August 24, 2015 at 9:25 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Islamic State focus of U.N. Security Council’s first LGBT meeting
Subhi Nahas, Syria, ISIS, Islamic State, gay news, Washington Blade

Subhi Nahas, a gay Syrian refugee who now lives in the U.S., speaks with reporters at the United Nations on Aug. 24, 2015. Nahas earlier in the day spoke at a U.N. Security Council hearing on LGBT rights that focused on the Islamic State and anti-LGBT rights abuses committed by the Sunni militant group. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

UNITED NATIONS — The first-ever U.N. Security Council meeting on an LGBT-specific issue that took place on Monday focused on the Islamic State’s ongoing persecution of LGBT Syrians and Iraqis.

The U.S. and Chile co-sponsored the closed-door, informal briefing that highlighted the Sunni militant group’s continued persecution of LGBT Syrians and Iraqis who live under its control.

U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power, Chile Ambassador to the U.N. Cristian Barros-Melet and International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission Executive Director Jessica Stern spoke during the closed-door briefing that the U.S. and Chile co-sponsored. Representatives from 11 of the 15 countries that sit on the council also participated.

Diplomats from the African countries of Chad and Angola did not attend the briefing. Representatives from China, Russia, Nigeria and Malaysia who were in attendance did not speak.

A gay Iraqi man who used the pseudonym “Adnan” to protect his identity spoke to the council via telephone. Subhi Nahas, a gay man from the Syrian city of Idleb who received refugee status from the U.N. High Commission on Refugees and now lives in San Francisco, spoke during the briefing on behalf of the Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration.

Nahas fled to Lebanon in 2012 after Jabhat al-Nusra, a militant group affiliated with al-Qaida, took control of his hometown. He later moved to Turkey where he remained until U.S. authorities allowed him to resettle in this country.

“I have witnessed with my own eyes the annihilation of civility and humanity as I knew them,” Nahas told members of the council. “For millions of Syrians both in and outside the country, time is running out. For my compatriots who do not conform to gender and sexual norms, the eleventh hour has already passed. They need your help now.”

At least 30 men accused of sodomy killed by militant group

The Islamic State last year began posting to its website and social media pages images the Sunni militant group claims showed the public executions of men accused of engaging in sodomy.

These pictures show, among other things, blindfolded men with their hands tied behind their backs falling from buildings. Reports also indicate those living in Islamic State-controlled areas that have been found guilty of sodomy have also been stoned to death, executed by firing squads and even beheaded.

“We are all horrified by ISIL’s videos of men being thrown to their death,” said Power in prepared remarks she read during the council meeting. “At its essence — it is the denial of a person’s most basic right because of who they are. It is ISIL deciding that, because of a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, they do not deserve to live.”

Stern told reporters after the briefing that the Islamic State has executed at least 30 men accused of sodomy.

“It is the obligation of the international community to take action,” she said.

Nahas said members of the Sunni militant group sometimes force people to attend the executions of those found guilty of engaging in same-sex sexual acts. He told the Blade that a gay Syrian friend witnessed part of one of these events.

“He did not witness the whole thing because he could not stand it,” said Nahas. “They were taking the guy up the building, and he ran away. He did not witness the full execution. He witnessed part of the execution. He was thinking of himself and not the guy.”

Nahas told the Blade that LGBT people in his hometown with whom he has spoken since he fled say the situation under the Islamic State’s control is “very, very bad.”

Nahas said they are afraid to go outside and speak with anyone. He told the Blade that members of the Sunni militant group target those who are wearing jeans; don’t have a “normal” haircut or property trim their beards.

“You will be abused, you may be killed,” said Nahas.

ISIS, gay news, Washington Blade

Islamic State militants in January released images they contend show the execution of a man in the Iraqi city of Ninevah who they said engaged in sodomy. (Image released by ISIS)

Many LGBT Syrians and Iraqis have fled to Lebanon, Turkey and other countries to escape the Islamic State.

Lebanese advocates with whom the Blade spoke earlier this year said they have heard reports of Sunni militants burning alive men they suspect are gay. One activist said members of the Islamic State hanged a trans Syrian woman by her breasts.

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission earlier this year launched a campaign that urges the U.S., Canada, France, Norway, the Netherlands, Sweden and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees to accept more refugees who are escaping the Sunni militant group.

Stern during the briefing reiterated the aforementioned call.

She called upon all U.N. agencies that work in Iraq and Syria to implement LGBT-specific programs, increased funding for initiatives designed to assist LGBT Iraqis and Syrians and their allies. Stern also urged the Iraqi government to respect freedom of expression and to “remove barriers” that she said prevent LGBT people from accessing services and the country’s judicial system.

“Given the stream of constant forms of attack by ISIS on LGBTI Iraqis and Syrians, we think it’s of the greatest importance that the international community be informed about the issue, be seized with the issue and take action,” she told reporters after the briefing.

Nahas told the Blade that he would support military intervention in order to stop the Islamic State and to end the civil war that has raged in Syria for more than four years. He nevertheless said the U.S., Turkey and other allies should take part in what he described as a “unified effort” against the Sunni extremist group.

Advocate describes briefing as ‘useless’

Scott Long, a former Human Rights Watch staffer, on Sunday sharply criticized the briefing in a blog post.

“At best the meeting will be useless,” he wrote. “It’ll lead to that indolent repletion where people feel they’ve acted when they’ve actually done nothing. At worst, it’s going to cause more killing.”

Stern did not specifically mention Long when the Blade asked her to respond to his criticisms against the briefing.

“Attention by the Security Council not only helps send a message from the U.N. and its members, but it also fills a gap in the discourse about human rights violations,” said Stern. “That discourse is where LGBTI people are often the most vulnerable.”

Power took a similar position when she spoke with the Blade and a handful of other media outlets during a post-briefing conference call.

“Do we want to live in a world where ISIL’s crimes against every other group are the subject of outrage and horror, but somehow the international community stays silent and is never even forced to confront what ISIL is doing against anyone suspected of being LGBT,” she said in response to the Blade’s question about Long’s criticisms of the briefing. “Without putting these issues on the agenda of heads of state, you’re in a world where people live in indolently…free of even having to confront what is going on really not that far away.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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