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Report documents anti-LGBT discrimination, violence in Africa

Amnesty International highlights abuses ahead of Obama’s trip to continent

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Uganda, Kill the Gays bill, gay news, Washington Blade

Uganda, Kill the Gays bill, gay news, Washington Blade

Protesters gather outside the Ugandan embassy in Northwest D.C. in December 2012 to protest the country’s “Kill the Gays” bill. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Amnesty International on Monday issued a report that documents increased anti-LGBT discrimination and violence in Africa.

The report — “Making Love a Crime: Criminalization of Same-Sex Conduct in Sub-Saharan Africa — notes 38 African countries continue to criminalize consensual same-sex conduct. These include South Sudan, Liberia and Burundi.

The Nigeria House of Representatives late last month passed a measure that would criminalize what Reuters described as same-sex “amorous relationships” and marriages and memberships in a gay rights group. Those convicted under the proposal that President Goodluck Jonathan has yet to sign into law would face up to 14 years in prison.

Mauritania, Sudan and portions of northern Nigeria and Sudan impose the death penalty upon anyone found guilty of consensual same-sex sexual acts. Ugandan lawmakers have faced criticism over the so-called “Kill the Gays” bill that would impose the death penalty upon anyone convicted of repeated same-sex sexual acts.

The Amnesty International report further notes at least seven LGBT South Africans were murdered between June-Nov. 2012 because of their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.

It also documents police officers in Cameroon who subjected those they detained under the country’s anti-homosexuality law to forced anal exams. Michel Togué, a lawyer who advocates on behalf of gay Cameroonians, discussed these and other human rights abuses during an interview with the Washington Blade earlier this year in D.C.

“Gay people are not seeking everyone to approve of their behavior,” he said. “They are seeking freedom.”

Widney Brown, director of law and policy for Amnesty International, stressed African governments have a responsibility to protect the rights of their LGBT citizens.

“These attacks — sometimes deadly — must be stopped,” Brown said. “No one should be beaten or killed because of who they are attracted to or intimately involved with.”

Amnesty International released its report less than two days before President Obama is scheduled to leave D.C. for a week-long trip to Africa that will include stops in Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania.

The White House and the State Department have repeatedly spoken out against Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill.

Secretary of State John Kerry last week responded to a question during Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA)’s annual Pride event in Foggy Bottom about “a marked increase in anti-gay legislation and homophobic statements” by government officials and religious leaders in Nigeria, Uganda and other countries. The State Department in August 2012 criticized the Zimbabwean government after police arrested dozens of activists inside the offices of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ,) an LGBT rights organization, in Harare, the country’s capital.

“When they raid our offices they think they are going to find pornographic materials,” a GALZ member told the Blade during an exclusive interview earlier this year in D.C. “When they come in there, they find it is a resource center. People are busy working.”

The Obama administration and British Prime Minister David Cameron have both suggested the allocation of international aid should hinge upon a country’s record on LGBT rights.

Amnesty International cites progress on LGBT issues in Africa

In spite of the continued human rights abuses against LGBT Africans, Amnesty International’s report notes progress in many countries across the continent.

Cape Verde, Mauritius, São Tomé and Príncipe and the Seychelles have decriminalized homosexuality over the last decade. Botswana and Mozambique are among the African countries that have banned anti-gay employment discrimination in recent years.

Same-sex couples have been able to marry in South Africa since 2006.

African countries have responsibility to ‘protect, not prosecute’

The Amnesty International report contains a number of recommendations on how it feels African governments can eliminate discrimination and violence against their LGBT citizens. These include repealing laws that criminalize or “otherwise impose punitive sanctions on consensual same-sex conduct,” abolishing the death penalty and eliminating anti-LGBT discrimination in the judicial system.

“As the chorus for recognition grows stronger and stronger, African states have to stop denying that homophobia is a human rights issue and recognize that LGBTI rights are an integral part of the human rights struggle,” Brown said. “It is their responsibility to protect, not persecute.”

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Thousands participate in Kyiv Pride march

Event took place without violence

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Kiev, gay news, Washington Blade
(Photo by Jorge Franganillo via Flickr)

Upwards of 7,000 people on Sunday took part in the Ukrainian capital’s annual Pride march.

The Associated Press reported Kyiv Pride participants, among other things, demanded the country’s lawmakers allow civil partnerships for same-sex couples and create a law against hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Ukrainian Cabinet of Ministers has introduced a measure that would make the country’s hate crimes law LGBTQ inclusive.

“We’ve grown tired of waiting for change and enduring systematic intimidation, pressure, disruption of peaceful events, attacks on activists and the LGBT community,” said Kyiv Pride in a statement to the Associated Press. “We demand changes here and now, as we want to live freely in our own country.”

The march took place less than a month after President Volodymyr Zelenskyy publicly said his government will continue to fight discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

“With U.S. support, Ukraine will continue to advance respect for human rights, civil liberties and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international standards and obligations, as well as to fight racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and discrimination against the LGBTQI+ community,” reads a joint statement the White House released on Sept. 1 after Zelenskyy met with President Biden. “Ukraine plans to strengthen accountability for violence against all persons regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or political views, including through legislation.”

Far-right extremists in 2019 attacked several people who attended Kyiv Pride. Members of a Ukrainian nationalist group in 2015 injured nine police officers who had been deployed to an LGBTQ rights march that coincided with Kyiv Pride.  

Sunday’s march took place without violence.

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Gay Guatemala congressman ‘scared’ for his life

Aldo Dávila a vocal critic of country’s president, corruption

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Guatemalan Congressman Aldo Dávila participates in a protest in Guatemala City in 2019. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

GUATEMALA CITY — A gay Guatemalan congressman who is a vocal critic of his country’s president and corruption says he is afraid for his life.

“I am scared of what may happen with so much persecution against me,” Aldo Dávila told the Washington Blade on Sept. 10 during an interview at a Guatemala City hotel. “I am scared for my life, for my partner, for my family and for my team.”

Dávila — a member of the Winaq movement, a leftist party founded by Rigoberta Menchú, an indigenous human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner — in 2019 became the first openly gay man elected to Guatemala’s congress. Dávila, who also lives with HIV, had previously been the executive director of Asociación Gente Positiva, a Guatemala City-based HIV/AIDS service organization.

Three men on April 19 approached his vehicle while it was stopped at a traffic light near Guatemala’s National Library and tried to rob him.

One of Dávila’s bodyguards who was driving shot one of the men. The other two men fled the scene before passersby and police officers arrived.

Dávila was not injured, but he later said in a Facebook post that he is “thankful for life.” Dávila told the Blade that Guatemalan authorities have not thoroughly investigated the attack.

“I requested an armored car after the attack, but I have not received it yet,” said Dávila, who arrived at the hotel with two female police officers who sat in the lobby while he spoke with the Blade. “This has not been resolved, even though it was in April. It is very complicated.”

Dávila said Culture Minister Felipe Aguilar, Congress President Allan Rodríguez and other supporters of President Alejandro Giammattei have lodged nine formal complaints against him after he publicly criticized the government over a variety of issues that include its response to the pandemic.

“It has been a systematic attack against me,” said Dávila.

Dávila told the Blade that he and his partner installed cameras in their apartment after someone killed their dog. Dávila also said he continues to receive death threats online and at his home.

“We are going to kill you, we are going to shut you up,” said Dávila, referring to the type of threats he says he receives.

“They send me little messages, I am clearly making those who are corrupt very uncomfortable,” added Dávila.

Prominent transgender activist murdered in June

Discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity remains commonplace in Guatemala.

Dávila told the Blade that 21 LGBTQ people have been reported killed in Guatemala so far in 2021, including one person who was stoned to death.

Andrea González, executive director of Organización Trans Reinas de la Noche, a trans advocacy group, was shot to death in Guatemala City on June 11, days after Vice President Kamala Harris visited the country. The U.S. Embassy in Guatemala and U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power both condemned González’s murder, but Dávila told the Blade there has been “no investigation.”

“It’s one more case about which to forget, unfortunately,” said Dávila.

Dávila also noted he has met with officials who include representatives of the National Civil Police, the Public Ministry and the National Institute for Forensic Sciences “to ask what they are doing” to combat anti-LGBTQ violence in the country.

“This is serious,” he said.

Organización Trans Reinas de la Noche Executive Director Andrea González in D.C. when she participated in the State Department’s International Visitors Leadership Program. She was killed in Guatemala City on June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

‘People don’t migrate because they want to’

Menchú, Visibles Executive Director Daniel Villatoro and Ingrid Gamboa of the Association of Garifuna Women Living with HIV/AIDS are among the 18 members of Guatemalan civil society who participated in the roundtable with Harris while she was in the country. The U.S. vice president met with Giammattei before the event.

Harris has previously acknowledged that violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity is among the “root causes” of migration from Guatemala and other Central American countries. Harris and other Biden administration officials have also told migrants not to travel to the U.S.-Mexico border.

“People migrate because states don’t have the capacity to respond to the most basic needs,” said Dávila. “People don’t migrate because they want to. People don’t migrate because (they say) today I am going to go to the United States because I have nothing to do. They don’t go on vacation. They go in search of health, work, security and economic resources to be able to sustain themselves.”

“Guatemala has not had the capacity to retain Guatemalans because it doesn’t offer them the minimum to be able to live,” he added.

Dávila described Harris’ visit to Guatemala as “important.”

He said Guatemalans are “eternally grateful for the” COVID-19 vaccines the U.S. has donated to the country. Dávila added he would like Washington to “take a look at the human rights violations that are happening in” the country and further sanction those who are responsible for them.

Giammattei earlier this year named his chief of staff to Guatemala’s Constitutional Court.

The U.S. has granted asylum to former Attorney General Thelma Aldana, who the Constitutional Court refused to allow to run for president in 2019 after prosecutors alleged she embezzled money from a building purchase. The Biden administration in July stopped working with current Attorney General Consuelo Porras’ office after it fired Juan Francisco Sandoval, a leading anti-corruption prosecutor who subsequently fled the country.

The U.S. has imposed travel bans on a number of Guatemalan officials, but Dávila said these sanctions are not effective.

“We want clearer, more drastic sanctions,” he said. “The U.S. has been a historical ally for Guatemala, not just since yesterday, not from five years ago … it has been economically and financially supporting this country for a long time. The United States can impose more drastic sanctions against the government so the government stops being corrupt, so the government does not fight against migration.”

A monument to migrants in Salcajá, Guatemala, on March 9, 2019. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Dávila told the Blade he has not decided whether he will run for a second term in 2023.

Dávila said he has had “some problems” with the Winaq movement over funding for hospitals during the pandemic, but he remains a member. Dávila told the Blade he has received invitations to join other political parties.

“I am thinking about it and evaluating all the scenarios,” he said.

Dávila added he remains “very proud to be part of the opposition in the history of this country.”

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Draft of new Cuba family code contains marriage equality provision

National Assembly expected to vote on proposal in December

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Cuba’s Justice Ministry on Wednesday released a draft of a proposed new family code that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in the country.

Tremenda Nota, the Washington Blade’s media partner in Cuba, reported the proposed Article 61 of the new family code defines “marriage as a union of two people with legal aptitude who voluntarily agreed to enter into it in order to build a life together based on affection and love.”

The Justice Ministry, according to Tremenda Nota, released the draft a week after a commission that has been charged with writing the new family code met with President Miguel Díaz-Canel and other officials.

Tremenda Nota reported the National Assembly is expected to vote on the new family code in December. The Associated Press noted a referendum on it would then take place.

“It protects all expressions of family diversity and the right of each person to establish a family in coherence with the constitutional principles of plurality, inclusion and human dignity,” National Union of Jurists of Cuba Vice President Yamila González Ferrer told the Associated Press.

The draft’s release comes nearly three years after the government removed an amendment from a draft of Cuba’s new constitution that would have extended marriage rights for same-sex couples after evangelical groups on the Communist island publicly criticized it. Cuban voters in February 2019 overwhelmingly approved the new constitution without marriage equality.

A poster inside El Mejunje, an LGBTI-friendly cultural center in Santa Clara, Cuba, in 2019 indicates support for marriage rights for same-sex couples in the country’s new constitution. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Cuba would join Costa Rica, Colombia and a handful of other Latin American countries with marriage equality if the new family code draft becomes law.

Former President Fidel Castro in the years after the 1959 revolution that brought him to power sent gay men and others to work camps known by the Spanish acronym UMAP. His niece, Mariela Castro, the daughter of former President Raúl Castro who spearheads LGBTQ-specific issues as director of Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX), and Díaz-Canel both publicly support marriage equality.

Tremenda Nota Director Maykel González Vivero is among the hundreds of people who Cuban police arrested on July 11 during anti-government protests that took place in Havana and across the country. Luis Ángel Adán Roble, a gay man who was once a member of the National Assembly, is among those who have been banned from leaving the country.

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