The Observatory on the Universality of Rights (OURs), a collaboration of more than a dozen NGOs, has launched a new web platform. The project’s purpose is “to monitor, analyze, and share information on initiatives that misuse religion, culture, and tradition to undermine the universality of human rights.”
Human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent, and inalienable to every person in the world.
Yet, today conservative actors are targeting the systems established to protect our human rights. These actors use arguments based on extreme interpretations of religion, culture, and tradition, along with rhetoric linked to state sovereignty to roll back fundamental rights — particularly women’s rights and gender justice— and to justify state impunity.
The U.S. State Department’s 2015 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices was released this week:
In every part of the world, we see an accelerating trend by both state and non-state actors to close the space for civil society, to stifle media and Internet freedom, to marginalize opposition voices, and in the most extreme cases, to kill people or drive them from their homes. Some look at these events and fear democracy is in retreat. In fact, they are a reaction to the advance of democratic ideals – to rising demands of people from every culture and region for governments that answer to them….
The Report this year continued to track the weakening of institutions that undergird human rights and democracy. In many countries, governments cracked down on the fundamental freedoms of expression and association by jailing reporters for writing critical stories, or sharply restricting or closing non-governmental organizations for promoting supposedly “foreign ideologies” such as universal human rights. Our message to these countries is that, far from threatening the democratic process, a free press and open civil society are the release valve and life blood of a thriving democracy.
Human Rights Campaign has excerpted sections of the report dealing with violence, discrimination and other abuses based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The Sexual Rights Initiative has launched an online National Sexual Rights Law and Policy Database it describes as “a one-stop shop for national Constitutions, laws and policies related to sexual rights, including reproductive rights and sexual and reproductive health.”
Indonesia: Anti-LGBT Campaign Tied to Rising Intolerance Toward Religious Minorities
Murray Hiebert and Norashiqin Toh at the US based Center for Strategic and International Studies writes with concern about the “mounting intolerance toward minority groups,” which includes religious minorities as well as this year’s campaign against the LGBT community. Their article documents attacks on followers of Shia sects, Christians, and members of the Ahmadiya and Gafatar religious communities. “Hardline Islamist groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) and FUI, continue to instigate verbal and physical attacks against minority communities and places of worship.”
Much of this harassment and mob violence began under previous president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who did little to rein in intolerant behavior during his term in office. Under his watch, persecutors of minorities were seldom brought to justice. Cabinet ministers signed a decree in 2008 ordering the Ahmadiyah community to “stop spreading interpretations and activities which deviate from the principal teachings of Islam.” In 2011, the then-religious affairs minister, Suryadharma Ali, repeatedly urged the cabinet to issue an outright ban on the Ahmadiyah and delivered a keynote speech at FPI’s congress in 2013 praising the hardline group [Islamic Defenders Front] as a “national asset” despite its harassment of religious minorities.
President Jokowi campaigned two years ago on a platform that prioritized respect for diversity in Indonesia, vowing to promote tolerance and restore the spirit of harmony among the country’s citizens. Although Jokowi spoke of the need to continue building positive interreligious communication and preserve tolerance in Indonesian society during the NU congress in August 2015, he has been noticeably silent since. Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal, and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan has said Jokowi is still “listening to the people’s voice,” and the government is not in a hurry to address the intolerance issue. This failure to intervene, however, appears to have emboldened the voices of intolerance.
CSIS quotes Sidney Jones, who directs the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict in Jarkarta. Among the reasons for the rise in intolerance Jones cites: close ties between law enforcement and hardliners; the inflammation of anti-foreigner sentiment by conservative nationalists who portray LGBT equality as an attack by outsiders on Indonesian values; and a “concerted push by many Islamist organizations for the government to play a greater role in setting standards for both morality and religious orthodoxy.”
Norway: Lutheran Church Approves Marriage for Same-Sex Couples
The Norwegian Lutheran Church voted at its annual conference on Monday to allow same-sex couples to marry within the church. Priests who object will not be required to marry couples.
“Finally we can celebrate love independently of whom one falls in love with,” said Gard Sandaker-Nilsen, leader of the Open Public Church, a religious movement within the church that had campaigned to change the rules.
According to Reuters, the percentage of Norwegians who are members of the Lutheran Church has been declining, but as of last year was still 74 percent of the population.
Finland: Lutheran Archbishop Tells Priests To Follow Church Ban on Marrying Same-Sex Couples
In advance of legal marriage equality going into effect in Finland next year, Lutheran Archbishop Kari Mäkinen has told priests not to buck church policy by conducting marriages for same-sex couples.
The Finnish Broadcasting Company Yle has learned of Lutheran pastors in the capital city region who say they plan to marry same-sex couples in church ceremonies after the gender-neutral marriage act comes into effect in March 2017. Kari Mäkinen, Archbishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, took a stand on the issue on Yle’s morning show on Saturday.
Mäkinen says that the gender-neutral marriage amendment is a case of society challenging the authority of the church.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland’s official stance only allows representatives of the church to engage in “free prayer with and for those who have registered their civil partnerships”, but does not condone blessing or marrying them.
Mäkinen says he understands that the pro same-sex marriage priests have a desire to assist those who seek their support. But the Archbishop emphasises restraint when it comes to individual church officials going off script…
Mäkinen himself drew the ire of church officials when he publicly showed his enthusiasm after the law was passed to permit gender-neutral marriage in December 2014.
“I know how much this day means to the rainbow community, their loved ones and many others. I rejoice with my whole heart for them and with them,” he wrote on Twitter at the time.
Turkey: Intelligence Document Warns ISIS Targeting Gay Rights Group
Human Rights group Kaos Gay and Lesbian Cultural Research and Solidarity Association (Kaos GL) is seeking police protection after the circulation of what appears to be an “urgent” internal document from the Gülhane Military Medical Academy warning that Kaos GL in Ankara is considered a likely target by ISIS, referred to in the document as “DEAŞ terrorist organization.” While attempting to verify the document and secure police protection, Kaos GL decided to close its cultural center in Ankara.
Australia: Catholic Church Urges Companies to Back Off Marriage Equality Support
The Catholic Church in Australia continues its aggressive campaign to block marriage equality. Fairfax Media reported that the Archdiocese of Sydney contacted corporate CEOs who have publicly spported the Australian Marriage Equality (AME) campaign urging them to back off.
Archdiocese of Sydney business manager Michael Digges previously wrote to corporations featured in the AME advertisements to outline his “grave concern” about their support for marriage equality, and appearing to threaten a boycott.
“You may be aware that the Catholic archdiocese of Sydney is a significant user of goods and services from many corporations, both local and international,” he wrote. “Undoubtedly, many of the Catholic population of Sydney would be your employees, customers, partners and suppliers.”
The Australian reported this week that telecom giant Telstra had agreed to end its public support for marriage equality after the Church complained and appeared to suggest it might boycott the company’s services. According to 9News, “Telstra currently holds contracts for all the Catholic schools in Australia.” After many customers complained that the company had caved to pressure from the church, Telstra said it had not changed its position in favor of equality but would refrain from public advocacy during the proposed plebiscite to give everyone “an opportunity to contribute” and “voice their own views.”
Bangladesh: Under Threat From Islamists, Rally Banned
Police detained four revellers attempting to hold a banned “rainbow rally” to mark Bengali New Year in the Bangladeshi capital Thursday, amid heightened security threats from Islamists.
Officers said they held four young men who joined revellers at the main new year parade at Dhaka University seeking to hold a rally in support of gay rights, which had been denied permission.
Authorities had cancelled the rally, being organised by activist group Roopbaan — which says it promotes freedom of love and gender equality — at the last minute, after Islamists threatened to beat up participants…
Gays and lesbians suffer discrimination and worse in Bangladesh where homosexuality is a crime punishable by a maximum life term, although prosecutions are rare.
However, the Roopbaan rally, which was denied permission late on Wednesday, had been allowed to go ahead in the previous two years…
Police have stepped up their hunt for Islamic militants as Bangladesh reels from a series of deadly attacks on religious minorities, secularists and foreigners in recent months.
Hardline clerics have branded the Bengali new year celebrations, in which people carry masks of animals and colourful garlands, as “un-Islamic and Haram (forbidden)”.
Israel: Orthodox Rabbinical Group Releases Document on Gays in Faith Communities
Beit Hillel, a group of 200 rabbis that “promotes inclusiveness in Orthodox Judaism,” released a legal document on “how to include people with a homosexual orientation within faith communities.” JTA quotes the group’s director Rabbi Shlomo Hecht:
Hecht said his group stopped short of endorsing rabbinical officiation of any ceremonies that would, in the eyes of mainstream Orthodoxy, violate halachah, including gay marriages.
“We’re not recognizing any sort of homosexual unions – I mean, they exist, we don’t deny reality, but we don’t sanction them in an official form in the document,” he said. But he said the document does specify a number of halachic principles related to the need “to include homosexuals within faith communities and make them feel at ease in their community.”
…He said the document was created in response to the fact “that homosexuals choose increasingly to remain within faith communities, which in the past they would leave because of their orientation. It used to be that you were either religious [Orthodox] or homosexual, but now you have both.” This change “creates a need for a halachic document that cements some principles for the relationship.”
Caribbean: World Congress of Families Holds Regional Gathering
The U.S.-based World Congress of Families, which brings together social conservatives from around the glove, held a Caribbean regional conference in Barbados ast weekend. Among the speakers were WCF’s Theresa Okafor, National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown, Focus on the Family’s Glenn Stanton, and American missionary Scott Strim, who defends Belize’s colonial-era sodomy laws.
United Kingdom: Poll Shows Low Support for LGBT Rights Among British Muslims
Pink News reports on a poll of 1000 Muslims commissioned by Channel 4:
Just 18% of Muslims surveyed agreed that homosexuality should be legal in Britain, while 52% said it should be banned.
Nearly half (47%) said they would not be happy with a gay person being a teacher, while they were also overwhelmingly opposed to equal marriage.
Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the former Chairman of the Conservative Party and Minister of State for Faith and Communities, challenged the conceptions that Muslims are moving slowly on the issue,
She said: “There is social conservatism, maybe even social intolerance, but most religious communities on the issue of homosexuality have been on a journey on this.
“So has my own party, so has the Church of England.
“But our community in Britain is 50 or 60 years old – we have moved faster than my party, which has been around much longer, or the Church.”
Kenya: Activists File Court Challenge to Criminalization of Gay Sex
Gay rights advocate Eric Gitari asked the High Court to overturn laws criminalizing gay sex on the grounds that they “violate constitutional rights to equality, dignity, and privacy,” reports Reuters.
Bahamas: PM Says Proposed Equal Rights Amendment Would Not Legalize Gay Marriage
Prime Minister Perry Christie forcefully declared that a proposed constitutional amendment that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex would not lead to the legalization of marriage for same-sex couples. Bahamians will vote on the amendment on June 7. More from the Jamaica Observer:
“I am so emphatic because it is so important for Bahamians to vote on what is really at stake – equal rights for our sons and daughters – and not let false rumours or incorrect information hold sway.
“This referendum does not seek to change Bahamian society or our traditional values – instead it seeks to change the Constitution so that it more clearly reflects those values, and our shared belief in fairness.”
Bermuda: Anti Marriage Equality Group Granted Charitable Status
An anti-marriage equality group led by religious leaders, Preserve Marriage, was granted charitable status even though its application had been challenged by those who argued the group does not provide a benefit to the public as defined by the Charities Act.
Honduras: European Parliament Passes Resolution on Anti-LGBT Violence
The pattern of violence has significantly worsened after the 2009 coup d’état. Since then, 222 LGBTI people have been killed, amongst whom many rights defenders.
The latest in this string of killings was trans woman Paola Barraza, who was murdered on 24 January 2016. Paola was a member of Arcoiris‘ group of trans women known as Grupo Muñecas and member of Arcoiris’ board of directors for more than eight years.
The parliament further worries over the widespread impunity and highlights that 92 percent of the killings of LGBT people have not been properly investigated and remain unresolved (par J).
Accordingly, the Parliament calls for “immediate, thorough and impartial investigations into the killings of active members of different LGBTI human rights organisations” (par 5).
Furthermore, the parliament “emphasises the need to strengthen protection against discrimination and hate crimes on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.”
Intergroup co-president Ulrike Lunacek connected threats to LGBT people to a larger climate of violence:
“Speaking out on LGBTI rights and being visible in Honduras often is like a death sentence. Today’s resolution tackled the situation for LGBTI rights defenders as well as indigenous and ecological rights defenders, who are all under severe threat.”
The Index on Censorship has also reported this month on gay activists in Honduras facing torture, prison, and assassination in crimes that go largely uninvestigated. Activists told the Index that the violence had “exploded” after a 2009 military coup.
Gang warfare was a massive contributor to Honduras status as the nation with the world’s highest murder rate in 2012, however the gay community’s main concern is not gangs, but the state security forces.
“The police constitute the primary perpetrator of violations of the rights of the LGBT community,” the Coalition Against Impunity, an alliance of 29 Honduran NGOs, warned last year, citing alleged “police policy of frequent threats, arbitrary arrests, harassment, sexual abuse, discrimination, torture and cruel or degrading treatment”.
As a result many vulnerable activists are reluctant to ask for protection, for fear that contact with the police would expose them to greater security risks or reprisals.
Journalists risk their lives to report on this violence. Dina Meza, an independent reporter who founded a news site Pasos de Animal Grande, and coordinator of LGBT advocacy group Arcoíris Donny Reyes are among those who believe that the growing influence of Catholic and Evangelical groups plays a role.
Reyes from Arcoíris described the state, the church and the mainstream media as a triumvirate which has fuelled “impunity, fundamentalism, machismo and misogyny” across the country, with disastrous consequences for the LGBT community.
Russia: ‘Presumed Gay and Paying for it with Your Life’
Human Rights Watch researcher Tanya Cooper reports on the killing of Russian journalist and theater critic Dimitri Tsilikin, who was stabbed to death in late March by a Hitler admirer who told police he had planned to blackmail Tsilikin about his homosexuality.
It’s critical the prosecuting authorities do not ignore evidence of all possible motives for this gruesome killing, including Tsilikin’s sexual orientation. Russia has hate crime laws on the books that can be applied. I have reason to be skeptical: of the several dozen anti-LGBT attacks I’ve documented in recent years, none were investigated and prosecuted as hate crimes, even the ones that most blatantly involving a hate motive.
Russian officials and state media spread hateful, anti-LGBT rhetoric. In this environment, the absence of any concerted official efforts to condemn discrimination against LGBT people is effectively a carte blanche to engage in homophobic violence. As Natalia Tsymbalova, an LGBT activist who knew Tsilikin, told me “there will always be others who will go beyond words and express their hate through violence if they think it’s allowed.”
Until Russian authorities rein in their own hateful rhetoric, acknowledge their obligation to protect those who identify as LGBT and their supporters, and act on that obligation, the attacks will continue. And some, like Dmitry Tsilikin, will pay with their lives.
Chile: Legislation to Protect Children of Same-Sex Couples Introduced
Several senators proposed legislation providing legal protections to the children of same-sex couples
China: Trans Man Will Get Day in Court
A Chinese court agreed to hear the case of a transgender man who says he was fired for wearing men’s clothing, which may be the first time a Chinese court has ruled directly on transgender issues.
Venezuela: Profile of Exiled ‘Artivist’
Out magazine profiled artist Daniel Arzola, whose graphic posters challenging homophobia have brought him both positive attention and threats that forced him to leave the country. His “artivism” includes a “No Soy Tu Chiste” (I am not your joke) campaign.