March 5, 2017 at 9:44 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
State Department releases 2016 human rights report

Rex Tillerson, gay news, Washington Blade

Human Rights Watch and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) both questioned why Secretary of State Rex Tillerson did not publicly discuss the State Department’s annual human rights report that was released last week. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The State Department’s annual human rights report that it released last week notes discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity were commonplace throughout many parts of the world in 2016.

The report notes René Martínez, a prominent LGBT rights advocate in the violence-plagued Honduran city of San Pedro Sula, was killed in June after he left his home. It also highlights Hande Kader, a transgender sex worker and activist who was found dead in Istanbul in August.

A group of men in December kidnapped Noluvo Swelindawn, a South African LGBT activist, in her home before killing them. The report also notes a number of people were killed in Russia because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

The report notes Colombian authorities reported “at least” 346 murders of LGBT and intersex people between Jan. 1-July 31. It also highlights the so-called Islamic State in 2016 continued to execute men in Iraq and Syria who had been accused of committing sodomy.

The report notes an Egyptian court convicted 11 men of “debauchery, incitement to debauchery and other charges.”

The men received prison sentences that range from three to 12 years. The report notes an appeals court later acquitted one of the 11 men and reduced the rest of their prison sentences to a year.

The report highlights a survey that indicates more than half of trans people in El Salvador either experienced violence or have received death threats. It also notes opponents of Sandra Morán, who is the first openly lesbian member of the Guatemalan Congress, launched a petition that sought her removal from office because of her “LGBTI status.”

El Salvador police officers convicted of assaulting trans man

The report also highlights advances in LGBT and intersex rights.

Authorities in El Salvador in August charged five police officers in connection with the attack against Alex Peña, a trans man. Three of them were found guilty of assault and a judge sentenced them to four years in prison.

Muqtada al-Sadr, a prominent Iraqi Shiite cleric, last summer banned his followers from committing violence against LGBT people, noting they suffer from “psychological problems.” Members of his Mahdi army, a Shiite militia, have been accused of kidnapping, torturing and executing LGBT Iraqis over the last decade.

Human rights ‘regularly factored’ into U.S. policy decisions

The State Department released the report less than two months after President Trump took office.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Randy Berry remains in his position as special U.S. envoy for LGBT and intersex rights, but activists remain concerned the Trump administration will no longer promote these issues abroad as the previous White House did.

Sandra Morán, the first openly LGBT person elected to the Guatemalan Congress, speaks with the Washington Blade at her Guatemala City office on Jan. 31, 2017. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Sandra Morán, the first openly LGBT person elected to the Guatemalan Congress, speaks with the Washington Blade at her Guatemala City office on Jan. 31, 2017. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also raised eyebrows last month during his confirmation hearing when he declined to specifically say whether “gay rights are human rights” in response to a question that U.S. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) asked. Reports that emerged last week indicate the Trump administration has proposed cutting the budgets of the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development by 37 percent.

Tillerson wrote an introduction to the 2016 report that he sent to Congress. He nevertheless faced questions from U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Human Rights Watch Executive Director Ken Roth about why he did not speak publicly about it as John Kerry and other previous secretaries of state have done.

“That doesn’t speak well for Tillerson’s commitment to human rights,” said Roth in response to a tweet that Rubio wrote after the State Department released the report. “Does he stand for anything more than cutting oil deals with dictators?”

Both Tillerson and Trump have faced questions about their ties to Russia and President Vladimir Putin, who signed a 2013 law that bans the promotion of so-called gay propaganda to minors.

A senior administration official told reporters during a conference call on March 2 that Tillerson spoke about human rights during his confirmation hearing in January. The official also stressed human rights “are regularly factored into our policy deliberations.”

The full State Department report can be found here.

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

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