November 11, 2015 at 6:00 am EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Advocates attend global human rights conference in Ireland

Shyra Karki, Nepal, Mitini Nepal, gay news, Washington Blade

Shyra Karki of Mitini Nepal, a Nepali advocacy group, last week attended a global LGBT rights conference in Ireland that the group Front Line Defenders organized. (Photo courtesy of Kay Cairns/Front Line Defenders)

LGBT advocates were among the more than 100 human rights advocates from around the world who gathered in Ireland last week for a global conference.

Activists from St. Lucia, Uganda, Armenia, Cote d’Ivoire, Ecuador, Egypt, Greece and dozens of other countries attended the gathering that Front Line Defenders, an Irish human rights advocacy group, held in Dublin.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad al-Hussein addressed the conference in a pre-recorded message.

Al-Hussein, who is from Jordan, did not mention LGBT-specific issues in his remarks. He did, however, criticize efforts to crack down on human rights advocates that include laws banning them from accepting funds from outside their respective countries.

Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2012 signed a law that requires groups to register as a “foreign agent” if they receive funding from outside the country. A Russian activist told the Washington Blade in a previous interview the statute is part of what she described as the Kremlin’s campaign to “shut down any kind of possibility for LGBT advocacy.”

“This meeting is a vital platform to share, learn and find solidarity and support in our shared work to further human rights,” said al-Hussein in his speech. “All this work is rooted in the exercise of public freedoms.”

Tarek Zeidan of Helem, a Lebanese LGBT advocacy group, is among those who attended the Front Line Defenders conference.

He told the Blade last week during a Skype interview from Dublin that police brutality and torture, which includes the use of so-called “rape tests” to determine whether a person is gay after their arrest, are among the issues on which Helem members work. Zeidan said that members of his group also maintain a “close relationship” with organizations that assist refugees from neighboring Syria.

“You want to empower local communities,” Zeidan told the Blade. “You want to empower Syrian refugees.”

Shyra Karki of Mitini Nepal, a Nepali lesbian advocacy group, discussed similar challenges in her country as she spoke with the Blade on Nov. 6 from the conference.

Nepali lawmakers in September overwhelmingly approved a new constitution that includes legal protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Nepal Central Bureau of Statistics in its 2011 census recognized those who identity as “third gender,” but the country has yet to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples as a committee recommended earlier this year. Karki told the Blade that anti-LGBT discrimination and attitudes continue to persist in spite of the progress she and other Nepali advocates have made.

“It’s a problem not only for LGBTI defenders in Nepal,” she said.

U.S. support of global LGBT rights ‘positive’

Consensual same-sex sexual acts remain criminalized in Lebanon and in more than 70 other countries around the world.

Those found guilty of homosexuality in Mauritania, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Iran and in a handful of other countries, along with portions of Somalia and Nigeria, face the death penalty.

The Islamic State has publicly executed more than 30 men in Iraq and Syria who were accused of engaging in sodomy. The U.S. in August co-sponsored the first-ever U.N. Security Council meeting on an LGBT-specific issue that focused on the Sunni militant group’s persecution of Iraqis and Syrians because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Karki and Zeidan both told the Blade they welcome the Obama administration’s support of LGBT rights overseas.

Karki told the Blade that her organization has yet to receive direct assistance from the U.S. Embassy in Nepal. She nevertheless indicated American officials do provide funding and public support to LGBT advocates in her country.

“The U.S. embassy is positive for the LGBTI community,” said Karki.

Tarek Zeidan, Helem, Lebanon, gay news, Washington Blade

Tarek Zeidan of Helem, a Lebanese LGBT advocacy group (Photo courtesy of Kay Cairns)

The U.S. Embassy in Lebanon is among the institutions that has worked with Lebanese LGBT rights advocates.

American diplomats and those from Canada, Brazil and the EU discuss LGBT-specific issues with the Lebanese government. Special U.S. Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons Randy Berry traveled to Beirut shortly after assuming his post within the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor in order to meet with local advocates and students who attend American University of Beirut.

Zeidan conceded he “really” hasn’t seen “any tangible changes on the ground” in spite of U.S.-backed efforts.

“Nothing like that has happened,” he said. “We sure appreciate the interest and the attempt to help.”

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

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