Posts Tagged ‘LGBTI’

Interview with Karla Avelar, human rights defender from El Salvador

November 10, 2017

A former ISHR trainee, Karla Avelar defends the rights of LGBTI people. She is a finalist of this year’s Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders. In an exclusive interview with ISHR, on 6 November, she talked about her award nomination and what it means to be a trans woman and human rights defender in El Salvador. See also the THF film on her work:

 

see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/05/16/trans-defenders-karla-avelars-life-is-under-constant-threat/

Nine Things Everyone Needs To Know About International LGBTI Rights

May 21, 2017

17 May 2017 was the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT). It was created in 2004 to raise awareness about the violence and discrimination experienced by LGBTI people internationally. The date of May 17 was chosen specifically to commemorate the World Health Organization’s decision in 1990 to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder. The Advocates Post lists 9 things that are useful to remember such as:

  1. Internationally, the acronyms LGBT and LGBTI (standing for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex”) are the most commonly used terms.
  2. SOGI stands for “Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.”
  3. Private, consensual same-sex conduct is a crime in at least 76 countries. Because of these discriminatory laws, millions of LGBTI persons around the world face the risk of arrest, prosecution and imprisonment every day. And in as many as 10 countries, same-sex acts can be punished with the death penalty.
  4. LGBTI people and rights are not a Western export. LGBTI people exist everywhere — in all countries, among all ethnic groups, at all socioeconomic levels, and in all communities. Further, global archeological and anthropological evidence — from prehistoric rock paintings in South Africa and Egypt to ancient Indian medical texts and early Ottoman literature — show that LGBTI people have always been a part of our communities. In fact in many parts of the world, it was Western colonial powers that imposed the criminal laws that punish same-sex conduct. You can click on an interactive map…
  5. Some countries are passing “gay propaganda” laws and other discriminatory laws that limit the rights to free speech, freedom of association, and assembly. E.g. in 2013, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law Federal Law 135, banning propaganda to minors about “non-traditional sexual relations.” Article 3(2)(b) of Federal Law 135 imposes administrative fines and, in the case of non-citizens, deportation….
  6. LGBTI persons around the world experience widespread violence.
  7. LGBTI persons around the world experience discriminatory treatment every day, in workplaces, schools, family homes, and health care settings.
  8. International law protects LGBTI rights. The right to equality and non-discrimination are core human rights principles included in the United Nations Charter, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and all multilateral human rights treaties. The equality and non-discrimination guarantee provided by international human rights law applies to ALL people, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity or “other status.” According to the United Nations, governments have core legal obligations to protect the human rights of LGBT people………
  9. Everyone can take action to support LGBTI rights. 17 May turns out to be the single most important annual date for global LGBTI mobilization and awareness raising. Research has shown that 17% of all annual discussions on Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia are generated around this day. A few day late this post wants to add to that.

Source: Nine Things Everyone Needs To Know About International LGBTI Rights – The Advocates Post

International Service for Human Rights publishes Annual Report

May 16, 2017

The International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) has also published its annual report on 2016 (a bit confusingly called Annual Report 2017 as it also contains plans for 2017). Several chapters contain substantive information on the excellent work done for human rights defenders:

Agents of change | Empowering defenders to achieve impact (p 10)

Model Law | Groundbreaking new tool to protect defenders  (p 14)

Strange bedfellows | The role of business in protecting civil society space (p 18)

Reprisals | Ending attacks against those who cooperate with the UN (p 21)

Defending diversity | The struggle for LGBTI dignity and rights.

https://www.ishr.ch/news/supporting-defenders-achieving-change-2017-annual-report

Trans defender’s Karla Avelar’s life is under constant threat

May 16, 2017

Brian Dooley of Human Rights First, wrote the following piece “Karla Avelar’s Life Of Constant Threats” in the Huffington Post of 13 May 2017 (in full below). Karla (El Salvador) is one of the three finalists of the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/04/26/breaking-news-three-human-rights-defenders-selected-as-finalists-for-the-2017-martin-ennals-award/].  An rise in deadly violence against transgender women in El Salvador prompted the United Nations on Friday to call for an investigation into crimes against sexual minorities in the conservative Central American country. So far this year, seven transgender women have been killed in El Salvador, according to the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights [http://www.reuters.com/article/us-elsalvador-violence-lgbt-idUSKBN189018]

CARLOS CRUZ, COMCAVIS TRANS
Karla Avelar, advocating despite the danger.

Six times in two years. Human rights activist Karla Avelar has been forced to move home six times in the last two years after being physically threatened by individuals she believes are gang members and for her work as a human rights defender in El Salvador.

She’s a leading advocate for the human rights of LGBT people, founder and head of COMCAVIS TRANS, an organization known for its work for transgender people for nearly a decade. It’s dangerous, unpopular work, and Avelar is regularly targeted and threatened.

A couple of weeks ago she was forced to move home when people tried to extort from her possible prize money for the Martin Ennals Human Rights Defender Award, for which she is a finalist. The award’s winner will be decided and announced in October, but news of her nomination has prompted these latest threats.

It hasn’t been an easy life. She was shot in two separate incidents, spent five traumatic years in jail and has been a constant target of abuse for being a transgender woman. Avelar told my colleague Mariel Perez-Santiago at her office in San Salvador last year how she had been raped by more than a hundred men on her first day in prison, and that the attacks continued with the complicity of prison staff.

She became a formidable advocate for the rights of trans people in and out of prison, helping to win important reforms in the prison where she used to be an inmate. Thanks to her campaigning, transgender women are now separated from men in different wards, and human rights organizations are allowed access to the prisoners to educate them about their rights. She also represented El Salvador’s LGBT civil society at the country’s 2014 Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations in Geneva.

Her advocacy has led to international recognition including becoming a finalist for this year’s Martin Ennals Award. “Transgender persons, and the wider LGBT community, face widespread hostility and social rejection in El Salvador,” said the Martin Ennals organization in a statement. “Crimes against them are almost never brought to justice, which results in a climate of impunity. Sadly, this treatment of transgender people can be seen well beyond El Salvador. We aim to highlight Ms. Avelar’s bravery in continuing her work. We are encouraged that the authorities contacted her after the media coverage of the latest threats. This needs to be followed up with judicial proceedings against those responsible and, most importantly, effective protection for Karla Avelar.”

Her profile has meant that the threats against her are receiving attention, and the Attorney General’s office has been in touch with her to discuss issues of her safety. But for Avelar and others in El Salvador’s LGBT community the risks are daily and grave. She estimates around 600 cases of unsolved murders of LGBT people in the country over the last 25 years.

“Sadly, these most recent threats against me are not surprising and are part of a broader and systematic pattern of persecution of members of the LGBT community in El Salvador,” said Avelar. “I will not be silenced by these threats, but the Salvadoran government must guarantee my safety and that of all human rights defenders and activists, who work tirelessly to monitor and urge respect for the human rights of the most vulnerable.”

Forced to leave her home again and again, she’s asking for protection as well as international visibility. Making her more famous won’t guarantee her safety but we can try to help by sharing her story with whoever we know, by showing that we’re watching, and by saying that she should be protected and never be forced to move again.

Source: Karla Avelar’s Life Of Constant Threats | HuffPost

Breaking news: three Human Rights Defenders selected as Finalists for the 2017 Martin Ennals Award.

April 26, 2017

Today, 26 April 2017, the Martin Ennals Foundation announced that the following 3 human rights defenders have been selected as the Finalists for the  2017 Martin Ennals Award. This award is considered to be the main of award of the whole international human rights movement as the Jury (see below) is composed of leading human rights NGOs.

FreeThe5KH (Cambodia)

FreeThe5KH are five Human Rights Defenders who have been in pre-trial detention for almost one year. This is linked to their work with the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC). International bodies like the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and UN Special Rapporteurs have repeatedly called for their immediate and unconditional release, and a stop to judicial harassment of human rights defenders in Cambodia based on their legitimate human rights work. This comes in the context of an increasingly severe crackdown on civil society and the political opposition in Cambodia.

On behalf of the Khmer Five, Thun Saray, President of (ADHOC) comments: “It is an immense honour for the five HRDs to be selected as finalists. 28 April will mark their one year in arbitrary detention on the basis of their legitimate human rights work. The increased attacks against HRDs and activists has had a tremendous impact on those working to promote and protect human rights in Cambodia. This Award is symbol of encouragement for every courageous Cambodian, who continues to speak out against injustices and human rights violations. I would like to express my deepest gratitude to everyone that has supported the nomination.

Karla Avelar (El Salvador)

Karla Avelar, a transgender woman in El Salvador, grew up on the streets of San Salvador, suffering discrimination, violence, exploitation, and rape. She was imprisoned when she defended herself, and then regularly abused by fellow prisoners with the knowledge and even participation of the prison authorities. These terrible experiences have forged her into a powerful advocate. With three others, she founded COMCAVIS TRANS, which was created to represent, defend, and promote the human rights of LGBTI persons, with a focus on those living with HIV, as she does. She works to change legislation and the authorities’ practices, by holding them publicly to account. Notably her advocacy helped prompt the authorities to segregate LGBTI prisoners for their own safety, and allow for the standard HIV treatments provided by the Ministry of Health.

She said,” I want to thank Martin Ennals, the jury, and those who nominated me for this important award. Although today I am in danger, and sure that my struggle is risky, my eagerness for justice and equity motivates me. I will continue to push the State to accept reforms and legislation proposed by civil society to allow the LGBTI community to fully enjoy their human rights.”

Mohamed Zaree (Egypt)

Mohamed Zaree is the Egypt Country Director for the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), responsible for CIHRS’s legal research, media outreach and national advocacy. CIHRS’s work was influential in the Arab world particularly Egypt, which resulted in death threats to its director. This forced the CIHRS executive director and regional staff to move abroad to continue their work. Mohamed chose to stay and is now banned from travel. He is a legal scholar coordinating research to challenge laws designed to limit NGOs activities working on human rights, such as freedom of expression and assembly. He is widely seen a unifying figure bringing together the human rights community in Egypt to advocate with a common approach.

He stated “Our hopes were high following the Egyptian revolution in 2011; we don’t know how the situation has instead deteriorated to such an extent. Today, we are battling human rights violations that are worse than before 2011, and challenging the normalization and acceptance of these atrocities. Killing almost 1000 citizens in few hours, arresting almost 40,000 others, innocents dying in Egyptian prisons; is not the norm and we will not allow it to become so. We human rights defenders are fighting these abuses at risk of indefinite imprisonment. 

The Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders (MEA) is a unique collaboration among ten of the world’s leading human rights organizations to give protection to human rights defenders worldwide. The Jury is composed of the following NGOs:

  • Amnesty International,
  • Human Rights Watch,
  • Human Rights First,
  • FIDH – Int’l Federation for Human Rights,
  • World Organisation Against Torture,
  • Front Line Defenders,
  • International Commission of Jurists,
  • EWDE Germany,
  • International Service for Human Rights,
  • HURIDOCS

The Award will be presented on October 10th 2017 at a ceremony hosted by the City of Geneva.

For further information, please contact: Michael Khambatta +41 79 474 8208 khambatta[at]martinennalsaward.org or visit www.martinennalsaward.org

Sunny Maldives: Murder of human rights defender and blogger Yameen Rasheed tip of the iceberg

April 25, 2017

The Maldives normally create images in our mind of luxury holidays. This is a false image [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/maldives/]. On Sunday, 23 April 2017, a prominent blogger and social media activist, Yameen Rasheed, was found in the stairwell of his residence in the country’s capital Malé with multiple stab wounds to his head, neck and body. Mr. Rasheed died of his injuries. The UN, Front Line and others expressed deep alarmed by Mr. Rasheed’s killing and urge the authorities to ensure that the investigation into the murder is prompt, thorough and that the perpetrators are brought to justice. Mr. Rasheed had in December reported to the Maldives Police Service that he was receiving targeted death threats following the publication of his photo along with those of others on an anonymous Facebook page, but he complained that he had to follow up for three days just to get a confirmation that his complaint had been registered. Mr. Rasheed’s killing comes in the context of what appears to be an upsurge in arrests and prosecutions of the political opposition.

Yameen Rasheed [see his profile: https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/yameen-rasheed]  was a prominent human rights defender and social media activist in Maldives. Through his blog The Daily Panic, he was an outspoken critic of government corruption and was vocal against impunity for crimes against journalists and attacks of freedom of expression  committed by radical Islamist groups. Yameen Rasheed was a close friend of Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla, another well known Maldivian journalist, blogger and human rights advocate, who was abducted and disappeared in 2014. Since 2014, Yameen Rasheed had been working to obtain justice for Rilwan, and was recently coordinating with Rilwan’s family to file a case against the Maldives police on the investigation of Rilwan’s death. In 2015, he was arrested along with 200 other activists and imprisoned for three weeks after taking part in a pro-democracy rally in the capital.

Maldives has a troubling history of attacks targeting human rights defenders, journalists and bloggers. On 5 June 2012, blogger, LGBT activist and journalist Ismail Khilath Rasheed, also known as Hilath, was stabbed by radical Islamists. On 8 August 2014, prominent HRD Ahmed Rilwan went missing and has not been heard of since then. On 4 September 2015, human rights lawyer Mahfooz Saeed [https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/case/case-history-mahfooz-saeed] was brutally attacked by two unidentified men, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/09/07/mahfooz-saeed-lawyer-of-maldives-ex-president-stabbed/. 

It would seem therefore that the groundbreaking legal proceedings (October 2016), which the ISHR has brought to the UN Human Rights Committee have a lot of merit. It was requested to rule that the Maldives violated international law by restricting human rights defenders from submitting information to the UN.

In what is the first case filed with the UN on behalf of former members of a national human rights institution, ISHR has asked the UN Human Rights Committee to authoritatively rule that there is a legal right to submit information, evidence and reports to the UN and that restrictions on this right, or reprisals for exercising this right, amount to serious breaches of international law. The case could have wide-ranging implications, as a number of countries seek to criminalise or prosecute people to prevent them from exposing human rights violations at the UN.

Assisted by ISHR, Ahmed Tholal and Jeehan Mahmood, former Commissioners of the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM), have filed a communication with the UN’s Human Rights Committee to highlight the Maldives’ failure to ensure their right to share information freely with the UN without reprisal. The HRCM was prosecuted in 2015 by the Supreme Court in the Maldives following a submission made by the HRCM on human rights in the Maldives to the UN’s Universal Periodic Review….The Court ruled that the HRCM’s report was unlawful, biased and undermined judicial independence, and ordered the HRCM to follow a set of guidelines designed to restrict the HRCM’s work and its ability to communicate with the UN.

Ahmed Tholal and Jeehan Mahmood said they were seeking a ruling from the Committee because they want the HRCM’s right to freely communicate with international human rights mechanisms to be firmly preserved in law and practice. ‘If the HRCM is not able to communicate freely with the UN, its ability to carry out its mandate is severely undermined. This case isn’t just about the HRCM of 2010. Rather it’s about the far reaching implications such reprisals will have on the independence and integrity of NHRI’s everywhere,’ they said.

‘The decision of the Supreme Court to restrict the activities and independence of the Commission is incompatible with the right of safe and unhindered communication with UN bodies, and the prohibition against reprisals for exercising that right. Such a decision by an arm of government is a clear breach of international law,’ Ms Sinclair of ISHR said. Background to the case can be found here.

A copy of the Communication can be found here.

Source: OHCHR Press Briefing Notes – South Sudan, Maldives | Scoop News

https://www.ishr.ch/news/reprisals-groundbreaking-legal-proceedings-filed-against-maldives

Video interview with Cleopatra KAMBUGU from Uganda

April 25, 2017

On 24 April 2017 the ISHR published this interview with Cleopatra KAMBUGU, grants administrator at UHAI EASHRI and transgender activist in Uganda. Cleopatra was featured in “Pearl of Africa“, a movie shown at the Geneva international Film Festival and Human Rights Forum and spoke  about the challenges she faces in her struggle to have transgender rights recognised in her country. More information on UHAI-EASHRI: http://www.uhai-eashri.org

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