Posts Tagged 'White House'

The State of LGBT Rights Abroad

The State of LGBT Rights Abroad

The three-month-late State Department release of the 2014 country human rights reports on June 25 passed largely under the radar. We’ll leave aside the obvious question as to why the Department, and Congress, allowed this mandated report to slide so far down the calendar. The substance of the report, after all, deserves note.

As in previous years, the newly released reports document a continued lack of respect for the lives, livelihoods and rights of LGBT people around the world:

  • Laws criminalizing LGBT relations and relationships exist in every corner of the globe, from Kuwait to Singapore and from Turkmenistan to Zambia; anti-discrimination protections exclude LGBT people from the Czech Republic to Egypt and from Pakistan to the Philippines.
  • In countries as wide-ranging as Algeria, the Dominican Republic, Indonesia and Sierra Leone, LGBT populations face barriers to critical health service needs.
  • Media – even including government outlets – have engaged in anti-gay public messaging from Armenia to Angola and from Georgia to Mongolia and Singapore.
  • LGBT organizations have been denied registration in Botswana, Bulgaria, and Afghanistan, and in many more countries it would be unthinkable to attempt to register such an organization.
  • Transgender people lack protections or find it difficult, if not impossible, to change their identity documents in countries ranging from Ecuador to Cyprus, from Tajikistan to Vietnam and even in countries such as Thailand and the Philippines, with increasingly strong and visible transgender rights movements; many more countries require unwanted medical procedures or forced sterilization before a person can access appropriate identity documents, including countries ranging from Belgium to Iran.
  • And, like in our own country, there is ample evidence that LGBT people too often are denied employment, education and housing opportunities or are subjected to inhumane and coercive medical practices and so-called “conversion therapies.”

These cases, of course, are in addition to the well-known and –documented homophobia of countries like Russia, Uganda and much of the Arab world.

The most egregious violations documented in the reports center on bias-motivated crimes and abuse – committed far too often, and with impunity, by government authorities. Many reports describe national police as subjecting LGBT people to arbitrary arrest or extortion, or even of being complicit in LGBT-directed hate violence. In dozens of countries, the reports describe police and other government authorities as having turned a blind eye to LGBT hate crimes, failing either to protect against or to prosecute those crimes.

By commission or omission, these violations challenge the integrity of the governments concerned. But the integrity of our own government’s human rights credentials is also at stake. A country that documents and champions human rights must make clear that LGBT human rights abuse has real consequences to the strength and extent of bilateral relations – something that this Administration has recognized but which has not occurred with the consistency required to have a deterrent effect. Equally important, the U.S. needs to use its bilateral law enforcement tools imaginatively to help partner countries prevent, investigate, and prosecute human rights abuse. In so doing, U.S. support must help change the fundamental mindset of other governments, especially those close U.S. friends and allies who insist on treating their LGBT citizens as criminals undeserving of protection – or, indeed, of the rule of law.

At a White House conference earlier this summer, the Administration showcased some of those international law enforcement tools. An important conclusion from that conference was that “improving access to justice for LGBT persons will require both an overall strengthening of the institutions that safeguard the rule of law, and increased education and training for law enforcement officials on promoting human rights and protecting vulnerable communities, including LGBT communities.”

The U.S. can, and should, take immediate action to impact that conclusion. U.S. Legal Attaches stationed abroad can proactively urge foreign governments to collect and disaggregate data on hate crimes abuse directed against LGBT people, to focus attention toward needed areas. Indeed, the United States is one of the few countries around the world that is trying to collect and disaggregate this data within its own jurisdiction. Justice Department legal advisors can provide host governments with needed expertise on legal reform tools. Overseas police training programs can offer greater attention to international LGBT bias-motivated violence. Inter-agency attention to bias-motivated violence abroad might benefit from enhanced coordinative structures or processes. And the U.S. can more purposefully support LGBT-affirming policies in other countries, and better match foreign assistance to LGBT civil society needs.

In short, the State Department devotes sizeable resources to documenting human rights abuses abroad each year; it needs to more purposefully use that documentation to drive U.S. human rights policy and funding priorities overseas. This is not only a matter of using taxpayer dollars wisely, but of demonstrating our commitment to the fundamental human rights that our country is right to champion.

Obama Applauds LGBT Advocate During Jamaica Speech

Angeline Jackson. Photo: Michael KeyRepost from The Washington Blade

President Obama on Thursday applauded a prominent Jamaican LGBT rights advocate as he spoke during a town hall meeting in the country’s capital.

Angeline Jackson, executive director of Quality of Citizenship Jamaica, a group that advocates on behalf of lesbian and bisexual women and transgender Jamaicans, was among those in the audience at University of the West Indies in Kingston when Obama described her as one of the island’s “remarkable young leaders.”

Obama during his speech noted that Jackson founded Quality of Citizenship Jamaica after she and a friend were kidnapped, held at gunpoint and sexually assaulted.

“As a woman and as a lesbian, justice and society weren’t always on her side,” said the president. “But instead of remaining silent she chose to speak out and started her own organization to advocate for women like her, get them treatment and get them justice and push back against stereotypes and give them some sense of their own power. And she became a global activist.” Continue Reading

Sen. Markey & Rep. Lowenthal Introduce Legislation Affirming U.S. Commitment to International LGBT Rights

Markey-Lowenthal

Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.)

Press Statement from the office of Senator Edward J. Markey

Washington (January 29, 2015) – In the wake of President Obama’s commitment in the State of the Union to defend the human rights of the LGBT community, today Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.) introduced bicameral legislation to affirm that LGBT human rights are a foreign policy priority for the U.S. government. Originally introduced last year by Senator Markey, the International Human Rights Defense Actwould direct the State Department to make preventing and responding to discrimination and violence against the LGBT community a foreign policy priority and devise a global strategy to achieve those goals. The legislation would establish a Special Envoy position in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor to coordinate that effort. More than 80 nations around the world have laws that criminalize homosexuality, prohibit public support for the LGBT community, or promote homophobia. In seven countries, homosexuality is punishable by death.

“When President Obama addressed the nation and committed to defending the human rights of the LGBT community, we made that commitment to the world,” said Senator Markey, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. “With the rights of the LGBT community under attack around the globe, we must stand hand-in-hand with them in the struggle for recognition and equality everywhere. It is vital to have a dedicated position at the State Department spearheading that effort.  The International Human Rights Defense Act will promote a coordinated effort across the federal government to support our position as a model for defending LGBT and human rights around the world, and I thank Rep. Lowenthal for his partnership on this important legislation.” Continue Reading

A copy of the International Human Rights Defense Act can be found HERE. A one-page summary can be found HERE.

Advocacy Groups Seek U.S. Travel Ban Against Gambian President

Obama Jammeh White HouseRepost from the Washington Blade

More than a dozen LGBT advocacy groups on Friday called upon the Obama administration ban Gambian officials responsible for human rights abuses from entering the U.S.

The Human Rights Campaign, the Council for Global Equality, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, Human Rights First, GLAAD, the National LGBTQ Task Force, the Los Angeles LGBT Center, the Global Justice Institute with the Metropolitan Community Churches, the National Center for Transgender Equality, Out and Equal, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce in a letter urged the White House to institute a visa ban on Gambian President Yahya Jammeh and other “key Gambian officials” who “have promoted discriminatory laws and who are responsible for grave human rights abuses.” The groups also called upon the Obama administration to freeze Jammeh’s U.S. assets that include a multi-million dollar home in Potomac, Md.

“It is not too late for the United States to send President Jammeh and his regime a clear and unequivocal message: human rights violations will not be tolerated and the U.S. government will respond with actions, as well as with strong condemnation,” reads the letter. “It is crucial that the United States take concrete action whenever countries enact discriminatory laws, and the Gambia should be no exception.” Continue Reading

Global LGBT Rights Advocates Send Joint Letter to President Obama

Photo: Pete Souza

Photo: Pete Souza

A group of 24 leading LGBT rights advocates from every region of the world sent a joint letter to President Obama in late December asking him to stand with them in seeking fairness and equality. While applauding the President’s support, they noted inconsistencies in his Administration’s response to anti-LGBT laws that have been adopted recently in various countries. Without a more consistent approach, they pointedly asked President Obama: “How can we trust otherwise that the United States will, indeed, stand with us as we fight for our rights?

Recognizing that the response to harmful laws adopted in different countries may not be identical in every case, and that any response must be tailored to fit the country context, the advocates nonetheless asked that the United States respond, without fail and in whatever way is most appropriate, whenever another country adopts a new law or a national policy that denies fundamental rights to LGBT citizens.

Click here to read the full letter.

U.S. Kicks African Nation From Trade Agreement Over Anti-LGBT Crackdown

Repost from BuzzFeed

The United States on Tuesday dropped The Gambia from a popular free trade agreement in response to a crackdown on LGBT rights and other human rights concerns.

The decision to drop the small West African nation from special trade status under the African Growth and Opportunity Act of 2000 came late Tuesday afternoon, just after media in The Gambia announced that three men would be put on trial for homosexuality. These are the first to face trial since police began arresting people on allegations of homosexuality in November. At least sixteen more are known to be in detention, and Gambian human rights activists do not know if they are even still alive.

“The U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) has been monitoring the human rights situation in The Gambia for the past few years, with deepening concerns about the lack of progress with respect to human rights, rule of law, political pluralism, and the right to due process,” said Ned Price, a spokesman for the White House, in an email to BuzzFeed News. “In addition, in October, Gambian President Jammeh signed into law legislation that further restricts the rights of LGBT individuals, including life imprisonment for so-called ‘aggravated homosexuality.’ Reports have surfaced of arrests, detention, and torture of individuals because of their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.”

The move comes after Gambian human rights activists were able to secure their first meetings with high-ranking US officials after years of unsuccessfully trying to get the State Department to respond to the abysmal human rights during President Yahya Jammeh’s 20 years in power. The meeting coincided with a petition drive launched by the largest American LGBT organization, the Human Rights Campaign, calling on the Obama administration to “take swift action against President Jammeh for his intolerable actions.” LGBT rights advocates say their role in opening doors to the Obama administration suggests they have fully arrived as a force in influencing US foreign policy.

“For the first time the gay community really is coming together to get equal consideration in U.S. foreign policy,” said Mark Bromley of the Council for Global Equality, which lobbies for LGBT rights in international affairs. Bromley said that only in recent years have LGBT groups been able to exert the kind of influence that certain religious or ethnic communities have exerted to focus the U.S.’s foreign policy when their counterparts in other countries are under threat. Continue Reading at BuzzFeed

Related Content: Read the full statement from the White House regarding The Gambia’s AGOA status

 

US Should Act Against Gambia’s Dictatorship

President-Obama-and-President-JammehRepost from AlJazeera.com

On Oct. 9, longtime Gambian President Yahya Jammeh quietly signed into law a new bill that carries a penalty of life imprisonment for “aggravated homosexuality.” The renewed crackdown on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Gambia has justifiably earned the West African nation an outsize reputation as one of the most repressive countries on the continent. Far from being an isolated campaign, his assault on LGBT rights is part of a wave of human rights abuses prevailing in the country. Jammeh, who came to power in 1994 after toppling a democratically elected president, is responsible for countless atrocities, including torture, arbitrary executions and disappearances of critics, while crippling civil society through a raft of repressive laws and routine intimidation.

To be sure, Jammeh is not the only African despot targeting vulnerable groups to deflect attention from his excesses and failures. Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe have also used convenient scapegoats to stir up populist sentiment and extend their rule. Jammeh’s recent rhetorical venom is an expedient gambit to divert attention from his regime’s abuses as well as the imminent threat of food shortages and famine and a rapid decline in the value of the country’s currency.

He has always been hostile to LGBT rights and is prone to bizarre public outbursts. However, his recent statements and collusion with the state media, which is busy trumpeting dangerous stereotypes about gay people and peddling hate speech, have coincided with crackdowns. At least 15 LGBT people are being detained incommunicado — a grim predicament in a country whose prisons are among the world’s worst. Many more people have fled to neighboring Senegal. The regime is also said to be working off a list of 200 alleged homosexuals, who are targeted for arrest. Even minors have not been spared during this nationwide roundup. For example, a 16-year-old boy was recently detained for nearly two weeks on “suspicion of being gay.” The National Intelligence Agency, a unit infamous for carrying out disappearances, torture and extrajudicial executions, is leading this effort.

For too long, Jammeh and his purveyors of terror in Gambia received a free pass from the international community for their heinous crimes. It is time for the United States and its allies to break their silence and take action. The European Union has already withdrawn significant financial support because of Gambia’s poor human rights record. On Dec. 4, the White House issued a statement expressing dismay over rampant human rights violations and the persecution of LGBT people. But press statements and finger wagging will not suffice. Continue reading at Al Jazeera.


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