For Immediate Release: December 6, 2011
Geneva – Human Rights First today commended Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as she seized another opportunity to establish the principle that LGBT rights are human rights and human rights are LGBT rights. In a speech before the United Nations in Geneva, Clinton noted that the respect and fair treatment of LGBT people worldwide is a moral imperative, in keeping with universal values and with America’s belief that all men and women are created equal.
Clinton’s speech was delivered less than an hour after President Barack Obama issued a directive for administration agencies to ensure that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons.
“The Obama Administration should be credited for its consistent advocacy of the simple proposition that human rights apply to all people, including LGBT people. Secretary Clinton’s work to impact the international community and its inclusion of LGBT rights will be one of her enduring legacies,” said Human Rights First’s Paul LeGendre, who is in Geneva and attended Secretary Clinton’s address. ”She is right: it is time for all nations to implement policies to protect this vulnerable community from violence and discrimination. President Obama’s directive specifically advances that goal.”
Though the persecution of LGBT individuals persists in nearly all corners of the world, LeGendre notes that there is an emerging international consensus that human rights protections extend to abuses based on sexual orientation and gender identity bias. In June 2011, the United Nations Human Rights Council – under the leadership of South Africa and Brazil and with strong support from the United States, as well as from countries representing every U.N. geographical region — passed the first United Nations resolution focused on the rights of LGBT people. In addition, it commissioned a report on the challenges of LGBT people around the world. The report is to be discussed at the Council in March.
“As the Secretary demonstrated today, the United States has an important role to play in ensuring the protection of LGBT individuals around the world,” LeGendre observed. “First, it must continue to lead by example at home and strengthen its own protections for LGBT Americans. We were proud to advocate for passage of the Matthew Shepherd bill to institute hate crime laws, and we continue to work with the department of justice to ensure they have the mechanisms and the proper training to enforce these laws. The U.S. must work with other nations to bring their own laws and policies into compliance with treaty obligations and international norms.”
According to Human Rights First, LGBT individuals who fear for their safety or face persecution and violence in their homelands often have no choice but to flee to neighboring countries where homophobia is as pervasive as in the environments they are seeking to escape. More than 70 countries have laws that criminalize same-sex conduct, and many of these countries host refugees. LGBT refugees often endure discrimination as they navigate asylum systems, including many that require them to register with national authorities who may harbor homophobic attitudes or consider consensual same-sex conduct a crime. As a result, LGBT refugees hide in the shadows, a reality that limits their ability to access assistance programs or be identified for the purposes of protection and potential resettlement. In a number of contexts, such as Iraq and East Africa, LGBT refugees also experience sexual violence as a cause of flight or while in countries of first asylum. These are among some of the key concerns that the U.S. should address in bilateral relations, as well as in the UNHCR system.
“Every day, people from all corners of the world are forced to flee their homes on account of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Human Rights First’s Duncan Breen, who is also in Geneva. “By definition, all refugees are vulnerable, yet LGBT refugees often face particular challenges in accessing protection and assistance. They may face prejudice by service providers, the host community and fellow refugees. There is a need to strengthen protection responses, including access to safe shelter and expedited resettlement for LGBT refugees and others. The U.S. should be a leader in that effort.”
Last year in its report Persistent Needs and Gaps: the Protection of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) Refugees, Human Rights First addressed these concerns and outlined steps to address them.