased risk of suicide and depression. Children born with intersex conditions are still misunderstood and inappropriately treated by doctors around the world in irreversibly harmful ways.

Younger LGBT and intersex members of our communities deserve our particular attention on this day. That attention should be more than symbolic or rhetorical. Our suggestions are:

  • participate in the youth-sponsored thunderclap (just learning about a thunderclap is a dive into youth culture!);
  • audit your own work or organization’s work to think about how you are addressing the needs of youth;
  • read our report with an eye to how donor investments in equality for LGBT and intersex people can address the issues that our younger citizens face; and
  • call on the U.S. government to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is the world’s most-ratified human rights treaty and provides important, age-based understandings of the rights of LGBT and intersex youth!

President Obama took a very important step earlier this year, publicly calling for a ban on “conversion therapy” for LGBT minors. This unprecedented move by a head of state in support of LGBT youth complements many positive developments by the Obama administration to combat bullying in schools, LGBTQ youth homelessness, and to promote acceptance in families.

In honor of this IDAHOT day and its youth focused theme, we call on the President to do all that his administration can do to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The United States is one of only two countries in the world that have yet to ratify the Convention, together with the government of Somalia. It’s time for our country to get on the right side of history – we owe it to America’s youth.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child states that all children “should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding.” As we think about LGBT and intersex youth on this year’s IDAHOT day, we call on our government to commit to this treaty obligation, but also to commit resources to this important goal, as it did during the donor conference on inclusive development.

Welcome Reception to Commemorate the Announcement of Randy Berry, First-ever Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT Persons

Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a welcome reception to commemorate the announcement of Randy Berry as the first-ever Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT Persons.

Watch it live now http://bcove.me/0rfa86u8

 


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