Posts Tagged ‘LGBTI Human Rights Defenders’

Human rights defender profile: Otgonbaatar Tsedendemberel from Mongolia

March 10, 2017

Otgonbaatar Tsedendemberel has advocated for the rights of LGBT persons in Mongolia for many years. On 6 March 2017 the ISHR published the following interview with him:

I am a co-founder of LGBT Center of Mongolia and worked as Advocacy Program Manager and then Executive Director from 2009 to 2014. We conducted workshops and training on LGBTI rights to raise awareness among the general public and  law enforcement officers, health professionals, NGOs, public and private schools, etc. LGBT Center also worked hard in cooperation with other organisations to become one of the leading rights-based civil society organisations (CSOs) in Mongolia, contributing to the overall civil society development in the country and the mainstreaming of LGBTI issues into human rights issues as a whole. One of the highlights of what we have done collectively is the successful use of UN mechanisms such as the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), Committee against Torture (CAT) and Human Rights Committee to make the Government of Mongolia acknowledge its sexual minorities for the first time, express its political will to protect our rights and commit to implement the UPR and treaty bodies’ recommendations.

What motivated you to become involved in human rights work?

Having lived, studied and worked in Japan for 7 years, I felt that I needed to contribute to the development of my own country. As a young gay man who has seen the world, I was optimistically ambitious and daring enough to slip my hand into a tiger’s mouth, as the Mongolian saying goes. However, the situation for the LGBTI community was quite bleak with no rights-based NGO for the community operating. Then I joined the Mongolian Red Cross Society and where I met other co-founders of the LGBT Center. My personal desire for a better future for LGBTI Mongolians, the invincible passions of the co-founders Robyn Garner and Anaraa Nyamdorj, and the remarkable feminists and human rights defenders of vibrant, active Mongolian civil society motivated and still inspire me to work on LGBTI issues at home and abroad.   

What risks, challenges or threats do you face as a human rights defender in your country? 

Together with fellow activists I appeared on TV shows and gave interviews especially before, during and after UN and domestic advocacy efforts. Personal risks involved automatically “outing” my friends, family members and everyone around me, and in the process passively encroaching upon their right to privacy. They were so understanding and loving that they endured the negative attitudes, threats and attacks. Most of these threats come from a lack of information and misconceptions about LGBTI people and issues, as well as fear of being associated in any way with sexual minorities. I had to deactivate my Facebook account a few years ago to protect my family and what’s left of my privacy. Nevertheless, the situation is getting better after all these awareness-raising activities and LGBT Center’s work with the government and civil society, and I think now the private sector needs to join the cause for the sake of a better future for all.     

What is the legal situation for NGOs and human rights defenders in Mongolia? What changes would you like to see to create a fully enabling environment for their work?

The NGO Law of Mongolia allows many NGOs to emerge and operate. The LGBT Center struggled initially to be registered as a legal entity back in 2007-2009. Since then we have not had any issues with the authorities in terms of the NGO registration. However, there is no law that enshrines the rights of human rights defenders (HRDs). In addition to the challenges of engaging in human rights work, LGBTI activists further suffer verbal and physical abuse and intimidation, family pressure and violence, financial obstacles, housing difficulties and even terrible treatment by landlords of NGO offices. Therefore, we desperately need a state policy and legislation on human rights defenders.

Can you give some examples of how you have engaged with the UN Special Procedures?

Ms. Magdalena Sepulveda Carmona, UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, made an official visit to Mongolia in 2012. I met her towards the end of her visit and updated her on the situation of the LGBTI community. Ms. Magdalena Sepulveda observed that “the recent economic achievements made in Mongolia has not benefited the country’s poor” and highlighted vulnerable groups, including people living with HIV (PLHIV) and LGBTI persons.

In 2013, the Special Rapporteur’s report was released, concluding that “there is a high level of inequality at a time when the country is experiencing a major economic boom.” Given the pervasive inequality affecting the LGBTI community and the government’s recently expressed political will, the Center was encouraged to collect our own data on how poverty affects the LGBTI community and its root causes so that our advocacy efforts would be better informed and effectively targeted. 

What have you achieved through this engagement? 

The study – “Poverty and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community in Mongolia” – was conducted in 2014. Its main author Dr. A. Bulbul discovered that the unemployment rate of survey participants was 10.4%, higher than the official rate of 7.8% among the general population, and approximately 22% lived below the national poverty line. The study concluded that enabling a legal environment to ensure equal access to education and employment and changing public perception and attitudes was necessary. This study – inspired by the Special Rapporteur’s visit – was significant since we got to utilise the UN Special Procedures and started to gather evidence to better inform the public and the relevant officials in the government and international organisations for better advocacy.  

How do you think using the international human rights system assists in achieving domestic advocacy goals? 

International human rights norms and standards definitely guide defenders to identify gaps, to better use the mechanisms established and available for us and to network with other like-minded activists, scholars, diplomats and UN officials. I would also like to thank organisations such as ISHR, ARC International, OutRight Action International, ILGA, COC Netherlands, OSCE, Open Society Foundations and FORUM-ASIA which act as a bridge between us – local and national activists – and the international and regional human rights systems, allowing us to lobby our government and make our advocacy more effective through their financial and technical assistance and support.      

What if anything could the UN do to make the Special Procedures system easier/safer for you to engage with?

From experiences of working as an activist at the UN in Geneva and New York, I know that the UN is a political institution. However, it has been reformed to genuinely ensure the representation and participation of civil society. The UPR is a prime example because it brought LGBTI issues to the attention of our government, leading to legal reform. I would like to see those who work in the Special Procedures’ teams be present both online and offline. Country visits by Ms. Magdalena Sepulveda and meetings with diverse stakeholders were truly amazing and productive. Online presence of UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Assembly and Association Mr. Maina Kiai, who listens to activists’ voices from the ground is absolutely impressive. And most importantly, I wish the UN work at the headquarters could be translated into the UN country offices as swiftly, effectively and efficiently as possible.  

Source: Human rights defender profile: Otgonbaatar Tsedendemberel from Mongolia | ISHR

Farewell to Jacobus Witbooi, LGBTI defender from Namibia

December 7, 2016

Sad news. Jacobus Witbooi who was profiled in this blog in August [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2016/08/31/profile-of-jacobus-witbooi-lgbti-human-rights-defender-from-namibia/] has died from malaria.

Jacobus was a human rights defender from Namibia who proudly defended and promoted the rights of of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex people via Pan Africa ILGA. ISHR reported this in their ISHR Monitor of December 2016.

Source: Farewell to Jacobus Witbooi | ISHR

Profile of Jacobus Witbooi, LGBTI human rights defender from Namibia

August 31, 2016

Profile of Jacobus Witbooi, human rights defender from Namibia, working at the Pan Africa International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (PAI).

In June 2016 he completed ISHR’s Human Rights Defender Advocacy Programme and The Monitor of 27 June contained the following piece:
Jacobus Witbooi knows himself to be an ‘innate activist’ and says that his passion for human rights ‘comes from the inside.’ It has always been a strong part of who he is, taking up the challenge to advocate for those without a voice at a very early age. When still attending school, he recalls campaigning for education on safe sex and sexual health information and advice before it was even considered by national school policy makers.

‘Everyone knew that there were young people having unprotected sex, but they also didn’t have access to condoms, let alone information or advice from community health services about sexual health and safety, especially if they contracted a STI…They felt judged, couldn’t take steps to protect themselves or get help they needed.’

As he matured as a young professional he continued to pursue the issue and played a key role in eventually getting sex education on the national school curriculum in Namibia. He also helped to create a platform for young people to have a say in the design and evaluation of sexual and reproductive health programs, as well as assist health services to provide a caring and sympathetic environment for young people, enhancing accessibility.

Creating a network to drive change

Jacobus’ human rights advocacy journey has brought him to Pan Africa ILGA, a recently formed and rapidly expanding membership-based network for activists working to advance sexual orientation and gender identity rights. He delivers a continent-wide outreach strategy to small, grassroots LGBTI  activists and defenders, helping to develop their skills and confidence to engage with both the UN human rights mechanisms and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Commission), and grow their ability to achieve meaningful and lasting human rights change.

The issue is close to his heart. He remembers coming out at a time in Namibia when it was unsafe, denied and denounced by all corners of the community.

‘I didn’t feel welcome in my own country, and was told I should leave.’

Whilst Pan Africa ILGA is rapidly expanding – it now has over 100 members – Jacobus is aware of the limitations his service can provide, and the needs of local LGBTI community organisations.

‘There’s a gap between the amount of work we can do to support local human rights activists, and how far we can teach them to carry forward UN outcomes and recommendations into their country.’

But he adds that he refuses to accept that it is a gap that cannot be closed. In May, Jacobus had a key part in delivering the third PAI regional LGBTI conference in South Africa. Bringing together 184 African delegates from over 34 African States, coming together to convene and share strategies, visions and fostering opportunities to collaborate. More encouraging, was the attendance of Government representatives and members of the African Commission, as well as National Human Rights Institutions.

Highlighting this significant social and political development, Jacobus points out that there is a growing support for sexual orientation and gender identity rights on the African continent, and is optimistic for the future of the LGBTI community. However,  he knows there is a lot more work to be done.

‘I think this space we created was critical as a continent – sharing the success stories. But, how do we move this forward, and deal with the intersectionality of sexual orientation and gender identity issues?’

Expanding his human rights advocacy potential

He identified that one way forward for him was to better harness the UN international human rights mechanisms and expand his human rights advocacy potential and successfully applied to participate in the ISHR Human Rights Advocacy Programme.

‘It’s helped me a lot. I’ve broadened my understanding of available UN-mechanisms beyond the Universal Periodic Review alone. I’ve learnt that there is a wide range of approaches to doing human rights advocacy through the UN. This awareness combined with the confidence I’ve now gained will be vital for me on the ground back home.’

He has also noticed his own approach to engaging in human rights advocacy has transformed.

‘I’ve become more strategic now. Because I have a deeper understanding of the UN system, it means that I can use multiple mechanisms to get outcomes, such as the Treaty Bodies and the Special Procedures.’

Contributing to the first UN Resolution on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

With his training coinciding with the 32nd session of the Human Rights Council, Jacobus became heavily involved in contributing to the Working Group advocating and lobbying for a strong resolution on sexual orientation and gender identity. He describes this as,

‘My first real hands on experience advocacy at the Council, working with states delegations and diplomats, trying to bring across an argument that is sensitive and difficult to move on, and coming from a region where it is very difficult to even talk about. It has given me a better understanding of how these things work, what components come into play when these decisions are made.’

Contact: jacobus@panafricailga.org or follow him on Twitter @jacobuswitbooi

Source: Defender profile: Jacobus Witbooi, human rights defender from Namibia | ISHR

Profile of human rights defender Tuisina Ymania Brown, a Fa’afafine from Samoa

June 2, 2016

Samoa does not figure often in this blog. So, courtesy of the International Service for Human Rights (Monitor 2 May 2016), here is the profile of Tuisina Ymania Brown of the Samoa Fa’afafine Association which represents and promotes the rights of indigenous lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people in Samoa.  Read the rest of this entry »

Preview of Human Rights Defenders stuff at the upcoming Human Rights Council starting 15 June

June 12, 2015

The UN Human Rights Council will hold its 29th regular session at the United Nations in Geneva from 15 June to 3 July. Courtesy of the International Service for Human Rights, here is my selection of what is directly relevant to Human Rights Defenders: ISHR-logo-colour-high

– During the session, Norway, along with other States, will deliver a statement calling on all States to ensure that human rights defenders are able to carry out their vital work free from arbitrary detention and other restrictions. Read the rest of this entry »

LGBTI human rights rights defenders speak out

May 17, 2015

 

ISHR-logo-colour-high published this video clip on 16 May, 2015 to celebrate the day against homophobia. The video was produced by THF (True Heroes Films)

You are either for humanity or you are not for humanity. I don’t think anybody can propose to be for humanity and then be selective in the human beings who they choose to represent, who they choose to defend.” Richie Maitland, LGBT rights defender. ISHR adds it is  humbled to work with activists like Richie, Shakhawat and Sheherezade Kara – who fight to bring about change in hostile environments and in the face of fierce opposition. They work against pervasive homophobia, criminalisation, violence and intimidation, and for equal rights for all people, irrespective of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Group of Governments and Agencies formulate policies on LGBTI issues and human rights defenders

November 21, 2014

On the Occasion of the Annual Conference to Advance the Human Rights of and Promote Inclusive Development for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Persons held in Washington from 12-14 November 2014, the governments of Albania, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Israel, the Netherlands, Norway, Serbia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States and Uruguay, as well as the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, the European Union, UNAIDS – the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS, and the United Nations Development Programme, adopted a communiqué, which is relevant to human rights defenders in particular through the following paragraphs:

Introduction

…..

We further recognize the work of civil society organizations and human rights defenders from whom we have heard over the last three days. We commend their tremendous dedication and resolve to bring about a world free from violence and discrimination. We are gravely concerned by the serious challenges, difficult circumstances, and in some instances violent attacks that human rights defenders and organizations face as they work to achieve this important goal. We are inspired by their commitment, and recognize their rich diversity and unique views from different regions and across different cultures and traditions.

Together we affirm the following:

….

6. We dedicate ourselves to exploring ways to strengthen our international assistance and diplomacy efforts to promote and protect the human rights of LGBTI persons, through cooperating with additional governments and identifying new sources of funding and engagement, including from the private sector;

7. We will strive to ensure flexible and timely support, especially to meet the needs of the most vulnerable persons worldwide, including LGBTI persons;

8. We intend to guide our assistance and diplomacy efforts on the basis of need and when possible on the basis of needs assessments. We also recall the importance of co-ownership of assistance and diplomatic efforts with host governments as we work to advance the human rights of LGBTI persons;

9. We underline that governments, funders, civil society organizations and other implementing organizations should ensure involvement of local LGBTI communities and their allies in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of human rights and development cooperation efforts as appropriate;

…….

12. To further strengthen cooperation, coordination and communication of assistance and diplomatic efforts, we plan to continue to meet annually to discuss implementation of this communiqué and other relevant issues. The next meeting is expected to be organized by the Netherlands in early 2016.

For further information, please contact Chanan Weissman at WeissmanC[at]state.gov.

for full text: Joint Government and Multilateral Agency Communique From Conference to Advance the Human Rights of and Promote Inclusive Development for LGBTI Persons.

“Voices of LGBTI Human Rights Defenders” Side event on 19 March

March 15, 2014

Voices of LGBTI Human Rights Defenders” on 19 March, from 10h00 – 12h00 in Room XXIV of the Palais des Nations in Geneva. Human Rights Defenders from Nigeria and Malaysia will be among those presenting.

Contact: adam.hennings[at]graduateinstitute.ch