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Entries in United Nations (10)

Monday
Jan112016

Protecting Syria's Civilians: Another Discarded New Year's Resolution?

@HuffPost

It's been just three weeks since the UN Security Council adopted its latest resolution on the conflict in Syria, re-authorizing cross-border delivery routes for humanitarian aid and promising -- once again -- to take "further measures" if the parties to the conflict do not comply with international humanitarian law.

In these three weeks, the Assad government has systematically ignored this warning. Instead, its forces have continued their relentless violation of international rules of war, among them the requirement to spare civilians, health personnel and medical facilities. 

On December 25, a suspected chemical weapons attack in Moadamiya drove civilians to the local hospital with symptoms consistent with exposure to toxic agents, including difficulty in breathing, bloody frothing at the mouth, muscular contractions and involuntary urination and defecation. Several patients have died as a result. Local documenters say the missile attack came from the Syrian government-controlled Al Mezzeh airbase. 

It's very likely that this suffering was caused by illegal chemical weapons, but it has not been possible to confirm which toxic agent was responsible, and how it was distributed. There's a reason for that. 

Chemical weapons attacks are notoriously difficult to substantiate. The debris they leave is hard to detect from satellite images. To positively identify a toxic agent, you need to analyze affected blood samples. But in Syria, and in particular in the Damascus suburb where the December attack occurred, the specialized medical equipment needed to conduct these tests is in severely short supply. 

What's more, it is exceedingly difficult to safely deliver blood samples from Moadamiya to health care facilities with the necessary infrastructure. Supplies to adequately preserve samples are virtually non-existent. With health care centers and personnel openly targeted -- at least 240 medical facilities have been attacked and 697 medical workers killed in the conflict, primarily by Assad government forces -- transporting blood samples has become very dangerous. The combination makes identifying toxic agents near impossible.

Further, government forces have recently turned their sights on border area hospitals in northern Syria that to some extent have served as referential hospitals. Physicians for Human Rights has received multiple reports that health facilities in 'Azaz and Hraytan, in the suburbs of Aleppo, were hit on December 25 and 26, further debilitating Syria's already fragile health infrastructure. 

How many war crimes does the Assad government need to commit for the UN Security Council to take more decisive action?

Some might say the December 2015 resolution did effect change. Last week, the Assad government agreed to allow humanitarian aid into Madaya, a rural area close to the Lebanese border where a six-month siege has caused countless deaths and unspeakable suffering. This aid is supposed to arrive today. Survivors, driven to starvation by their own government, report being reduced to eating leaves, insects, even their pets - and having to depend on a veterinarian and a carpenter for health care and surgery. 

However, the very fact that the Assad government is in a position to allow or deny humanitarian aid is because it is using besiegement as a weapon of war - in direct contravention of UN Security Council directives and the Geneva Conventions. In fact, the limited ceasefire agreement between Syrian government and opposition forces last year should, in principle, have brought humanitarian aid to Madaya months ago. Moreover, under international humanitarian law, organizations providing aid must have unfettered access to Madaya and the dozens of other besieged areas throughout Syria, with or without Assad's express permission. 

It has been nearly five years, 300,000 deaths, and four million refugees since the Security Council first called on the Syrian authorities to respect their obligations under international law. The three weeks since the latest Security Council resolution show the Assad government has no intention of doing so. 

Whatever solution Syrian peace talks may arrive at, world leaders must immediately focus on protecting civilians and improving conditions on the ground. Without concrete action to reduce the suffering of Syrian civilians, another UN Security Council resolution on this conflict will appear as empty as so many other New Year's resolutions.

Tuesday
Jun022015

New UN Report: Treat LGBTI Humans As Humans

@HuffPost

This week, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) issued its second report on the state of human rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people worldwide. 

Here's a hint: It's not pretty.

Intended originally to share good practices and ways to overcome violence and discrimination, this report in reality spells out the violence and discrimination that must be overcome. That's not a coincidence. Since OHCHR issued its first reporton this subject in 2011, many countries have certainly taken significant steps to advance the rights of everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity and bodily diversity. But many others remain reluctant to do so. As the High Commissioner's report this week notes: "The overall picture remains one of continuing, pervasive, violent abuse, harassment and discrimination affecting LGBT and intersex persons in all regions."

There are many reasons why discrimination and abuse persist. The report addresses two of them head-on. 

First, it tackles the objection that LGBTI persons are not covered by international human rights protections. This may seem remarkably straightforward based on the premise that we are all human -- all of us -- therefore we all have rights, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity and bodily diversity. 

However, human rights generate obligations for states -- to promote, protect and fulfill these basic rights. States, everywhere, are reluctant to recognize the rights of those they deem "other" or somehow less valuable: Whether it is denying felons the right to vote, excluding undocumented immigrants from schooling or criminalizing freedom of speech for political opponents. For bodily autonomy and privacy for LGBTI persons, the mechanism is the same. And some states simply want to exclude those they don't "like" from the benefits and protection that human rights standards entitle them to. 

In seeking to overcome this objection, the High Commissioner's new report details many of the specific obligations states have to address discrimination and violence against LGBTI persons: Protection against torture and abuse; refraining from criminally or otherwise punishing people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and ensuring everyone's right to freedom of speech and assembly.

Secondly, the report overcomes the general objection that there is just "nothing you can do" about stigma and prejudice. In its 20 recommendations to states, the report lays out the first crucial steps that should be taken to overcome violence and discrimination against LGBTI persons. The recommendations cover discrimination in housing, education, employment, and refugee policies; urges revision of blatantly discriminatory laws, and suggests ongoing sensitivity training for public officials in healthcare, education and justice systems. Same-sex relationships should be afforded the same protections as opposite-sex relationships, the report notes; everyone should have access to legal identity document reflecting their preferred gender, upon demand, and no intersex child should be subjected to medically unnecessary procedures.

These recommendations should serve as a blueprint for priority action to overcome the violence and discrimination that is detailed in the report. 

They may look extensive. 

But if you read carefully you will see that all the report asks for is for LGBTI humans to be treated as humans.

Wednesday
Dec102014

Protection from arbitrary killing should be a minimum standard not an aspiration

@ISHRGlobal

The right not to be arbitrarily killed ought to be the absolute floor for any understanding of human rights.

However, for many of our colleagues and the people they work with, basic safety and security seems more like an aspirational goal than a minimum standard. The offices of our partners are broken into. Private work meetings are cancelled by authorities. Our colleagues are arrested or harassed by police. A number are severely beaten, whether by public officers or by private individuals, often acting in groups.

And then there are those who are killed. The Transgender Murder Monitoring Project has tracked at least 226 reported murders of trans persons from November 2013 to November 2014 worldwide.  In New York City in the month of May 2014 alone, the Anti Violence Project reported 11 high-profile cases of anti-gay violence. Most likely, these are but the tip of the iceberg. Most cases of violence or murder directly against lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and intersex (LGBTI) persons are not reported to the police, or highlighted in the media. Justice for this violence is hardly ever forthcoming, even where the incidents are reported.

But perhaps more to the point, though we know for sure that LGBTI persons, as a group, are more exposed to violence than straight and/or cisgender counterparts—all other things being equal—it is not always possible to say whether a specific incidence of violence or harassment is motivated by the victim’s real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

This is why it is paramount that governments pay specific attention to the violence directed at those identifying as or suspected of being LGBTI. For more than a decade, United Nations members states have pledged to do just in their biannual resolution on extrajudicial and arbitrary executions and killings. Since 2000, this resolution has included a reference to the need for states to pay specific attention to those killed because of real or perceived sexual orientation, and since 2012 also gender identity.

This resolution does not, of course, overcome the discrimination and abuse faced by LGBTI persons—and those suspected of being LGBTI—worldwide. However, the explicitly acknowledgement that violence against LGBTI persons is arbitrary, and that states must work to prosecute this violence where it happens, lends weight to the pushes for adequate legislation and policies to counter hate crimes everywhere.

Even more importantly, the resolution highlights those targeted because of real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity as particularly vulnerable to arbitrary killings, implicitly acknowledging states’ failure to prevent this violence. Even if each individual murder motivated by homophobic or transphobic hatred were classified and prosecuted as a hate crime, this would still not, by itself, eliminate the societal prejudice that fuels these crimes.  The most important contribution the passage of this resolution could make is by implicitly calling out the need for cultural change.

The right not to be arbitrarily killed—or killed at all—for any reason whatsoever should not even be up for discussion. What we should be talking about is how to change the stereotypes that lead to abuse.

Thursday
Nov202014

We All Deserve Justice

@HuffPost

You don't have to be a human rights activist to know that being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or trans can get you killed pretty much anywhere.

Tragically, we can cite numerous examples: the 2012 assassination of LGBT activistErick Alexander Martinez Avila in Honduras; the brutal 2013 murder of Eric Lembembe, an activist and openly gay man in Cameroon; and just weeks ago, the sickening murder of Jennifer Laude, a trans woman in the Philippines.

In addition, there are the countless nameless cases--the depressing statistics in numerous reports by local and international human rights groups, as well as theUnited Nations.

Commonly, those responsible for the violence are rarely brought to justice. Prosecutions occur only (when they do) after long and sustained pressure by LGBT activists who are putting their own lives and liberty at risk in this cause.

Yesterday, the United Nations sought to remedy this situation.

The U.N. General Assembly's main committee dealing with human rights adopted an updated version of a biannual resolution to demand justice for all killings based on discriminatory grounds, including murders motivated by a person's real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Only one country voted against the resolution--the Pacific island of Kiribati, although its no vote was later sought changed to "abstain." The 2012 version of the resolution had had 35 cosponsoring countries--this year, it had almost twice as many, at 63.

The vote reflects an evolution in thinking that has become a broad consensus among the world's nations: no one should be killed because of who they are, and murders and extrajudicial killings should be promptly and independently investigated.

This view alone, though, misses an important nuance of the process around the resolution's adoption.

During the negotiations over the resolution, a group of countries led by Egypt and Saudi Arabia proposed to eliminate language referring to the groups of people who, research shows, are most at risk of being killed.

The text these countries wanted to delete made reference to those subject to racially motivated violence; persons belonging to national or ethnic; religious and linguistic minorities or those targeted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity; persons affected by terrorism or hostage-taking or those living under foreign occupation; refugees; internally displaced persons; migrants; street children; members of indigenous communities; human rights defenders; lawyers; journalists; demonstrators; and those targeted for reasons related to "honor."

On the surface, it might seem reasonable to eliminate specificity in a resolution dealing with extrajudicial killings writ large. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and others, argued that getting rid of the specific groups in the text would open it up for a broader interpretation.

Experience shows otherwise. At IGLHRC we know full well that unless people targeted for violence because of real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity are explicitly included in protection efforts, they will be left out.

This is for example clear in a new publication by IGLHRC and its partners, MADRE and the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq. The publication, When Coming Out is a Death Sentence, exposes grave human rights violations and brutal violence against LGBT Iraqis, where killings based on sexual orientation and gender identity go unpunished. Last June, for example, two adolescent boys thought to be gay were killed and beheaded in Baghdad, their heads tossed in the garbage. No one has been prosecuted.

Justice is often equally elusive for the other categories mentioned in the resolution adopted yesterday at the U.N. Therefore, last week, 30 human rights organizationsjoined together to protest elimination of the specific language, sending a direct plea to all U.N. member states to protect the right to life for all through voting against the proposal from Egypt and others.

Fortunately, the plea was heard, and the proposal to eliminate targeted protections was rejected by an 82-53 vote.

Importantly, the real target of the proposal was not the list as such, but rather just one subgroup within it: individuals killed because of real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. This became very apparent in the debate preceding the vote on the resolution and the proposed change, in which a small handful of countries desperately attempted justifying why they would eliminate protections for human rights defenders and those under foreign occupation just to avoid extending those same protections for LGBT populations.

Let us be clear. What Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the 51 other countries who voted to exclude vulnerable groups from the resolution were saying, is that some people don't deserve justice. Those people include Erick Martinez, Eric Lembembe, Jennifer Laude, and countless other LGBT persons and activists killed because of who they are.

The U.N. resolution sends a signal across the world: no matter who we are, who we love, or where we live, we deserve justice.

Wednesday
Jun112014

UN Expected to Consider New Resolution on Discrimination Against LGBTI Persons

@RHRealityCheck

On June 10, the UN Human Rights Council started a three-week session, where—rumor has it—a new resolution addressing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity might be discussed.

Here’s how that development is simultaneously timely and late.

On June 5, the General Assembly of the Organization of American States adopted a resolution condemning violence and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and intersex persons.

That resolution is one of several recent international developments to codify the notion that all human beings have equal rights, regardless of our sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex status, or any other qualifier. In late May, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights passed a resolution, condemning violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Also late May this year, seven United Nations agencies issued a joint statement in support of transgender and intersex people’s right not to be forced to be sterilized, a sentiment the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe had discussed a couple of years earlier. Last year, the United Nations’ two regional economic commissions for Asia and the Pacific and for Latin America and the Caribbean, respectively, expressed the need to address the exclusion and rights of people of diverse sexualities in order to achieve development.

Of course, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights declared all “men” equal in dignity and rights already in 1948. Setting the gendered aspect of this wording aside, it is clear also that, more than five decades later, not all human beings in practice enjoy equal rights. Exclusion is multilayered and complex, but it is fair to say that discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, and intersex status is rife most everywhere.

For starters, there are the more than 76 countries, often cited, that criminalize adult same-sex sexual conduct in some shape or form. While it usually is a specific sexual conduct that is criminalized on paper—such as, for example, sodomy or anal sex—the effect is to punish gender expression and perceived sexual orientation more broadly.

State-sponsored discrimination targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, or intersex persons also takes other forms, many of them as punitive as if sexual orientation or gender identity had been criminalized directly. For example, Russia does not criminalize same-sex conduct itself, but a law outlawing “gay propaganda,” which was signed into effect in June 2013, has contributed to a situation where violence against those who are known or appear to be gay or lesbian is quite normalized.

And even broader than that, states’ failure to deal with higher drop-out rates for LGBTI youth, employment discrimination, and lack of access to housing, leads lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and intersex people predictably to be overrepresented among the poor, the homeless, or the otherwise marginalized. Recently, a ruling from Peru’s Constitutional Court condemned a trans woman to a life in perpetual fear, by noting that while she was free to enter her female first name on her official identification card, her papers would continue to identify her as “male.” Anyone reading statistics on violence against trans persons will know that constantly having to “out” oneself as trans, regardless of context, is not a good way to stay safe.

This is why all eyes should be on the UN Human Rights Council this week. The council adopted its first resolution on sexual orientation and gender identity in July 2011, in which it commissioned a study on the effects of discrimination and promised to stay engaged on the issue. Now, three years later, information has been gathered, and several inter-governmental bodies, including most recently the General Assembly of the Organization of American States, have declared themselves in favor of equality and rights.

The rumored Human Rights Council resolution would join the growing mass of global documents that declare, unequivocally, what the Universal Declaration of Human Rights implied some 50-odd years ago. We are all equal; and when we are not treated as such, it is time to step up.