Posts Tagged 'US State Department'

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

 

Obama Administration Brings Global LGBTI Community Together to Advance Human Rights and Development

Todd Larson- USAIDRepost from the White House blog

Last month, the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development, where I work, co-hosted the third-annual Conference to Advance the Human Rights of and Promote Inclusive Development for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex (LGBTI) Persons. The international conference brought together public and private donors, civil society activists, and the private sector.

While this gathering wasn’t the first of its kind — previous such conferences were held in 2010 in Stockholm and in 2013 in Berlin — participation in this year’s event grew significantly, including representation from 30 governments from all regions of the world. When combined with advocates from civil society organizations, more than 50 countries were represented, as well as 9 multilateral agencies, including the United Nations and the World Bank.

More than 25 governments and multilateral organizations signed a joint communiqué affirming their commitment to increased cooperation, coordination, and communication to advance the human rights of and promote inclusive development for LGBTI persons around the world.

Take a look at the communiqué. It is historic. It is inspirational. And as Americans, we can be particularly proud of it. The resounding international LGBTI-affirming commitments in the communique are a direct result of strong U.S. government support to organize as inclusive a convening as possible.

Activists present at the conference weren’t just observers, but active participants, proudly sharing their inspirational stories of courage, explaining to donors what their needs are, and working with donors to conceptualize creative solutions to advance the rights and livelihoods of their LGBTI brothers and sisters.

The conference underscored a number of themes, including that more research and data are needed. I am proud that USAID is already working with partners like UNDP in Asia and, most recently, the Williams Institute, through the Agency’s LGBTI Global Development Partnership, to publish reports that can inform and guide LGBTI inclusive development programming going forward. And through the Global Equality Fund and other assistance and diplomatic tools, the U.S. Department of State is working to support civil society organizations on the ground, to help ensure that the human rights of all persons, including LGBTI persons, are protected.

The conference also made clear that there is much more work to be done. Recent backsliding, such as the passing of anti-LGBTI legislation in The Gambia, and similar renewed threats in Uganda, is tragic proof.

So it was a convening of critical importance — with more than 50 nationalities taking their own leadership seat at the table.

Three years ago, the Obama administration laid out its pioneering support for the international LGBTI community. By hosting the recent forum to address issues of most pressing concern for LGBTI persons around the world, the Administration continued to deliver on its promise.

Todd Larson is the Senior LGBT Coordinator at the U.S. Agency for International Development.


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