Posts Tagged 'US State Department'

Rex Tillerson’s Nomination

Rex TillersonWhen Rex Tillerson goes before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday, he should be given the professional respect to which anyone of his achievement is entitled. But before he is confirmed, he owes the American people some clear answers.

With the title of America’s top diplomat comes responsibility for advancing a broad array of national interests. These include energy security, where Tillerson’s history of back-room deals for the benefit of Exxon shareholders may at least hold the appearance of some use.

But that history and style of operation raise questions, too, of Tillerson’s attachment to broader national interests and, indeed, to the American people. We want to see evidence of his past commitment to fighting the corruption that erodes the future of so many countries and their populations. We want to know what effort he made to ensuring that Exxon’s extraction of natural resources has benefited not only oligarchs and shareholder profits, but to the needs of countries where Exxon has engaged. And we want to understand how he will ensure that his 40-year history in the oil industry will not conflict with the interests of the American people through the full disclosure and explanation of his current and future financial relationship to this industry.

These questions go to the heart of Tillerson’s ethical moorings – important in turn to the respect he must command if he is to advance effectively American interests as Secretary of State. They also target the breadth of interests he must steer, if confirmed.

As a Washington-based advocacy organization that fights for fundamental rights and economic opportunities for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals around the world, we are particularly interested in learning how he will promote America’s longstanding interests in supporting democratic societies and vibrant economies that respect and empower minority citizens. Countries that respect the rights of minorities understand their commitment to democracy and make strong diplomatic and economic partners; countries that persecute their minorities do not make stable allies. Unfortunately, LGBTI individuals and religious minorities are among the most violently persecuted minorities in most countries. And some of the worst examples of such persecution, and indeed overtly hostile leadership, occur in countries that happen to be led by some of the world’s worst oligarchs and dictators, including Russia.

U.S. foreign policy has clear reason to promote sound economic development and fully inclusive prosperity, both of which reinforce long-term stability in the foreign partnerships we seek to build. Our country traditionally stands against human rights abuse for this and broader ethical reasons. We advocate for vibrant civil societies that enjoy fundamental freedoms, rights and protections rooted in the rule of law – rights and protections that shouldn’t be limited by national borders, of course, but that also strengthen business and cultural and social ties. We know that sound and inclusive global health policies maximize our country’s generous investments in global health and positively impact, too, the health interests of the American people. And all of these interests are tied intrinsically to success in both eroding the appeal of terrorism and reducing the risk of war.

If confirmed, Tillerson will be charged with building bilateral and multilateral commitment to these and other goals – often against the will and narrow interests of the many government leaders and other officials he has cultivated as CEO. That task is far more challenging, and requires far greater finesse, than does negotiating the price and terms for a commodity that a country’s oligarchs seek to sell.

As a measure of his commitment to human rights and democracy, we encourage discussion of whether Tillerson is prepared to push for full citizenship rights for disfavored LGBTI minority communities in many of the countries around the world where he led Exxon to make significant investments. We deserve to understand how he will prioritize these and other human rights concerns, and there is no better way to judge the balance he will take than to weigh his support for some of the most commonly persecuted minority communities around the world.

We urge that Tillerson speak clearly to these points, and to the leadership he would provide to advancing these paramount interests. We would far rather see policy guided by seasoned career diplomats for a time, than to leave these questions unanswered. A speedy confirmation might be in the narrow partisan interests of the President-elect – but not in the interests of our country.

U.S. State Department Should Apologize for “Lavender Scare”

U.S. Department of StateThe Obama Administration clearly deserves great credit for turning the page on our country’s inattention to LGBT human rights abuse abroad. And we’re immensely proud of the State Department’s increasingly robust advocacy for LGBT-fair policies and practices in other countries.

But Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) has pointed to a hole in the State Department’s advocacy for LGBT fairness: there’s been no Department apology to the victims and families of the so-called “Lavender Scare” of the 50’s and 60’s, in which those suspected of being gay lost their Foreign and Civil Service jobs, or were denied prospective State Department employment.

That Cold War period seems, of course, strikingly outdated. Current federal employment policies prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. LGBT employees now serve proudly, and openly, in support of government missions and, indeed, the American people.

But Senator Ben Cardin’s call for an apology remains principled and right. An apology would only strengthen the integrity of State Department’s human rights advocacy abroad for those who are gay, lesbian and transgender. It equally would remind the incoming Trump Administration that there can be no rollback of fairness at home – and, indeed, that contract employees and their employers should be covered by LGBT non-discrimination provisions, too.

There’s time in this Administration for Secretary Kerry to act. We hope and urge that he will support Senator Cardin’s call.

Remarks opposing a UN General Assembly Amendment to Delay the Mandate of the UN Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Amb. Samantha PowerAmbassador Samantha Power
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
December 19, 2016

AS DELIVERED

Thank you, Mr. President. The United States will vote “no” on the amendment proposed by the African Group to delay part of the report by the Human Rights Council, and we strongly encourage other countries to join us in rejecting this amendment.

You have heard, and may hear more, so-called procedural arguments made by other countries for adopting this amendment. These arguments are unsubstantiated, unjustified, and unprecedented.

The UN Human Rights Council currently has 57 mandate holders under special procedures – 43 on thematic issues, and 14 on countries or territories. Yet never before has the General Assembly sought to challenge a special procedures mandate holder after it has been appointed and is fully functioning.

The supporters of this amendment say that they have concerns about what they call the “legal basis” for the mandate for the Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. On the surface, raising concerns about one out of the more than a hundred resolutions adopted this year by the Human Rights Council may not seem like such a big deal. But for the General Assembly to seek to open the Human Rights Council’s report over the contents of a single resolution – a resolution creating a mandate that is squarely within the Council’s authority – would set a hugely problematic precedent.

In previous years, the purpose of this General Assembly resolution has been simply to “take note” of the Human Rights Council’s annual report. Were this amendment to be adopted, it would, going forward, be fair game for the General Assembly to open up and re-litigate resolutions that have long history of going into effect immediately. That would undermine the authority, the independence, and the efficiency of the Human Rights Council.

In addition to setting this dangerous procedural precedent, this amendment is deeply flawed on the merits. The proponents of the amendment argue in their explanatory note that their reason for seeking a delay was that, “there is no international agreement on the definition of the concept of ‘sexual orientation and gender identity.’” That is patently false. The issue of violence or discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is well established and well understood. It has been referred to in resolutions and statements adopted by the Human Rights Council, the UN Security Council, and the UN General Assembly. It has been the focus of nearly 1,300 recommendations under the Universal Periodic Review, leading to recommendations that have been accepted by more than 100 UN Member States, including several of the countries that proposed this amendment. And it has been addressed repeatedly by various regional bodies, including the Organization of American States, the European Court of Human Rights, and the African Commission on Human Rights and Peoples’ Rights.

In reality, this amendment has little to do with questions around the definition of sexual orientation and gender identity. Instead, this amendment is rooted in a real disagreement over whether people of a certain sexual orientation and gender identity are, in fact, entitled to equal rights. And it is being driven by a group of UN Member States that believe it is acceptable to treat people differently because of who they are or who they love.

For our part, the United States believes that discriminating against people on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity is no different from discriminating against people for the color of their skin, for discriminating against them because of their sex, or because of their nationality. It is wrong. Such discrimination cuts against the very essence of the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This is not an issue of the North trying to impose its values on the South; it is an issue of respecting the dignity and human rights of all people, everywhere. That is what we mean when we say that LGBTI rights are universal human rights.

The United States also believes that the resolution creating the Independent Expert to address violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is well-merited by the facts on the ground. For who here today would argue that LGBTI people are treated equally around their world, or that they are not subject to violence and discrimination? Nobody can argue that on the basis of the facts. This is a world we live in which, according to a report issued in 2015 by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, “the overall picture remains one of continuing, pervasive, violent abuse, harassment, and discrimination affecting LGBT and intersex persons in all regions…often perpetrated with impunity.” A world today in which it is still considered acceptable in certain places to throw people off of the rooftops of buildings, or to prevent them from forming a local organization, or to deny them a seat in a classroom – simply because of who they are or who they love. In that world – in our world, the world of today – we have every reason to want an independent expert to monitor and seek to prevent violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

That includes addressing the issue right here in the United States. For while LGBTI people no longer have to hide who they love to serve in our nation’s military or our Foreign Service – people in the United States can still be fired from a job because of their sexual orientation, and an estimated four in every 10 transgender people in America attempt suicide – approximately 30 times the national average. We, too, have seen our share of horrific violence against LGBT people. As many of you will remember, on June 12 of this year, a gunman attacked innocent civilians at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida, killing 49 innocent people. These individuals were targeted simply because they were LGBT people.

Let me close. One of the victims in that attack was 32-year-old Christopher Leinonen, who, as a teenager, was brave enough to be the only student to come out of the closet in his high school of 2,500 people. Christopher endured taunts, harassments, and even threats for telling people who he was and for founding his school’s first gay-straight alliance.

Tell me, why would any Member State stand in the way of trying to prevent violence like the attack at that Orlando nightclub?

If you believe that people should not be discriminated against, or harassed, or attacked, or killed for who they are and for who they love, please join the United States in voting against this amendment. Thank you.

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Related Content: 

U.N. committee again rejects motion to suspend LGBT watchdog (Washington Blade)

African States Narrowly Fail to Stop UN Gay Rights Envoy Work (Voice of America VOA)

Statement by Secretary Kerry: Transgender Day of Remembrance

Repost from U.S. Department of State

On Transgender Day of Remembrance, the United States solemnly honors the memory of the many transgender individuals who lost their lives to senseless acts of violence.

Transgender persons around the world are targeted by rising levels of violence fueled by hatred and bigotry.  This is a global challenge and we all must do more to protect transgender persons on the basis of equality and dignity.

In the United States, our Constitution enshrines freedoms of peaceful assembly, speech and association, and it affirms that everyone has equal protection under the law.  Around the world human rights and fundamental freedoms are recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that every person is born free and equal in dignity and rights.  Every person includes transgender women, transgender men, and other individuals who face marginalization on account of their gender expression or gender identity.

Today we stand in solidarity with the incredible resilience and leadership of the transgender community in responding to stigma and marginalization.  Transgender persons deepen our diversity, broaden our communities, and strengthen the values we cherish.  When all persons reach their full human potential, free from fear, intimidation, and violence, nations become more just, secure and prosperous.

The United States remains committed to advance the human rights of all persons, including transgender persons.  On this Transgender Day of Remembrance, we reaffirm equality for all as part of our core constitutional principles and as a human rights priority of U.S. diplomacy.

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. Continue reading ‘Remarks by Ambassador Samantha Power at the White House Dialogue on Global LGBT Human Rights’

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


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