Obama Administration Leadership on International Human Rights (Part I)

President Barack ObamaEarlier this month, Ambassador Susan Rice delivered an address regarding the Obama administration’s leadership on international human rights. In this speech, Rice specifically criticized the human rights records of Russia and China while also highlighting what the US has to improve international human rights.

“We support these rights and freedoms with a wide range of tools, because history shows that nations that respect the rights of all their citizens are more just, more prosperous and more secure.” – Ambassador Susan E. Rice, December 4, 2013

Over the course of the final two weeks of the 2013, we’re going to cover in a series of blog posts what the Obama administration has worked on, and hasn’t worked on, during its tenure in the Oval Office. The administration has done well on some issues, while others could use much more work. Today, we’re covering LGBT rights in the US and around the world. This is an issue where the presidency has made great progress, but not every issue will show as much progress and attention.

Advancing LGBT Rights at Home and Abroad

Domestically Advancing LGBT Equality:

In his first term, President Obama and his Administration took significant steps toward equality for the LGBT community. The President signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the legislation to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act that included important new protections for the LGBT community.  The Obama Administration also issued important guidance to ensure visitation rights for LGBT patients and their loved ones at hospitals receiving Medicare or Medicaid payments, implemented the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, and prohibited discrimination against LGBT people in federally funded housing programs.  Finally, the President also ended the legal defense of the Defense of Marriage Act and has directed his Department of Justice to work with other departments and agencies to ensure the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor is swiftly implemented, including its implications for Federal benefits and obligations.

International Initiatives to Advance LGBT Rights and Nondiscrimination

In December 2011, President Obama signed the first-ever Presidential Memorandum on International Initiatives to Advance the Human Rights of LGBT Persons, requiring that federal agencies work together to meet common goals in support of the human rights of LGBT persons globally.  Consistent with these goals, the United States assists activists and individuals under threat around the world through public statements, quiet diplomatic engagement, and targeted programs.  Through the Global Equality Fund and the LGBT Global Development Partnership, the United States works with government and private sector partners to support programs that combat discriminatory legislation; protect human rights defenders; train LGBT leaders on how to participate more effectively in democratic processes; and increase civil society capacity to document human rights violations.  Additional programs and research focus on protecting vulnerable LGBT refugees and asylum seekers.

Combating Criminalization of LGBT Status or Conduct Abroad

Working with our embassies overseas and civil society on the ground, the United States has developed strategies to combat criminalization of LGBT status or conduct in countries around the world.

Engaging International Organizations in the Fight against LGBT Discrimination

The United States works with our partners to defend the human rights of LGBT persons through the United Nations, the Organization of American States, and in other multilateral fora.  In addition to supporting resolutions specific to LGBT issues, such as cosponsoring the historic June 2011 UN Human Rights Council resolution on the human rights of LGBT persons, the United States works to ensure that LGBT persons are included in broader human rights resolutions and statements.

Promoting Action and Coordination

The United States will host in 2014 a global gathering of donors and activists to pursue ways we can work together to strengthen protections for LGBT persons around the world, including by ensuring assistance in this area is strategic and coordinated with our like-minded partners.

Write for Rights Starts Today

Ihar Tsikhanyuk

Ihar Tsikhanyuk

Your voice has power! Today is the first day of Write for Rights, the annual Amnesty International campaign that’s one of the largest human rights events in the world. From today until Dec 17, activists all over the world will be writing letters on behalf of 12 individual prisoners of conscience. It’s one last push to effect change and to let governments know that human rights abuses won’t be tolerated. The world is watching, and today’s case involves LGBTI rights and the need to respect those rights as valid human rights that are non-negotiable.

Today’s Case: Ihar Tsikhanyuk

Ihar Tsikhanyuk is an openly gay man in Belarus who, in February 2013, was at the hospital being treated for an ulcer. While there, two police officers came and asked him to go with him. Tsikhanyuk complied, where we was verbally abused and physically beaten by several officers at the police station. They taunted him for being gay and threatened more violence. When they returned him to the hospital, he asked staff to document the injuries and hospital staff refused. This event took place one month after he tried to register the Human Rights Center Lambda, a non-governmental organization that supports the rights of LGBTI people in Belarus

Tsikhanyuk and other LGBTI individuals have been abused by police in Belarus, as well as founding members of the Human Rights Center Lambda. Those who beat Tsikhanyuk have never been held accountable, while other LGBTI individuals and affiliates with the Human Rights Center Lambda remain at risk for violence. We can help change this with a letter to the Belarussian government.

Sample Letter

Generalnyi Prokuror
Alyaksandr Koniuk
Generalnaya Prokuratura
ul. Internatsionalnaya 22
220030 Minsk
Belarus
Dear General Prosecutor:
I write to you out of deep concern for Ihar Tsikhanyuk, a human rights activist from Hrodna who advocates for equal rights and dignity for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people. In February 2013 police questioned, beat, verbally abused, and threatened Ihar Tsikhanyuk, one month after he attempted to register Human Rights Center Lambda, an LGBTI non-governmental organization (NGO).
I am disturbed that, nearly a year later, no progress has been made in holding the officers responsible for abusing and threatening Ihar Tsikhanyuk accountable. In this environment of impunity, he and other activists connected to Human Rights Center Lambda remain at risk of further threats and abuses due to their sexual orientation or gender identity and their continued LGBTI rights activism.
I urge you to initiate a thorough, independent, and impartial investigation into the ill-treatment and threats that he suffered at the hands of police officers in the October District police station in Hrodna. I call on you to ensure that those responsible are subjected to disciplinary and criminal proceedings as appropriate and to see to it that Ihar Tsikhanyuk is protected from further ill-treatment and humiliation.
As a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Belarus has undertaken a legally binding obligation to respect, protect and fulfill the human rights of all those on its territory without discrimination of any kind, including on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation. I thank you for your attention to this important matter.
Sincerely,
[Your Name]

We Have Our Own Write for Rights Event

If you’re not going to have much time throughout the holidays to write letters, then please just take an hour out of your day to join the chapter at its own Write-a-Thon event. From 4 p.m. – 8 p.m. on Dec. 7, we will be at the Schlafly Bottleworks in Maplewood writing letters in person as well as providing sample letters for patrons to sign on their way to eating in the restaurant. If you don’t want to sit and write letters with us, then you can also come and sign the sample letters while also having a glass of beer. Help us reach our goal of 200 letters! Below is additional information regarding the event:

Who: Our Amnesty International chapter and anyone else who wants to do something good for someone else this holiday season.

What: To write letters on behalf of prisoners of conscience worldwide

When: Saturday, Dec. 7 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Where: Schlafly Bottleworks – 7260
Southwest Ave.@ Manchester. Maplewood, MO 63143

Why: Because people need our help and we can make a difference, and because it’s fun

How: Just show up and enjoy great company, food, and beer (food and beer not free). We’ll provide the paper, pens, and pertinent information on each of the cases.

Updates in Syria, and Other Human Rights News

SyriaThe biggest human rights story of the past few days is the chemical attack in Syria, and this month’s human rights news roundup includes a few recent developments. However, it’s not the only thing from the past month, and we have those issues covered as well. Here is our roundup of the most important human rights news stories:

Two Protests Against US Intervention in Syria

This isn’t human rights news from the past month, but news of an upcoming event. If you are in the St. Louis area, and are against a U.S invasion into Syria, then Tuesday is the chance to voice your opinion. There will be a protest on Tuesday fro 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. in front of Claire McCaskill’s office on 5850 Delmar. This is a protest against U.S military intervention and it is hosted by the St. Louis Instead of War Coalition. Make it out there if you can!

If you can’t make this one on Tuesday, then there is a Syria intervention march starting at 11 a.m. on Art Hill (if you can’t make it that early, then you can meet everyone at 2 p.m. at Kiener Plaza). August 31 is the chosen day for global rallies against war in Syria, so this one is projected to be the bigger of the two events and is part of an international movement. This one’s hosted by Veterans for Peace. Keep in mind that this one is a six mile march through St. Louis, while the first one is just a rally/protest. If marching six miles isn’t your style, then try and make it to the one on Tuesday.

Obama Administration Refused to Provide Gas Masks to Syrian Opposition

It turns out that there wasn’t just one request, and it was just requests before this most recent attack near Damascus. The Syrian opposition has been requesting gas masks and other chemical-weapons gear for over a year, with no reply from the Obama Administration or the State Department. On top of that, chemical weapons were actually used in an attack earlier this year, an attack that was not only projected to happen but one that Syrian rebels suspected would include chemical weapons. The administration has yet to answer for this problem and this lack of U.S assistance.

Today is International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances

An enforced disappearance is detention by state authorities for no apparent reason, with no knowledge of the person’s status and/or whereabouts. In 2012, enforced disappearances were documented in 30 countries, 11 of them in sub-Saharan Africa: Angola, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Gambia, Mali, Mauritania, Nigeria and South Sudan. In Sri Lanka, it’s suspected that over 30,000 people have been forcibly disappeared since 1994.

Things are Getting More Draconian for the 2014 Winter Olympics

As most of us are well aware, the anti-gay sentiment is controversial as Russia’s “gay propaganda” law has become a cause for concern. Wentworth Miller, the star of Prison Break, came out while declining an invitation to the St Petersburg international film festival, saying he could not “participate in a celebratory occasion hosted by a country where people like myself are being systematically denied their basic right to live and love openly.” International athletes have done what they could to protest the laws, but have been scolded by the International Olympic Committee for making political gestures. Most recently, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has signed a decree banning all meetings, protests, demonstrations, and free assembly during the 2014 Winter Olympic Games.

Related Links:

8 Current Urgent Actions You Should Do Right Now

Syria: UN Must Get Full Access to Investigate ‘Chemical Weapons’ Claim

14 MORE Human Rights Violations Happening Right Now

Obama’s Human Rights Record, Shaker Aamer, and Other Human Rights News

human rights newsA lot happened this month! The federal government recognizes gay marriage while rolling back provisions on the Voting Rights Act. Both are big news, but they aren’t the only things that happened in recent weeks. Below are some the most interesting and most noteworthy human rights news articles from the past month:

Samantha Powers: Human rights advocate no more? – The Hill’s Congress Blog – As Samantha Powers is up for nomination for U.S Representative to the United Nations, this article does a great job of covering the Obama administration’s human rights record. It questions whether Powers would actually challenge the country’s human rights record, hold the necessary parties accountable, and do what it takes to pressure other countries to clean up their act.

US: Ratify Disability Rights Treaty – Human Rights Watch – Over 1 in 4 of today’s 20 year olds will become disabled before they retire. It’s a shame that as we celebrated the 23rd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, we refused to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities just a year or two earlier. This is especially weird since the CRPD was modeled after the ADA, so ratifying the treaty simply means that we want disabled people around the world to have the same rights and to abide by the same laws as we have.

New Threat Posed to Shaker Aamer – The Guardian – Amnesty International has been worked on Aamer’s case for some time, as the former United Kingdom resident has been at Guantanamo for over 11 years. He hasn’t been charged with any crime, and he was cleared for release back to the UK in 2007. However, Aamer is not being threatened with forcible release back to Saudi Arabia, a country he fled over 30 years ago. Aamer has been told that he faces prison time if he were to return to Saudi Arabia.

UN Launches Unprecedented Global Campaign for LGBT Equality – The Huffington Post – The United Nations announced last week to launch a global education campaign about homophobic violence and discrimination and the promotion of respect of LGBTI rights. Called “Free & Equal”, the campaign’s message is three-fold: human rights are really universal, LGBT people are just that: people, and that things are getting better.

Related Links:

The President and Human Rights

What Does Legalized Gay Marriage Mean for the US?

Good News on the Warren Hill Case in Georgia

What You Missed at Last Night’s Letter Writing Meeting

letter writing meetingLast night, we held a successful letter writing meetings, writing 14 letters to various governments around the world on behalf of prisoners of conscience. If you missed this meeting, then you still have a chance to write a letter if you want. You do have to send it yourself, but below is all the information you need to advocate for human rights.

Reggie Clemons Update

There isn’t much to say on the Reggie Clemons case, except that Justice Michael Manners is starting a new position with a law firm on August 1. He needs to make a decision by then, and our chapter predicts that he will announce the decision on July 31, on the last possible day that he can make/announce the decision.

Last Night’s Urgent Action

One of the more popular urgent actions from the meeting was an action about anti-LGBTI violence in Macedonia. Specifically, a series of homophobic attacks in June and July has led to grave concerns for the safety of LGBTI people and organizations. In June, during Pride Week in the capital Skopje, the LGBTI center was attacked by around 30 people and on July 5, unidentified suspects attempted to set fire to the center.

If you’re interested in writing a letter, then here’s a good action for you. You have until August 23 to send your letter, but the sooner the better. Don’t worry about the language. It’s more important that the government officials receive a large quantity of letters and realize that people care deeply about the issue and would like action. Please send the letter to:

Gordana Jankulovska

Dimce Mircev BB

1000 Skopje, Macedonia

Please touch upon the following information when writing your letter. You can either copy these verbatim, or put them in your own words:

  • Urge the Minister of Interior to end the climate of impunity for homophobic attacks by acknowledging and condemning publicly these crimes, and ensure that impartial, thorough and prompt investigations are conducted into the June and July attacks, and into all previous attacks on the lives or property of LGBT people or organizations, with those found responsible brought to justice;.
  • Urge the Prime Minister and other ministers to introduce amendments to the anti-discrimination legislation to include sexual orientation and gender identity as specific grounds for discrimination;
  • Urge all ministers without delay and in consultation with LGBTI organizations, to introduce legislation prohibiting hate crime, specifically including hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as ethnicity, race, gender and other grounds for discrimination recognized in international standards.

What Does Legalized Gay Marriage Mean for the U.S?

legalized gay marriageDOMA is unconstitutional! So is Prop 8! There’s plenty to rejoice when it comes to the huge leap this country made in LGBTI rights last week, and celebrate we should. However, the fight for LGBTI rights isn’t over, and there are still many more questions and issues that need addressing. Below are two of those questions, and our best educated guess at the answer:

Do last week’s Supreme Court rulings on gay marriage lay the foundation for the legalization of gay marriage in all 50 states?

It lays the foundation, absolutely, but keep in mind that this ruling does not legalize gay marriage in all 50 states. It also doesn’t mean that all 50 states have to legalize gay marriage. All it means is that the federal government now recognizes same-sex marriages. However, this ruling means that there is still battleground when it comes to states’ rights and decisions. The ruling doesn’t force states who don’t allow gay marriage to recognize those that have taken place elsewhere, so we could easily have another gay marriage case in the Supreme Court within the next few years.

There is a foundation for legalization in all 50 states, as gay marriage supporters will use this win as fuel to repeal bans and to push through state legislation that legalizes gay marriage. The national recognition, which was a huge hurdle in this issue, has been overcome. It’s now a matter of getting all 50 states, or a majority of the states, to align with the federal government’s stance.

How will the recent Supreme Court’s rulings on gay marriage impact the 2014 midterm elections?

We’re certainly not out of the woods when it comes to this issue, since gay marriage opponents will ready themselves for this election by supporting candidates who vow to ban gay marriage in their state or to curb gay marriage rights as best they could. Gay marriage supporters will get behind candidates who will improve gay marriage rights and will work to keep recognition intact. Right now, for example, House Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) introduced legislation to amend the U.S. Constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman. In 2014, the conversation will be much more about support/opposition, but also about plans to keep/get rid of same-sex marriage. The rulings impact the 2014 midterm elections by making gay marriage and LGBTI rights a major issue for this election and everyone involved.

Since the rulings have energized both supporters and opponents, gay marriage will be a huge issue in next year’s elections, one that will impact how voters’ vote, who will challenge incumbents, and how candidates will campaign and raise money for their campaigns. It will also be an issue in state elections as 38 states will have gubernatorial races and several major cities will have mayoral races, since a majority of states haven’t legalized same-sex marriage. Voters will want to know what these people will do about the issue on a local level. Voters will want to know where candidates stand.

Whether or not this issue will increase voter turnout, or will lead to referendums on the ballot, is still somewhat of an unknown. Republicans have used this issue for years to reach the social conservative base, so it’s possible it will still be used as something they need to fight for. However, in Florida, activists are working to remove the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

What do you think? Do you think the rulings lay a foundation for legalization in every state? Do you think they’ll impact the 2014 elections, and if so, how? Let us know in the comments below!

Related Links:

DOMA is Unconstitutional, and Other Human Rights News

The President & Human Rights

How Does Amnesty International Ensure its Impartiality?

DOMA is Unconstitutional, and Other Human Rights News

human rights newsThe big news of yesterday is that the Supreme Court ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional! The victory means the federal government must recognize the marriages of gay and lesbian couples married in the 12 states that allow same-sex marriage, plus the District of Columbia, and give them the same benefits that they had been previously denied under DOMA. With this in mind, here are the other big human rights stories of the month, including the impact this ruling has on human rights:

What Do Today’s Supreme Court Decisions Mean for LGBT Human Rights? – Human Rights Now Blog – Not only was DOMA ruled unconstitutional, but Proposition 8 from California was also ruled unconstitutional. The Court said that those who brought the case to defend the amendment “lacked standing” to do so. Even though every state doesn’t allow same-sex marriage, at least not yet, these rulings mean that federal law recognizes these marriages. It also means that Californians may get the right to marry whomever they want any day now.

Force-Feeding Guantanamo Detainees is Unethical and Inhumane – The Guardian – As the U.S. takes one leap forward in human rights, we take a few steps back also. The hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay is still happening, and force-feeding is being used because “Guantánamo prisoners are irrational and approaching death”. Force-feeding is actually awful, as previously victims of force-feeding (from other prison hunger strikes) have said that it hurts a great deal and produces intense vomiting. It’s surprising this has fallen off the radar in American media, even as the situation has intensified.

Kimberly McCarthy Executed: Texas Carries Out 500th Execution – Huffington Post – While much hullabaloo was happening over other issues, Texas executed its 500th inmate this week since it resumed carrying out capital punishment in 1982. McCarthy was also the 13th woman executed in the United States, and the fourth in Texas history. It was a sad day for death penalty abolitionists everywhere. Although it doesn’t look like McCarthy was innocent, or that there was strong evidence of improprieties, capital punishment is a gross human rights violation because of its disproportional application.

Gov. Perry Scolds Teen-Mom Senator for Not Heeding ‘Her Own Example’ – ABC News – Gov. Perry also called the pro-life agenda a “human rights issue” as he once again called for a special session to look at SB 5. Texas legislators will now be back in Austin to work on passing (or not passing) the legislation again. This issue has taken center state this week as Sen. Wendy Davis filibustered the bill for over nine hours on Tuesday. The Republicans almost managed to pass the bill, but after a lot of confusion, the record showed that the vote started after midnight and after the legislative session was over. That night was a huge demonstration of democracy, and we should expect nothing less as, essentially, the whole process happens all over again.

Sudan: 14 Women Released, 20 Still Detained – Association for Women’s Rights in Development – Very rarely do we post an urgent action, but this is one that I came across that requires attention. Thirty-four women were arrested in November 2012. Although 14 have been released, 20 are still detained, and none of these women were charged with any crime. Five of the 34 women were detained with their children, ages ranging from six months to 18 months. This urgent action is to ensure that the remaining 20 women are released, or charged with a recognizably criminal offense. We also want to ensure that they are given medical treatment and are given access to legal representation.

Related Links

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