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State Department Issues Human Rights Report With Robust LGBT Materials

state20department20seal-260x260Yesterday, the U.S. State Department issued its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, a review of the human rights records of countries around the world. While the Country Reports had begun to include LGBT human rights violations in recent years, this year’s reporting is notably more robust and detailed than ever before, and the ongoing controversy over Uganda’s anti-homosexuality legislation is front and center in the introduction:

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons in Uganda faced arbitrary legal restrictions. It is illegal to engage in homosexual acts, based on a 1950 legal provision from the colonial era criminalizing "carnal acts against the order of nature" and prescribing a penalty of life imprisonment. No persons have been charged under the law. The September introduction in parliament of a bill providing the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality" and for homosexual "serial offenders" resulted in increased harassment and intimidation of LGBT persons during the year; the proposed legislation also provides for a fine and three years’ imprisonment for persons who fail to report acts of homosexual conduct to authorities within 24 hours. Public resentment of homosexual conduct sparked significant public debate during the year, and the government took a strong position against such conduct despite a December 2008 ruling by the High Court that constitutional rights apply to all persons, regardless of sexual orientation. The local NGO Sexual Minorities Uganda protested alleged police harassment of several members for their vocal stand against sexual discrimination.

There’s a great deal more about the situation in Uganda in its individual country report. Unfortunately, this new level of detail reflects all too clearly that there is continued, pervasive violence and discrimination against LGBT people all over the world. The Council for Global Equality, of which HRC is a member, has a detailed look at the LGBT provisions of the reports, but here’s an example from the review of Jamaica’s human rights record...

Societal Abuses, Discrimination, and Acts of Violence Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity The law prohibits "acts of gross indecency" (generally interpreted as any kind of physical intimacy) between men, in public or in private, which are punishable by 10 years in prison. In October Prime Minister Golding, who upon taking office announced that no gays or lesbians would be allowed to serve in his cabinet, called for a constitutional prohibition against same-sex marriage. The Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All Sexuals, and Gays (J-FLAG) continued to report human rights abuses, including arbitrary detention, mob attacks, stabbings, harassment of homosexual patients by hospital and prison staff, and targeted shootings of such persons. Police often did not investigate such incidents. J-FLAG reported 33 cases of serious injuries to gays and lesbians over an 18-month period. The violence led many such persons to emigrate. J-FLAG members also suffered attacks on their property and home intrusions, as people demanded to know the number of persons and beds in a home. In one instance, a fire bombing at the home of two men left one of them with burns on more than 60 percent of his body. In addition such persons faced death and arson threats, with some of these directed at the J-FLAG offices. J-FLAG did not publicize its location due to such threats, and its officials reported feeling unsafe having meetings with clients at the organization's office. On September 9, an honorary British consul in Montego Bay was strangled in bed, and a note left at the scene reportedly denounced the victim as gay. On October 12, a passerby accused a pedestrian on a Kingston sidewalk of being gay because he had been walking in an "effeminate manner." That person was subsequently attacked with a machete and four fingers were nearly severed. The trial of six suspects arrested for the 2005 robbery and murder of prominent gay rights advocate Lenford "Steve" Harvey, initially begun and then postponed in 2007, was scheduled to recommence on January 25, 2010. Male inmates deemed by prison wardens to be gay were held in a separate facility for their protection. The method used for determining their sexual orientation was subjective and not regulated by the prison system, although inmates were said to confirm their homosexuality for their own safety. There were numerous reports of violence against gay inmates, perpetrated by the wardens and by other inmates, but few inmates sought recourse through the prison system. Gay men were hesitant to report incidents against them because of fear for their physical well-being. Lesbian women were subject to sexual assault as well as other physical attacks. Human rights NGOs and government entities agreed that brutality against such persons, primarily by private citizens, was widespread in the community.

We thank Secretary Clinton and the State Department for their work in documenting these abuses and hope they use the wealth of critical information to continue to push nations around the world to improve their treatment of LGBT people.

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