Posts Tagged ‘LGBTI’

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

The Freedom to Marry – film shows human rights lawyers at work in the USA

February 21, 2017

freedom-to-marry-the-poster

This documentary provides an insight into marriage equality movement in the USATHE FREEDOM TO MARRY is an inspiring insiders’ look at the one the recent civil rights battles.

The historic Obergefell v. Hodges case represents the culmination of a decades-long struggle to guarantee the right of same-sex couples to marry. Among those leading the fight for justice is attorney and gay rights defender Evan Wolfson, who is considered by many the architect of LGBT marriage equality. Also profiled is human rights lawyer Mary Bonauto. In tracking the climactic countdown to the landmark Supreme Court decision, filmmaker Eddie Rosenstein manages to create a thrilling ambience.

THE FREEDOM TO MARRY was the Best Documentary and Best Editing winner at the Savannah Film Festival and recently picked up the Human Rights Prize at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival 2017.

 

Source: The Freedom to Marry, a Film by Eddie Rosenstein

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

In historic but controversial move UN Human Rights Council appoints expert on protection of LGBT

July 6, 2016

In a historic vote on 30 June 2016 the UN Human Rights Council created an Independent Expert dedicated to sexual orientation and gender identity issues. The “Independent expert on protection from violence and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) people“, as the official title runs, was warmly welcomed by the LGBTI community around the world. Twenty-three Council members voted for the new position, 18 members against, and six abstained. Read the rest of this entry »

What the next session of the Human Rights Council will do with Human Rights Defenders

June 9, 2016

The UN Human Rights Council will hold its 32nd regular session at Palais des Nations in Geneva from 13 June to 1 July 2016. The Geneva-based International Service for Human Rights published its preview called “Alert to the Human Rights Council’s 32nd session”. This special issue of the ISHR Monitor is worth reading in full, but for those with special interest in human rights defenders here are some of the highlights:  Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

Human Rights Awards for Journalists in Moldova

March 29, 2016

The prizes were awarded by the Association for Independent Press in Moldova, with the financial support of Civil Rights Defenders in Sweden.

rferl-moldova-service-reporters-win-accolades
Radio Free Europe reported proudly on 23 March 2016 that their journalists working with RFE/RL’s Moldova Service were recognized for excellence in audio and video reporting on local community and human rights issues. Reporters Mihaela Gherasim and Eugenia Pogor took first and third place in the television program category, with programs on HIV and LGBTI questions. 

Source: RFERL Moldova Service Reporters Win Accolades

Latin America, Philippines most dangerous places for Human Rights Defenders

January 6, 2016

The latest statistical report released by Front Line Defenders revealed the appalling reality that human rights defenders all over the world are at great risk to be victims of extreme forms of violence. And based on the organization’s annual report, 157 human rights activists were killed or died in detention in 25 countries in 2015. Latin America, Philippines are named as most dangerous places for Human Rights Defenders. Read the rest of this entry »

2015 Right Livelihood Awards include Kasha from Uganda

October 1, 2015

The 2015 Right Livelihood Awards were announced today in Stockholm:Right Livelihood logo

Three Laureates will share the cash award of SEK 3 million (ca. EUR 320 000):

  • SHEILA WATT-CLOUTIER (Canada) “for her lifelong work to protect the Inuit of the Arctic and defend their right to maintain their livelihoods and culture, which are acutely threa2011 Laureate Kashatened by climate change.
  • KASHA JACQUELINE NABAGESERA (Uganda)for her courage and persistence, despite violence and intimidation, in working for the right of LGBTI people to a life free from prejudice and persecution.” Kasha was the Laureate of the 2011 Martin Ennals Award.
  • GINO STRADA, co-founder of EMERGENCY, (Italy) “for his great humanity and skill in providing outstanding medical and surgical services to the victims of conflict and injustice, while fearlessly addressing the causes of war.

The 2015 Right Livelihood Honorary Award goes to TONY DE BRUM and THE PEOPLE OF THE MARSHALL ISLANDS “in recognition of their vision and courage to take legal action against the nuclear powers for failing to honour their disarmament obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.”

The Awards will be presented at a ceremony in Stockholm on 30 November 2015, hosted by the Society for the Right Livelihood Award in the Swedish Parliament.