UNHCHR alarmed at LGBT arrests, detentions in Gambia

Today, the Office of the recently appointed UN High Commissioner for Human Rights,  Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, issued a Press Release on LGBT in The Gambia. He strongly condemns the harsh new law in The Gambia as well as the violence and arrests targeting gay men and lesbians.  We re-publish the Press Release in its entirety here :

The Gambia: Zeid criticizes harsh legal amendment, violence and arrests targeting gay men and lesbians


UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein (Photo courtesy Wikipedia)

GENEVA (20 November 2014) – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on Thursday criticized a recent amendment to the Criminal Code of The Gambia that creates a broad and vague offence of “aggravated homosexuality” punishable by life imprisonment. He also expressed alarm at reports of a wave of arbitrary arrests and detention of individuals perceived to be homosexual in The Gambia.

The amendment to the Criminal Code was approved by the National Assembly earlier this year and signed into law by the President on 9 October 2014. It targets, among others, so-called “serial offenders” (meaning individuals with a previous conviction for homosexuality), persons living with HIV, and consensual same-sex partners of persons with disabilities – all of whom could be imprisoned for life. The new law replicates a section of the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Act denounced by the former High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN Secretary-General and the African Commission Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders.

“This law violates fundamental human rights – among them the right to privacy, to freedom from discrimination and freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention. It adds to the stigma and abuses that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people already face in The Gambia,” High Commissioner Zeid said.

“Governments have a duty to protect people from prejudice, not to add to it. Public hostility towards gay and lesbian people can never justify violating their fundamental human rights. Instead, it requires increased measures to protect them against human rights violations. This has been reaffirmed by UN human rights mechanisms and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights,” he added.

Since the new law was approved, representatives of The Gambia’s National Intelligence Agency have been reportedly conducting door-to-door enquiries to identify, arrest and detain individuals believed to be homosexual, and some of those detained have allegedly also been subjected to violent attacks and mistreatment. In other countries, similar laws have also led to an increase in violence against members of the LGBT community, including mob attacks.

“I call on The Gambia to fulfill its international obligations to promote and protect the human rights of all persons without discrimination, to repeal all provisions of the Criminal Code that criminalize relations between consenting adults and to put in place an immediate moratorium on arrests on the basis of such laws,” the High Commissioner said.

Posted in Africa, Africa (Sub Saharan), Anti-LGBT laws and legislation, Human Rights | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

New fund aims to help Iranian LGBT community

IGLHRC's Persian-language website

IGLHRC’s Persian-language website

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) has launched a fund aimed at supporting the emerging Iranian LGBT community and addressing LGBT human rights violations in Iran.

The goal is to support:

  • Advocacy, research or outreach projects to  improve the lives of LGBT Iranians and other marginalised groups there.
  •  Building new or strengthening existing capacities within the Iranian LGBT community.
  •  Developing leadership skills among LGBT activists.Developing leadership skills among LGBT activists.
  • Creating resources for LGBT Iranians.
  • Devising new ways to mainstream LGBT rights issues within the Iranian society.

Applications for funding are invited from all interested individuals, regardless of their nationality, residency status, sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Applicants can each apply for up to U.S. $3,000 funding for their projects.

Proposals’ activities and objectives should directly benefit the Iranian LGBT community, especially members of  marginalized groups within the Iranian LGBT community. IGLHRC strongly encourages marginalized members of the community, (lesbians, and transgender individuals, LGBT people with disabilities, and LGBT Iranians from ethnic or religious minority groups) to apply. IGLHRC is seeking proposals aimed at providing services and resources to LGBT Iranians, regardless of their geographical locations.

The new  fund is part of  IGLHRC’s recent focus on Iran, which has included a series of LGBT-related publications in Persian and a Persian-language website.

The deadline for the submission of applications is Nov. 30.

For more information, and to receive the application form, contact  hamyari@iglhrc.org

Posted in Asia, International pressure for LGBT rights, Middle East / North Africa, Positive steps | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Gambia must stop wave of homophobic arrests and torture

Editor’s Note: Amnesty International issued this important news release on the Gambia on 18 November 2014.  We republish a very slightly edited version here.  The unedited news release may be viewed here.

By Amnesty International Press Office in London, UK.

Amnesty International

Amnesty International

The arrest, detention and torture of eight people since the beginning of the month as part of a crackdown on “homosexuality” by the Gambian authorities reveals the shocking scale of state-sponsored homophobia, Amnesty International said.

“These arrests took place amid an intensifying climate of fear for those perceived to have a different sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for West and Central Africa.

“This unacceptable crackdown reveals the scale of state-sponsored homophobia in Gambia. Intimidation, harassment, and any arrest based solely on sexual orientation or gender identity is in clear violation of international and regional human rights law. The Gambian authorities must immediately stop this homophobic assault”.

Amnesty International considers people who are arrested and detained solely on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity to be prisoners of conscience. They should be released immediately and unconditionally.

Since 7 November, the country’s National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and the Presidential Guards have been carrying out a homophobic operation resulting in the arrests of five men, including a 17-year-old boy, and three women.

All those arrested were taken and detained at the NIA headquarters in Banjul, the capital, and were told they were under investigation for “homosexuality” but have not been formally charged. They were subjected to torture and ill-treatment to force them to confess their so called “crimes” and to reveal information about other individuals perceived to be gay or lesbian.

As a means to obtain information the NIA have been using methods such as beatings, sensory deprivation and the threat of rape. The detainees were told that if they did not “confess,” a device would forced into their anus or vagina to “test” their sexual orientation.

“The use and threat of torture against those arrested is truly shocking, but sadly not surprising. Just weeks after Gambia refused UN human rights monitors access to its prisons, we have further evidence of the cruelty inflicted on victims of the security forces – this time on those simply perceived as being different”, said Cockburn.

Although the three women were released on 13 November, they remain under investigation and the NIA has confiscated their identity cards and ordered them not to leave the country.

The four men and 17-year-old boy are still in incommunicado detention, without access to a lawyer, despite constitutional guarantees that require people to be charged within 72 hours of arrest.

“It’s not just regional and international human rights law that Gambia is flouting with this persecution, but its own constitution too,” said Cockburn.

The NIA is reportedly collating a list of names for future arrests. Several other men and women managed to escape as they were tipped off by their relatives that the security forces were targeting them. A young woman who recently fled Gambia to Senegal told Amnesty International that several civilian security forces came to her family’s home on 12 November to ask about her whereabouts.

“They threatened to break in the doors. As they could not find me, they also threatened to arrest one of my relatives. They finally left the house promising to kill me if ever they caught me,” she told Amnesty International.

Background on Gambia crackdown

Despite continuing violently anti-gay speeches by Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, he was warmly greeted by President Obama during the U.S.-Africa summit in early August 2014.

Despite continuing violently anti-gay speeches by Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, he was warmly greeted by President Obama during the U.S.-Africa summit in early August 2014.

The Gambian authorities’ ongoing crackdown on people for their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity comes just months after a landmark ruling of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights – which is coincidently based in Banjul. The resolution condemned persecution of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people by state and non-state actors.

This wave of homophobic arrests also comes a few months after the National Assembly of Gambia passed a homophobic Bill creating the charge of “aggravated homosexuality”, which carries a life sentence. It is unclear whether this Bill has received the required Presidential assent to come into force. Consensual sex between adults of the same sex is already a crime in Gambia, in violation of international human rights law.

The Gambian authorities also continue to make public statements attacking LGBTI rights. In October, President Jammeh described “homosexuality” as “satanic behaviour”, while in September an officer of the ruling party, Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC), stated in a newspaper interview that: “homosexuals should be killed because they are enemies of humanity”.


Posted in Africa, Africa (Sub Saharan), Anti-LGBT laws and legislation, Commentary, International pressure for LGBT rights | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Exposing persection of LGBT individuals in Iraq

Editor’s Note: We are re-publishing here today’s press release from the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC)  announcing the launch of two new briefings on violence and abuse of LGBT individuals in Iraq. The two reports are available for download on their website.  Click here for a full copy of the press release, including a summary of the briefings.

Cover images of two briefings released by IGLHRC and its partners

LGBT people in Iraq have long been persecuted. But the rising tide of turmoil today puts many at imminent risk of death. The Islamic State prescribes death for the “practice” of homosexuality. Furthermore, evidence gathered for two briefings by IGLHRC and its partners, MADRE and the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, demonstrate the direct effect of the collapse of the rule of law on LGBT persons, through unfettered violence by sectarian militias.

While the conflict in Iraq has placed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis at risk of serious human rights violations, LGBT Iraqis face unique threats to their safety. In addition, escape to previously safer areas, such as Iraqi Kurdistan, has been curtailed by the conflict. Unlike other groups, such as women or ethnic and religious minorities, LGBT people have little communal safety or protection from family, tribal or community members. Once exposed, family and community members, along with the authorities, are often complicit in abuses against LGBT individuals.

When Coming Out is a Death Sentence puts the violence against LGBT Iraqis in context—as human rights abuses that must be confronted by the international community. A set of recommendations targets foreign embassies, aid groups and others with the goal of raising attention and trying to improve the situation for the community.

“We’re Here: Iraqi LGBT People’s Accounts of Violence and Rights Abuses,” relates the suffering and harrowing experiences of five LGBT individuals – three gay men, a lesbian woman and a transgender woman — before the current crisis in Iraq set in. “We’re Here” highlights the long-standing exclusion, discrimination and violence against LGBT individuals in Iraq and describes the individuals’ daily struggles to survive and overcome violence and abuse.

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2 low-risk ways to seek LGBT rights in Africa

Countries where homosexual activity is illegal.

Countries where homosexual activity is illegal. (Click image for list with links to each country’s news.)

Suzanne Nossel, a former U.S. diplomat, proposes two tactics could save the lives of LGBT people in anti-gay countries, especially in Africa, as the battle against homophobia continues there.  She proposes:

  • Listen to local activists
  • Enlist local straight allies

Nossel writes in Foreign Policy magazine:

The Closeted Continent

Suzanne Nossel (Photo courtesy of Democracy Arsenal.org)

Suzanne Nossel (Photo courtesy of Democracy Arsenal.org)

… The complex geography of the global fight for gay rights poses dilemmas for Western activists and governments eager to break new ground in vindicating rights, but also wanting to minimize the risk of backlash that can inadvertently put gay populations abroad at even greater risk than before.

Although it’s possible that gay rights advocacy is making life worse for gays in the short term, there are steps that may help keep gay people safer around the world and lessen the chance that the current standoff over gay rights goes on for decades.

Listen to local activists

On tactical questions like whether aid conditionality is effective, Western activists and governments should pay close attention to the views of local groups. In 2011, a large group of African social justice organizations issued a statement opposing a proposal to condition British aid, arguing, among other things, that doing so risked alienating local LGBT activists from [potential supporters in] other civil society groups. Although this doesn’t mean that every proposed set of LGBT-related conditions is unwelcome, it does underscore that opinions on the utility of aid conditionality are divided and that local views need to be carefully canvassed and considered.

[Editor’s note: This year, LGBTI activists in Uganda gave mixed messages about aid cuts, with some opposing them and some proposing cuts targeting anti-gay groups such as the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda, which had to lay off all its staff after losing its $34.5 million in U.S. aid.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni

After the aid cuts, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni seems to have withdrawn his support for reinstating the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which was overturned in the summer on a procedural issues. In a recent public statement, Museveni denied being influenced by the aid cuts, but worried about whether  the anti-gay law would result in the loss of Uganda’s trade partners. The title of his statement was The way forward on homosexuality. Should we involve Uganda in endless wars with our trade partners on account of this?“]

Identify and enlist local straight allies

A second useful measure involves finding ways to broaden the domestic constituencies in favor of gay rights in places where governments are hostile. If the voices in support of fair treatment are limited to LGBT groups and foreign advocates and governments, they have proved relatively easy to dismiss. But if mainstream domestic social justice and civic organizations, religious institutions, intellectuals, trade unions, businesses, and other constituencies can be mobilized as well, the political price of repression will gradually increase. Rather than applying pressure directly, Western governments can seek opportunities to mobilize international businesses with in-country subsidiaries and partners, liberal church denominations, and academic and intellectual networks to sensitize counterparts in countries on the front lines of gay rights battles.

Display shows U.N. Human Rights Council votes on the SOGI resolution.

Display shows countries’ votes on the recent U.N. Human Rights Council resolution in favor of continued focus on discrimination and violence against sexual minorities.

A way for LGBT activists to lessen the danger of backlash is to build on the canny impulse that put Brazil, Uruguay, and Chile in the driver’s seat of the most recent U.N. gay rights resolution. By supporting representatives of non-Western governments and civil society leaders to engage directly with counterparts in regressive countries, the gay rights movement can continue to counter the construct of gay rights as a Western agenda.

If there were a government willing to fund, for example, a visit of Cuban gay rights activists or supporters to Russia, their message might get through in the way that advocacy originating in the United States or Europe would not. Brazil does more than $12 billion in annual trade with sub-Saharan Africa. If African governments suddenly confronted LGBT rights as an issue in their bilateral relations with Brasilia, they would take notice.

In the long run, history suggests that when human needs are framed as rights, political momentum tends to gradually and irreversibly build in their favor. There is little question that this is happening in the realm of gay rights, and it’s hard to fathom that, eventually, most parts of the world won’t begin to come around.

In the meantime, though, Western tactics can risk playing into the hands of bigoted leaders eager for an excuse to repress. As the global gay rights movement moves from strength to strength, it’s essential to keep in mind those most vulnerable populations whose stakes in ultimate success are greater than anyone else’s.

For more information, see Nossel’s full article about anti-gay Africa, titled “The Closeted Continent,” in Foreign Policy magazine. The article’s intro is pessimistic: “38 out of 55 African nations have laws punishing sodomy. And things may get worse before they get better.” That pessimism is understandable,  even though the total number of African nations with such anti-gay laws has dropped to 36.

Suzanne Nossel is executive director of the PEN American Center, a former executive director of Amnesty International USA and a former deputy assistant secretary of state for international organizations at the U.S. State Department.

Posted in Africa, Africa (Sub Saharan), Americas, Commentary, International pressure for LGBT rights | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Burundi: Harassment, then support for young lesbian

Bujumbura scene in Burundi on the shore of Lake Tanganyika. (Photo courtesy of LAfrique.com)

Beach scene in Bujumbura, Burundi, on the shore of Lake Tanganyika. (Photo courtesy of LAfrique.com)

This young woman’s story from Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi, comes courtesy of Quebec City-based journalist Ruby Pratka, who publishes the blog Year of No Fear. In Burundi, same-sex intimacy is punishable by up to two years in prison.

Dominique’s story

I’m going to tell you one girl’s story. For safety reasons, we’ll just call her Dominique, because she has had to deny who she is to keep from going to prison. Dominique is a Burundian girl like any other.

She loves her friends and family more than anything, but for her Burundi is nothing but a big hospital where she has been quarantined ever since the police told her she was sick and abnormal. She has all it takes for a successful future  in communications or in multimedia, she loves books and the arts, but to society she’s contagious.

They don’t want her to live happily anymore. Her family supports her but tells her to lay low, to leave this country. Burundians aren’t used to that. That’s what she hears every day, go biragoye kumva. [It’s hard for people to understand.]

Location du Burundi en Afrique.

Location of Burundi in Africa.

One day, she wants to dazzle this country where she was born, this country that she loves and respects. How is it her fault if she would rather have Joëlle than Christophe? Recently she’s been living in her bubble, because outside she feels their stares; they’re looking for evidence to lock her up.

When her friends protested the injustice, they were accused of letting her contaminate them. They were afraid they would be quarantined, so they stopped. Every evening they still bring her the news and gossip from Bujumbura, so she holds on, but  she would really love to be able to go out again in peace without Officer Michel from the judicial police tracking her every gesture and  hoping to see her crack.

She hangs on, because there’s nothing else she can do. As soon as she goes out, it’s terrible. She scares people, she’s contagious, people judge her for her clothes and for her walk.

She is a target, but her spirit is invincible. She has values and dreams of peace and humanity. She can shout all she wants that she’s normal, that she’s whole, that she can’t stand it when people treat her as if she is fighting them, that she doesn’t deserve to be deprived of the right to live and love freely. How can people judge love? She brings shame on society. She’s the enemy. She’s danger itself. Because she’s a 24-year-old Burundian woman and she loves another woman.

You’ll be all right, Dominique

Pratka writes:

One of many encouraging messages that distant supporters sent to Dominique via Facebook.

One of many encouraging messages that distant supporters sent to Dominique via Facebook.

I received this cri de coeur on Facebook, along with a few hundred other people, from a young woman I know in  Burundi who has connections in Burundi’s small, closed LGBT circles. In Burundi, having consensual sexual relations with someone of the same sex is a crime punishable by prison. As far as I know, no one has actually been charged under this law since it was passed in 2009, but the simple fact of the law’s existence has sent an understandable wave of unease and fear through the LGBT, questioning and allied community in Burundi.

Someone has created a Facebook group, Dominique ntaco azoba (You’ll be all right, Dominique) and a hashtag (#ntacoazoba) to support Dominique and others like her. The page has gathered nearly 300 likes in four days of existence. [Editor's note: The page was approaching 500 likes by early November.]

Since the original French version of this text was published on Facebook, it’s received dozens of comments, almost uniformly positive.

A Facebook group won’t change the world overnight, obviously. But let’s come together, like, share  and show our solidarity, if only to let all the Dominiques know they’re not broken, and above all that they’re not alone.

The text in italics above is (c) Dominique ntaco azoba. The non-italic text below the headline “You’ll be all right, Dominique” is (c) Ruby Irene Pratka. These accounts are used by permission of Ruby Pratka.

Posted in Africa, Africa (Sub Saharan), Harassment / murders, International pressure for LGBT rights, Positive steps | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Support LGBTI rights with a year-end gift

Contributions will help us spread the word

Two men jailed in Zambia for a year on homosexuality charges

LGBTI people are subject to arrest and imprisonment in 76-plus countries.

If you believe in the importance of expanding awareness of the repression of LGBTI people in 76+ countries with anti-gay laws, please support the work of Erasing 76 Crimes and its French-language companion, 76 Crimes en français.

The blogs’ publisher, editors and reporters all work on a volunteer basis. Only the reporters receive any money, and that is limited to reimbursement of expenses. Those include costs such as bus fare to reach locations where LGBTI defendants have been imprisoned for their sexual orientation, telecommunication costs, and sometimes the price of a soft drink for a government official who otherwise won’t agree to be interviewed.

Several of Eric Lembembe's articles appear in the book "From Wrongs to Gay Rights." (Click the image for a link to more information about the book.)

Click the image for information about purchasing the book “From Wrongs to Gay Rights” either in paperback or in e-book form.

So far, the editors of the blog have paid those expenses from our pockets, supplemented by very modest earnings from sales of the blog’s book “From Wrongs to Gay Rights.”

Now, for the first time, we are offering you the opportunity to contribute to this quest for justice for LGBTI people.

What will you receive in return for your donation?

  • An accounting of how contributions are used.
  • Realization that you are helping to make the world a better place.

In addition, for contributions of $150 or more, you will receive:

  • A signed copy of the book “From Wrongs to Gay Rights.”

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Your donations will support the continued work of the blog’s reporting team and, if possible, will allow us to expand our news coverage to additional repressive countries and perhaps even replace the inadequate, aging equipment that our best volunteer reporters are using.

Thank you from everyone at Erasing 76 Crimes and 76 Crimes en français on behalf of the harassed, repressed, stigmatized and imprisoned LGBTI people of the world.

Posted in International pressure for LGBT rights | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment