Support for Iraqi rejection of anti-LGBT attacks

Human Rights Watch has endorsed Iraqi Shiite clergyman Muqtada al-Sadr’s call for an end to violence against sexual minorities, reported last month on this blog. HRW issued this press release:

Iraq: Cleric’s Call Against Anti-LGBT Violence
Fighters Should Heed al-Sadr’s Statement; Government Should Follow Suit

Muqtada al-Sadr (Photo courtesy of

Muqtada al-Sadr (Photo courtesy of

(Beirut, August 18, 2016) – State and non-state actors in Iraq should heed the prominent Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s July 2016 statement banning violence against those who do not conform to gender norms, Human Rights Watch said today.

Since early 2009, Human Rights Watch has documented kidnappings, executions, and torture by militia groups, including al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army, of gay men and men perceived to be gay. The killings have continued unabated.

“Finally, the head of one of the groups whose members have carried out serious abuses against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Iraq is condemning these heinous attacks,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “We hope this will change behavior in successors to the Mahdi Army and other ranks, and spur the government to hold accountable those who commit these crimes.”

A Human Rights Watch report found that in early 2009, Iraqi militia members began a wide-reaching campaign of extrajudicial executions, kidnappings, and torture of men suspected of homosexual conduct, or of not conforming to masculine gender norms, and that Iraq authorities did nothing to stop the killings. The killings began in the Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City, a Mahdi Army stronghold, and were then replicated by members of militia groups in many cities across Iraq. Mahdi Army spokesmen promoted fear about the “third sex” and the “feminization” of Iraqi men, as well as suggesting that militia action was the remedy.

In 2012, militia members opened a second wave of attacks on people categorized as part of the “emo” subculture, styles that critics associated with heavy metal music, and rap. In early February 2012, signs and fliers appeared in the Baghdad neighborhoods of Sadr City, Hayy al-Habibiyya, and Hayy al-‘Amil that threatened people by name with “the wrath of god” unless they cut their hair short, concealed their tattoos, maintained “complete manhood,” and stopped wearing so-called “satanic clothing.” Similar posters appeared in other neighborhoods, also listing names.

Logo of Human Rights Watch

Logo of Human Rights Watch

In the following weeks, Human Rights Watch received reports of several dozen youths killed as part of the campaign. While it was unclear who was behind the campaign, at the time al-Sadr called the targets of the campaign “crazy fools” and a “lesion on the Muslim community” in an online statement, but also maintained that they should be dealt with “within the law.”

In a 2015 report, the Iraqi group Iraqueer and the US-based organization OutRight Action International (formerly the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission) documented the kidnapping and murders of gay men by members of Iraqi militia groups, including the Brigades of Wrath (Saraya al-Ghadhab) and League of the Righteous (Asa’ib Ahl al-Haqq) between 2009 and 2015. The groups condemned the Iraqi government for “stand[ing] by and allow[ing] murderous hate violence to occur, fully aware of what is happening.”

The government responded by establishing an LGBT committee in late 2012 to address abuses against the LGBT community. However, LGBT activists in Baghdad have told Human Rights Watch that this committee has taken few tangible steps to protect LGBT people. In addition, a member of the committee said, two of the original nine members vanished in 2015 in what he believed was related to their role on the committee. The committee has had no news of them since. Other members have left the committee without explanation, he said, leaving only four remaining.

"Islamic State" logo

“Islamic State” logo

With the rise of the extremist group Islamic State, also known as ISIS, gay men, transgender women, and gender non-conforming people are at even greater risk. The group has executed a number of people accused of sodomy or perceived to be gay.

While Iraq’s Penal Code does not directly criminalize same-sex intimacy, article 394 criminalizes extra-marital sexual relations. That provision effectively criminalizes all same-sex relations, since the law does not provide for same-sex marriage.

Al-Sadr’s July 7 2016, statement expresses his view that same-sex relationships and cross-dressing are not acceptable, but that gender non-conforming people – whom al-Sadr claims are suffering from “psychological problems” – nevertheless deserve the right to live. “[You] must disassociate from them [but] not attack them, as it increases their aversion and you must guide them using acceptable and rational means,” the statement read.

Despite the lack of full tolerance in al-Sadr’s statement, his call to end violence against LGBT people is an important step, Human Rights Watch said. He should ensure that those in the ranks of the militia under his command, the Peace Brigades (Saraya alSalam), obey the order and should hold accountable commanders who do not.

Iraq’s government should take its own measures to ensure that attacks on LGBT people are punished, and the LGBT committee should actively monitor and report on human rights abuses against LGBT people and advise the government on concrete steps to protect LGBT people from violence and discrimination. Iraq’s legislature should quickly decriminalize extra-marital sexual relations.

“While al-Sadr is still a long way from fully embracing human rights for LGBT people, his statement shows that he understands the importance of stopping abuses against them,” Stork said. “The statement represents an important change in the right direction, and should be followed by concrete actions to protect LGBT people from violence.”

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on Iraq, please visit:

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Posted in Faith and religion, Harassment / murders, International pressure for LGBT rights, Middle East / North Africa | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jamaicans quickly reject anti-gay Olympic slur

Omar McLeod, Olympic gold medalist

Omar McLeod, Olympic gold medalist (Photo courtesy of the Jamaica Gleaner)

Jamaica Gleaner's invitation to suggest a caption for Omar McLeod's photo, followed by the offensive Lasco tweet.

Jamaica Gleaner’s invitation to suggest a caption for Omar McLeod’s photo, followed by the offensive Lasco tweet.

Even an Olympic gold medalist from Jamaica isn’t spared from being insulted by a homophobic fellow countryman, but Jamaican culture has evolved to the point where such hostility now has stern consequences.

Omar McLeod, who won the men’s 110-meter hurdles on Aug. 16,  was called a “goldfish” in a tweet from a major Jamaican company. “Fish” — a derogatory term for a gay man — was applied to McLeod even though his sexual orientation is unknown.


In response to its employee's homophobic tweet, Lasco issued this apology not only to Omar McLeod but also to "our fans, friends, customers, consumers, partners, Jamaicans and everyone."

In response to its employee’s homophobic tweet, Lasco issued this apology not only to Omar McLeod but also to “our fans, friends, customers, consumers, partners, Jamaicans and everyone.”

An employee of Lasco Affiliated Companies used the company’s Twitter account to propose the label “goldfish” for McLeod in response to the Jamaica Gleaner’s request for readers’ suggestions for a caption under McLeod’s photo on the newspaper’s front page.

Lasco is a Jamaican holding company involved in a Jamaican holding company with operations in food products and financial services.

At first, Lasco said its Twitter account had been hacked, but then it acknowledged that the post had been made by an employee and, as a result, that he had been fired. The company apologized to McLeod and to Jamaicans, saying that the post did not represent its values.

In further response to the tweet, Portia Simpson-Miller, former prime minister and current opposition leader, issued her own tweet condemning homophobia.

This tweet from Portia Simpson-Miller rejected the Lasco employee's homophobic tweet.

This tweet from Portia Simpson-Miller rejected the Lasco employee’s homophobic tweet.

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Uganda: Harassment of Sandra Ntebi must stop

Front Line Defenders demands an end to ongoing harassment of Ugandan human rights defender Sandra Ntebi, an LGBTI activist who focuses on the safety of members of Uganda’s LGBTI community. This is today’s press release from Front Line Defenders:

Uganda -– LGBTI human rights defender Sandra Ntebi target of persistent harassment

Sandra Ntebi (Photo courtesy of Front Line Defenders)

Sandra Ntebi (Photo courtesy of Front Line Defenders)

On 16 August 2016, Sandra Ntebi was driving home from a press conference when another driver purposefully bumped into her vehicle, causing damage. Following the police disruption of LGBTI Pride events in Kampala on 4 August 2016, Sandra Ntebi has been the target of ongoing harassment.

Sandra Ntebi is an LGBTI activist who works with the Ugandan LGBT Security Committee and Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), among other organisations. On a daily basis, she works to report threats against her colleagues in the Ugandan LGBTI community, and manages a hot-line to support LGBTI people who are at risk of attack, to find alternative and safe accommodation.

At approximately 11 pm on 4 August 2016, during an LGBTI Pride event at Venom Night Club in Kabalagala, Kampala, police entered the venue, disrupted the event, harassed attendees, locked them inside the venue for one hour, and confiscated personal property, including mobile phones, without a warrant. Additionally, it is reported that police officers sexually harassed trans-gender persons who were in attendance by groping them and taking photos without their consent while threatening to publish the photos to reveal their identities.

Uganda Pride logo

Uganda Pride logo

The police alleged that the event was held in violation of the principles of the Public Order Management Act of 2013. Sandra Ntebi attempted to speak with the police officers after their arrival, however she was arrested with 15 other event organisers and defenders, and brought to Kabalagala police station where all 16 were detained overnight. During her detention, Sandra Ntebi was beaten by the police officers and denied access to her lawyer.

After being released from detention without charge on 5 August 2016, Sandra Ntebi started receiving harassment from members of the police department and civilians by phone, text, and in-person. The Minister of State for Ethics and Integrity, Hon. Rev. Fr. Simon Lokodo, visited the police station soon after the 16 were released and demanded that the police bring them back to the station. Since then, members of the police department incessantly harass Sandra Ntebi to appear at the police station via phone calls and texts, although there is no formal request from the department for her to appear at the station. Her lawyers have advised her not to go to the station.

On the 16 August 2016, a coalition of human rights organisations held a press conference concerning the police disruption of the events on 4 August 2016 at the Fairway Hotel in Kampala. As Sandra Ntebi was driving home from the press conference, another driver bumped into her car, causing damage to it. The person got out of their car and demanded that the human rights defender go to the police station. Sandra Ntebi refused to go to the police station, and returned home without making any more stops.

Front Line Defenders recognises the harassment faced by Sandra Ntebi as part of a larger trend in Uganda of harassment and threats of human rights defenders and a crackdown on civil society and on the LGBTI community in particular. Front Line Defenders is concerned that the harassment of Sandra Ntebi is politically motivated by her legitimate and peaceful work for LGBTI rights, and urges Ugandan authorities to uphold their responsibilities in protecting human rights as outlined in international documents such as the ICCPR [the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights] to which they are a signatory.

Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in Uganda to:

  1. Take all necessary measures to guarantee the physical and psychological integrity and security of Sandra Ntebi;
  2. Carry out an immediate, thorough and impartial investigation into the threats and harassment Sandra Ntebi is facing as well as into the ill-treatment she received while in police detention, with a view to publishing the results and bringing those responsible to justice in accordance with international standards;
  3. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Uganda are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions.

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Posted in Africa, Africa (Sub Saharan), Harassment / murders, International pressure for LGBT rights | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Letter to Uganda police: Let’s chat about anti-gay brutality

Sylvia Tamale (Photo courtesy of

Sylvia Tamale (Photo courtesy of

If LGBT-friendly Ugandan scholar Sylvia Tamale has her way, the Ugandan district police commander in charge of an anti-LGBT raid on Aug. 4 will meet her over a cup of tea to discuss tolerance. That invitation was contained in an open letter from Tamale, published in The Observer, that chided police for brutality, illegal arrests and human rights violations.

Using the respectful Swahili term “afande,” she addressed the letter to Isaac Mugerwa, district police commander of the Kabalagala police station:

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Caleb Orozco sets a valuable Caribbean precedent

Caleb Orozco and his sister, Golda Orozco Neal, celebrate the court victory. (Photo courtesy of Breaking Belize News)

Caleb Orozco and his sister, Golda Orozco Neal, celebrate the court victory. (Photo courtesy of Breaking Belize News)

Caleb Orozco struck me as nervous but determined when we first met in 2007.  We were among only a handful of Caribbean civil society delegates at an Organization of American States (OAS) General Assembly in Panama.  In the very Latin space that is the OAS, I affectionately referred to our grouping as the “English ghetto” because not only was our language need secondary, but we also lagged far behind the other countries in the hemisphere with regard to human rights for LGBTI people.

While our Central and South American colleagues were advocating for greater transgender rights, we from the Anglophone Caribbean were still waiting for decriminalization of sodomy.  And our cause often seemed hopeless.  The small micro-states from which we hailed were/are collectively in the grip of powerful right-wing fundamentalists who controlled all levers of power.  Distance and strategic differences often made it difficult for us to collaborate and present the unified front that our LGBTI siblings in other parts of the Americas had managed to accomplish.

But Caleb was not daunted.  He wanted change.  And he was visibly impatient with the slow pace and seeming risk-averse nature of many persons in the Caribbean LGBTI liberation movement.

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Posted in Americas, Anti-LGBT laws and legislation, Commentary, International pressure for LGBT rights, Positive steps | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Uganda: Challenging Lokodo’s threats and lies

The Rev. Jide Macauley

The Rev. Jide Macauley

Uganda’s homophobic ethics minister, Simon Lokodo, has threatened Nigerian gay-rights clergyman the Rev. Jide Macauley as part of a falsehood-filled interview with the gay-bashing Ugandan tabloid Red Pepper.

Macauley quickly responded, calling Lokodo a menace who “should be called to order” and “an embarrassment to the body of Christ.”

Lokodo, who is a former Catholic priest, said in the Red Pepper interview, “One of the pastors leading this movement is a Nigerian. We are following him and very soon he will be arrested with all his accomplices.”

Macauley, who returned to his home in London after visiting Uganda as grand marshal for Uganda Pride 2016, stated:

“Though I have not been mentioned by name, it is obvious that Reverend Lokodo has issued a threat against me. I must say that I am not going to be intimidated by his incoherent rhetoric and ungodly insults against the LGBTIQ people of Uganda. I expect better from anyone who claim to be a man of God and a messenger of Christ. Myself and other LGBTIQ people of faith will pray for him and the dangerous act planned against humanity.

“I love and respect the people of Uganda. I still cannot believe the level of religious violence and oppression going on.

Simon Lokodo, Uganda ethics minister (Photo courtesy of

Simon Lokodo, Uganda ethics minister (Photo courtesy of

“For him to be so furious and mad, does that not remind you of Herod’s rage against baby Jesus and innocent children that he ordered their killing without justification?”

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Uganda: Confronting Lokodo’s hateful anti-LGBTI lies

Joaninne Nanyange, executive officer for Uganda's Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF). (Photo courtesy of Joaninne Nanyange)

Joaninne Nanyange, executive officer for Uganda’s Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF). (Photo courtesy of Joaninne Nanyange)

A recent diatribe by Ugandan Ethics Minister Simon Lokodo was the last straw for Joaninne Nanyange, executive officer at the Uganda-based Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF).  So she broke her silence about what happened during the Aug. 4 raid on the Mr. and Miss Pride beauty pageant and set about dismantling Lokodo’s allegations in an angry, high-energy blog post.

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