US government urged to end silence over global homophobic crackdowns

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The US government has been urged to end its “troubling” silence amid a string of homophobic clampdowns across the world.

This year there have been a number of crackdowns against the gay community in a string of separate countries across the world.

Human rights monitors in Russia have warned about a homophobic purge in the autonomous Chechnya region, with dozens of gay men reportedly killed by authorities and vigilantes while many others were forced to flee.

More recently authorities in Egypt launched a crackdown on the gay community, sparked by a ‘moral panic’ over the waving of a rainbow flag at a music concert.

Since the concert, Egyptian authorities began a ‘purge’ targeted at the country’s gay community, raiding homes and arresting more than 60 people. The state has also banned local media from mentioning the issue.

Tanzania also this month clamped down on the LGBT community, raiding a summit and arresting legal experts who had had been discussing a proposed legal challenge to an anti-LGBT government policy. The country has since outlawed the human rights charity behind the summit, accusing it of “promoting homosexuality”.

There has also been a recorded rise in anti-LGBT sentiment and arrests in other countries across the world, including Indonesia, Bangladesh, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Tajikistan.

To date, neither President Trump nor his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have publicly condemned the atrocities.

(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Today, the Human Rights Campaign sent a letter to Tillerson about the growing attacks against the LGBTQ community around the world.

It reads:

Dear Mr. Secretary:

Last week, it was reported that the Egyptian parliament is considering legislation that would criminalize a broad array of acts by LGBTQ Egyptians and their allies. This follows weeks of alarming crackdowns which have targeted Egypt’s LGBTQ community and have reportedly led to over 60 arrests. As president of the Human Rights Campaign, the world’s largest LGBTQ advocacy organization, I urge you speak out about this persecution quickly and with a commitment to holding the Egyptian government accountable.

The most recent wave of anti-LGBTQ persecution began in September, when authorities in Cairo arrested seven people who had been photographed at a concert raising a rainbow flag. These arrests marked the beginning of an unprecedented and widespread crackdown on LGBTQ Egyptians — some being beaten and subjected to invasive physical exams. Within one week, the Egyptian government banned the media from showing any kind of support for the LGBTQ community, further curtailing freedom of expression. Perhaps as a result, Egyptian media under the thumb of the government have largely backed the crackdown, publishing articles encouraging Egyptians to target LGBTQ people with hate speech and hate crimes.

Even more concerning are reports that the Egyptian parliament will consider legislation that would criminalize sexual relations between people of the same sex with imprisonment of at least one year. The legislation even criminalizes anyone carrying a symbol or sign that demonstrates support of the community with the same mandatory sentence of at least one year. Advocates attempting to fight the legislation face enormous legal obstacles in organizing, making a strong condemnation from the U.S. and other international actors all the more crucial.

In addition to addressing the state-sponsored persecution underway in Egypt, we urge you to speak out more broadly against the onslaught of state-sponsored persecution of LGBTQ people in Chechnya, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Georgia, Tanzania, Azerbaijan, and Tajikistan.

Since April, we have heard continuing reports that the government of Chechnya had been arresting, detaining and torturing as many as 200 LGBTQ people in secret prisons and that up to 20 people may have been murdered.

In May, authorities in Bangladesh arrested 28 men at a private social gathering and publicly outed them. Bangladeshi media then repeatedly showed videos and pictures of those arrested, further jeopardizing their lives.

That same month in Indonesia, police arrested 141 allegedly gay men, releasing their photographs and endangering their lives. This was followed by a public caning of two men accused of homosexuality, in front of a jeering crowd of thousands. On October 6, Indonesian authorities made further arrests of more than 50 people, also on “pornography” charges.

In Georgia, two gay men were attacked and beaten by a mob in Batumi in late August. When the men sought help from the police, the police joined in the abuse, shouting homophobic slurs at them while beating and arresting them.

In Tanzania, 20 people were arrested in Zanzibar at an education program on HIV/AIDS in September. Others were arrested at an October meeting with their lawyers, and bail was revoked — a severe attack on human rights.

Also in September, it was reported that authorities in Azerbaijan were cracking down on LGBTQ people, arresting at least 60 people while beating, harassing and torturing many of them.

And in October, reports began to emerge from Tajikistan that the government may have a registry of “proven” gays and lesbians, under an operation they are calling “morality” and “purge.”

The U.S. response to this wave of anti-LGBTQ violence has been far too weak. While there have been important statements from Ambassador Haley, State Department spokesman Heather Nauert and a few other U.S. ambassadors, and while State Department staff continue to support civil society organizations and individuals under threat, it has not been nearly enough to focus international attention and create pressure to stop the surge in anti-LGBTQ violence.

We urge you to personally speak out. Doing so will save lives. When you are silent, the perpetrators of this violence see America not as a moral leader — but as a government that will look the other way. In addition, we ask you to demonstrate America’s commitment to human rights by increasing U.S. funding for LGBTQ civil society groups around the world and making it clear to the American people, the international community and State Department staff that supporting and protecting the human rights of LGBTQ people remains a State Department commitment and priority.

The United States has long been a beacon of hope for oppressed people around the globe, and we are at our strongest when we affirm the values we hold dear before the rest of the world. On the global stage that means championing the dignity of all individuals, no matter how vulnerable or disenfranchised. I urge you to speak out against the serious attacks on LGBTQ people around the world by loudly condemning these arbitrary arrests, detentions, and persecution of LGBTQ people. There are countless lives — in these countries and many others across the globe — depending on America’s action and leadership.


Chad Griffin
HRC President”

The UN’s independent LGBT human rights expert recently warned of a brewing global crisis for LGBT people amid a “crucible” of rights violations

(Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)

The UN’s first Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, Vitit Muntarbhorn, made the warning in a landmark address to the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

The Thai human rights monitor warned that immediate action is needed to stop a global crisis, as LGBT people around the world suffer horrific violations of their human rights.

Mr Muntarbhorn said: “It is unconscionable that people with an actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression different from a particular social norm, are targeted for violence and discrimination in many parts of the world.

“LGBT people are suffering a crucible of egregious violations, including killings, rape, mutilation, torture, arbitrary detention, abduction, harassment, physical and mental assaults. They are subjected to lashings and forced surgical interventions, bullying from a young age, incitement to hatred and pressures leading to suicide.

“More than 70 countries around the world today still criminalize same-sex relations, and in some of them the death penalty may be applied.

“Even where there is no law criminalizing consensual same-sex relations, laws on public decency, public order and social peace are used in some countries to incriminate people under the umbrella of sexual orientation, gender identity and related gender expression.”

The human rights expert called for all laws criminalizing same-sex relationships to be removed from the statute books, also calling for an end to anti-LGBT ‘gagging’ laws used for the purpose of consolidating power and suppressing dissent.

He also warned that human rights defenders were being increasingly targeted for their work in the field.

(Photo by STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)

He said: “Non-governmental organizations, human rights defenders and activists, as well as independent national human rights institutions, play a crucial role in the advancement of an inclusive agenda for all without discrimination and distinction, including through the promotion of understanding of and respect for human rights and gender diversity.

“They are agents of change which can activate significant reform processes.”

Mr Muntarbhorn was first appointed to the role last year, as the UN’s first ever independent LGBT rights expert.

He said: “It is anchored in international human rights law, and it is a momentous commitment to multilateralism. It is an invitation to be forward looking and an incentive to move forward together.”

Mr Muntarbhorn said the “universal umbrella of human rights” offered a blueprint for the respect of diversity and appreciation of our common humanity.

However, his report has been met with derision from some countries.

Last week British MPs accused Donald Trump of “undermining” work on global LGBTI rights by pursuing a regressive agenda.

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 31: U.S. President Donald Trump nominates Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House January 31, 2017 in Washington, DC. If confirmed, Gorsuch would fill the seat left vacant with the death of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)


Labour MP Stephen Twigg said: “I want to say something about what is happening in the United States of America. President Trump’s decision to ban transgender people from the US military is an enormous shame, one I hope we can condemn on a cross-party basis.

“I pay tribute to the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff in America for his positive and measured response to President Trump’s actions. I urge our Government to do all they can to press President Trump to think again on his attempt to ban trans people from the US armed forces.

“That, however, is not the only incident of greater homophobia and transphobia in American politics and policy. Recently, the United States voted against a UN Human Rights Council resolution that condemned the use of the death penalty against people because they are LGBT.

“President Obama left a very positive legacy on LGBT. Tragically, President Trump is undoing it.

“That leaves a vacuum in global LGBT rights. I hope that the United Kingdom, working with like-minded countries around the world, will play a leadership role to ensure we do not slip back, but instead move forward to global LGBT equality.”