For International Human Rights Day, a Snapshot of LGBT Rights from the Vatican to Cape Town

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Saturday, December 10 was International Human Rights Day. From a statement by AMSHeR, African Men for Sexual Health and Rights:

AMSHeR welcomes states and non-states actors’ efforts to achieve realization of human rights for all through concrete measures to create a protective environment that ensures lesbians, gays, bisexuals, trans-diverse and intersex individuals, groups and communities are included within countries development agenda and programmes.  However, in many countries around the world – and particularly in Africa – this is not yet a reality. “In the current context of religious fundamentalism and states’ failure to protect individuals under their jurisdiction against terrorism, joblessness and poverty; sexuality, sexual orientation and gender identity are still manipulated as grounds for violence, intolerance and public incitement for hatred by those who fail to deliver their promises to their electorate”, says Berry D. Nibogora, the AMSHeR Law and Human Rights Specialist.

In a very different take on Human Rights Day, an anti-LGBT manifesto dubbed the “Cape Town Declaration” was released by the International Organization for the Family, a new group headed by Brian Brown, who already serves as president of the US based National Organization for Marriage and the World Congress of Families, which is now described as a project of the IOF. Brown has been trying to launch an international version of NOM for a few years and it seems as if he has done so, with a declaration whose signers pledge “to resist the rising cultural imperialism of Western powers whose governments seek nothing less than the ideological colonization of the family.” Brown’s goal is to gather two million signatures for the declaration within a year; among early signers are religious leaders like Foley Beach, Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America; Catholic Bishop Emmanuel Badejo of Ojo, Nigeria; Lawrence Khongy, pastor of Faith Community Baptist Church in Singapore; and Orthodox Priest Josiah Trenham, a California-based World Congress of Families speaker.

According to a report on the right-wing Breitbart site:

The International Organization for the Family (IOF) rolled out its “Cape Town Declaration” in South Africa Friday, reaffirming the critical role of traditional man-woman marriage as the bedrock of civilization.

The Declaration, already signed by hundreds of religious, political, social, and civic leaders from all the continents, states that the family is the “first and primordial community” and that marriage is “the conjugal bond of man and woman.” This definition is not “a matter of preference or temperament or taste,” the signers declare, but “the heart of any just social order.”

Throwing down the gauntlet to the LGBT lobby, the text states that a thriving culture will firmly resist “every push to redefine marriage: to include same-sex or group bonds, or sexually open or temporary ones.” The document also declares that the nature of marriage as between one man and one woman is “a truth that no government can change.

At a global gathering of LGBTIQ activists in New York sponsored by OutRight Action International, formerly known as the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, activists urged the Trump administration to continue support for local human rights activists. Jessica Stern, Outright’s executive director, said that the extent of international progress on LGBT human rights would not have been achieved without “powerful” American engagement.

In a press briefing, several activists discussed the impact that supportive U.S. embassies have had during the Obama administration, providing groups with political and material support including safe spaces to hold meetings. Rosanna Flamer-Caldera, executive director of Equal Ground in Sri Lanka, said the U.S. election had been “rather a big blow” but that she is keeping her fingers crossed that support from the embassy can continue. Another activist said U.S. retreat from human rights activism would mean “a loss of hope for many people across the globe.” Stern said LGBT concerns are part of a broader human rights framework, and said it is troubling that torture is being tolerated and some countries are withdrawing from the International Criminal Court. Any system that accepts torture weakens core human rights values, she said. The most vulnerable are the first to suffer, she said, but it erodes all our safety.

Several openly gay U.S. ambassadors spoke at an event sponsored by the Victory Fund in Washington, DC and urged the incoming Trump administration to continue to support LGBT human rights around the world. Unfortunately, Trump’s cabinet choices include a number of stridently anti-gay figures, and his rumored pick of Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State is sounding alarm for Tillerson’s close ties to Russia’s Vladimir Putin as well as the company’s historically poor track record on LGBT issues.

C-Fam, the US based organization that is helping to lead an anti-LGBT backlash at the United Nations, attacked a speech by Thai diplomat Vitit Muntarbhorn, the new UN independent expert on violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. C-Fam and allied countries failed earlier this month to block the position, created by the Human Rights Council during the summer.  C-Fam’s interpretation of the speech was that Muntarbhorn would be “curtailing religious freedom” and ” indoctrinating children and society through propaganda at all levels.”

Vatican: New document on priesthood affirms ban on people with ‘deep-seated’ gay tendencies

In a new document on the priesthood, the Vatican said that people with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” or who “support the so-called ‘gay culture’” cannot be priests, reports the Washington Post’s Julie Zauzmer. The statement, released by the Congregation for the Clergy but approved by Pope Francis, dampens hope that the pope’s “who am I to judge” comment would signal a more welcoming attitude toward gay priests. Rev. James Martin, editor of America magazine, said the new statement does not change much regarding the leeway that the “deep-seated” language gives individual bishops regarding gay priests who are committed to a life of celibacy. “The people who were open to accepting healthy gay men into the seminaries will still do it,” he said. “It does not negate the fact, nor could it, that there are thousands of healthy and hard-working and holy and celibate gay priests throughout the world.”

Philippines: Government, Church policies contributing to fast-growing HIV epidemic

The Philippines “is facing one of the fastest-growing epidemics” of HIV in Asia, reports Human Rights Watch, which published an in-depth report calling for the government to alter its approach to the epidemic:

The country’s growing HIV epidemic has been fueled by a legal and policy environment hostile to evidence-based policies and interventions proven to help prevent HIV transmission. Such restrictions are found in national, provincial, and local government policies, and are compounded by the longstanding resistance of the Roman Catholic Church to sexual health education and condom use. Government policies create obstacles to condom access and HIV testing and limit educational efforts on HIV prevention. Children may be particularly vulnerable to HIV due to inadequate sex education in schools and misguided policies requiring parental consent for those under 18 to purchase condoms or access HIV testing.

According to the report, restrictions on access to testing, counseling and treatment “in part reflect the influence of the Catholic Church on government health and education policy.”

An estimated 80 percent of Filipinos are Roman Catholics, and the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has long had an obstructive influence on government anti-HIV policies. Since the early 1990s, the CBCP has issued official statements vilifying condoms, campaigned against legislation that would expand condom access, and levied personal attacks against government officials who favor inclusion of condoms in HIV prevention programs. The Church, backed by conservative lawmakers, has obstructed efforts to expand public education and awareness of the value of condoms in HIV prevention on the basis that condom use promotes promiscuity.

There is some worry that the horrific wave of extrajudicial killings being carried out by government and vigilantes in the name of fighting drug trafficking could be turned against others, including LGBT people.

Malta: Ban on conversion therapy adopted along with law ‘depathologizing’ gender identity

Two pieces of legislation were adopted on December 5 to depathologize transgender identities and ban so-called conversion therapies. Transgender Europe welcomed the legislation, saying Malta is at the forefront of trans rights in Europe. Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern provides a bit of history about the island nation’s shift from repressive laws and conservative Catholicism, including the repeal this year of a law that criminalized the vilification of religion “by words, gestures, written matter, whther printed or not, or pictures or by some other visible means.”

According to the Times of Malta,

Earlier this year, a Church position paper had stirred up controversy after its authors had argued that a ban on gay conversion therapy would violate a person’s right to receive treatment from a health professional.

Archbishop Charles Scicluna subsequently moved to quell protests against the Church position paper, making it clear that any therapy that went against people’s wishes was “a no go”.

Writes Stern:

Malta, of course, retains its proud Catholic heritage and continues to celebrate church traditions that help to define the country’s identity. A majority of its citizens (and legislators) have simply decided that the government has no business enforcing discriminatory beliefs using the heavy hand of the law. In that sense, the country is really an inspiration, simultaneously a haven for LGBTQ rights and a nation of deep Catholic faith. Liberal Western values may be on the declineelsewhere in Europe. But Malta today is proving that a country can adhere to key traditional values, promote its own religious heritage, and recognize the dignity of every citizen—all at the same time.

Suriname: Country makes progress at home but votes against LGBT human rights at UN

Human Rights Watch LGBT Program Advocacy Director Boris Dittrich writes:

Suriname’s government is on the right track at home when it comes to protecting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people (LGBT) against discrimination and violence. The government introduced anti-discrimination legislation including sexual orientation in grounds for non-discrimination complaints. The government also understands that it needs to protect the rights of same-sex couples living in Suriname.  The Suriname justice minister, Dr. Jennifer van Dijk-Silos, recently organized several public hearings in collaboration with civil society in Suriname to discuss the expansion of the rights of LGBT people.

So far, good news.

But abroad, Suriname is playing a completely different tune.

Dittrich cites country’s November 21 vote against allowing the new UN independent expert on violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity to do its work. A few days earlier, Suriname had also voted to remove reference to sexual orientation and gender identity from a resolution on extrajudicial killings.

It joined the ranks of countries like Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt and Sudan. Suriname is member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). But that should not be a reason to sell out on its principles of equal rights and non-discrimination. Albania and Turkey for instance are also OIC member countries and vote consistently against OIC proposals. They join the countries that respect human rights for all.

But it is not too late.

Later this month Suriname might get a second chance when a new proposal to postpone the mandate of the independent expert on sexual orientation and gender identity is expected to be submitted and voted upon.

This time the government of Suriname can show the rest of the world it takes protection of human rights for everyone seriously.

Bangladesh: Deadly violence has sent LGBT community into hiding

Reuters reported this week that in the months since al-Qaeda-linked militants murdered a prominent gay activist, “the South Asian country’s LGBT community remains in hiding, while more than a dozen LGBT people have fled abroad.”

Bangladesh’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community was already marginalised, with gay sex being illegal, punishable by a maximum of life in prison.

Then there was a coming out of sorts with the 2014 launch of the country’s first LGBT-themed magazine, Roopbaan, which became a subject of interest in the media and on social media, prompting a backlash and threats.

The community suffered escalating threats and then on April 25, Xulhaz Mannan, the founder and publisher of Roopbaan, and gay actor Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy were hacked to death at Mannan’s home in Dhaka.

The attack, claimed by the regional arm of al-Qaeda, was the first of its kind to target the LGBT community, although it followed more than 30 killings since early 2015 of academics, bloggers and atheists who published views critical of Islam.

Sudan: Oral history project documents oppression of sexual and gender minorities

Sudanese Queer Voices is a project whose aim is to document the oral histories of LGBTQI people in Sudan. English-language versions of stories are available in a document produced by the Mesahat Foundation for Sexual and Gender Diversity. An introduction reviews the country’s violent political history and complex ethnic, cultural and linguistic diversity. The report notes that same-sex sexual behavior is criminalized and says there is “massive violence and oppression” against sexual and gender minorities by both state and non-state actors. “What makes it worse is the Islamization of all aspects of life with more pressure on the traditional roles for both sexes in everyday life,” the report says. Those who don’t fit societal expectations regarding gender roles have been seen as threats to “the security and safety of the society as a whole.”

Turkey: More analysis of European Human Rights Court free expression ruling

At Article 19, Andrew Smith provides additional analysis of the recent European Court of Human Rights decision that the government of Turkey violated freedom of expression when it confiscated copies of a magazine published by LGBT advocacy group Kaos GL more than a decade ago.

The finding of a violation is obviously welcome: to our knowledge, it is the first such decision from the European Court of Human Rights concerning the prior-censorship of an LGBT publication. The decision shines a spotlight on censorship for the “protection of morals”, and reasserts fundamental points of principle to limit the misuse of this legal basis for restricting freedom of expression. It also shows a willingness of the European Court to extend the protections of the Convention to sexually explicit expression.

The decision should be read in light of the significant barriers LGBT people still face in exercising their free expression rights in many of the Council of Europe’s Member States. In the last decade, the adoption of so-called “propaganda bans” in several countries are just one example of this worsening situation. As Vitit Muntarbhorn, the newly appointed UN Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, has highlighted: this not a uniquely European problem.

Against this background, it is disappointing that the European Court’s decision did not go further in identifying the discriminatory basis and impact of “morality” based censorship. The decision could have more clearly articulated that the protection of “morals” should not be tied to the “sensibilities” of a country’s population (or part thereof), as applied in other cases this may place minorities’ free expression in a precarious position: subservient to majoritarian prejudices.

Taiwan: Human Rights Day concert promotes marriage equality

The China Post reports that up to 250,000 people (police said 75,000) joined a Human Rights Day concert on Saturday held in support of marriage equality, which is being promoted by President Tsai Ing-wen but resisted by some religious organizations.  “The event, coinciding with Human Rights Day, came amid pressure from some civic groups seeking to stop the government’s bid to legalize same-sex marriage,” reports the Post.

Before the start of the concert, anti-gay rights groups held a press conference in Taipei, calling for a referendum on the same-sex marriage issue.

Shih Chun-yu, a Fu Jen Catholic University student and head of the Protection of Family Value Students Organization, said many people who opposed same-sex marriage kept their feelings private out of fear of being bullied by gay rights activists. A referendum would let these people express their views, Shih said.

The anti-gay rights camp last Saturday held demonstrations in Northern, Central and Southern Taiwan to protest the same-sex marriage bills, arguing that the draft amendments to the Civil Code were contrary to traditional family values.

Egypt: HRC reports on persecution and harassment

Human Rights Campaign released a report “highlighting the persecution and harassment of LGBTQ people in Egypt by both the state and society.” From a blog post on the report:

The overall situation facing LGBTQ Egyptians today is grim as social, cultural, political and religious attitudes towards them are uniformly hostile. Successive governments and the media have hounded LGBTQ people since the early 2000’s during the regime of longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak.

While there was a brief lull in persecution between 2011 and 2013 during the Arab Spring and its immediate aftermath, the persecution has resumed with renewed ferocity under Abdel Fattah el-Sisi who seized power in a July 2013 military coup. LGBTQ Egyptians have been hunted down by the regime as part of an ongoing wider crackdown by Egyptian authorities on civil society activists and organizations.

Russia: Activist beaten

LGBT equality activist Aleksandr Sidorov was beaten up by a group of men in Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan. The police refused to take a report about the beating, which was captured on video, according to Human Rights Watch.

South Africa: Activist Jacobus Witbooi buried

Internationally known activist Jacobus Witbooi was buried on international human rights day. He died in late November after reportedly having contracted malaria while attending the African Commission meeting in the Gambia. Iranti Media posted a video tribute to the young activist and his work.

India: Delhi Queer Pride organizers look forward to next year’s 10th

The Hindustan Times reported on the “bigger, better and brighter” Delhi Queer Pride Parade which took place last week.