March 12, 2020 at 8:31 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
State Department releases annual human rights report
The State Department on March 11, 2020, released its annual human rights report.

The State Department’s annual human rights report that was released on Wednesday notes violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity was commonplace around the world in 2019.

The report notes authorities in Chechnya continued “a campaign of violence against individuals perceived to be members of the LGBTI community.”

It specifically cites the Russian LGBT Network — an advocacy group based in the Russian city of St. Petersburg — that indicates Chechen authorities “illegally detained and tortured at least” 40 people during a period that ended in January 2019. The report also notes two of them “died in custody from torture.”

The report notes Iran and Saudi Arabia are among the handful of countries in which homosexuality remains punishable by death. It also highlights a provision of Brunei’s penal code that sought to impose the death penalty for anyone found guilty of consensual same-sex sexual relations.

The State Department sharply criticized the penal code. The Bruneian government last May placed a moratorium on the death penalty in the country.

Uganda, Jamaica and Guyana are among the dozens of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain illegal. The report notes Gabon in 2019 criminalized homosexuality among adults.

The report notes anti-LGBTQ violence remains widespread in Brazil and in many other countries. It also highlights the case of Camila Díaz Córdova, a transgender woman who was murdered in El Salvador in January 2019.

Three Salvadoran police officers have been charged with Díaz’s murder, but the report does not note she was killed after the U.S. deported her. The report also includes Díaz’s birth name.

The report notes Cuban authorities last May 11 arrested several activists who participated in an unsanctioned LGBTQ rights march in Havana. The report also references this reporter’s detention at the Cuban capital’s José Martí International Airport three days before the event when he tried to enter the country.

Angola decriminalized homosexuality in 2019

The report notes lawmakers in Angola in 2019 approved a new penal code that decriminalizes consensual same-sex sexual relations in the country.

Botswana’s High Court last June issued a ruling that legalized homosexuality in the African nation. The report notes the Batswana government appealed the landmark ruling.

“As our founding documents remind us, nothing is more fundamental to our national identity than our belief in the rights and dignity of every single human being,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters on Wednesday at the State Department. “It’s in our Declaration of Independence.”

“On this issue, all Americans have common cause with freedom-loving peoples all around the world,” he added.

Pompeo in his remarks also referenced the Commission on Unalienable Rights, which stresses “natural law and natural rights.”

Activists have sharply criticized the commission, in part, because Pompeo named Mary Ann Glendon, a Harvard Law School professor who is known for her vocal opposition to marriage rights for same-sex couples, as its chair.

The Council for Global Equality is among the organizations that sued the State Department in federal court last week. They allege the State Department last year violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act that requires “when the Executive Branch establishes or uses non-federal bodies for the purpose of seeking advice and generating policy, it does so in a transparent way that allows for meaningful public participation” when it created the commission.

“Secretary Pompeo often argues that the modern proliferation of human rights claims cheapens the currency of human rights,” said Council for Global Equality Chair Mark Bromley in a press release that announced the lawsuit. “But it is this illegal commission, with its warped use of religious freedom and natural law to deny rights, that cheapens the very notion of religious freedom and our country’s proud tradition of standing up for the rights of those who are most vulnerable.”

The Trump administration last year announced Richard Grenell, the openly gay U.S. ambassador to Germany who is also acting director of national intelligence, would lead a campaign that encourages all countries to legalize homosexuality.

The U.S. Embassy in Germany last July hosted Harvey Milk Foundation President Stuart Milk and other LGBTQ activists from around the world. Grenell and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Kelly Knight Craft last Dec. 18 held an event alongside a U.N. Security Council meeting that highlighted efforts to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations around the world.

OutRight Action International is among the LGBTQ advocacy groups that have expressed skepticism over the initiative. The Trump administration’s anti-LGBTQ rights record in the U.S. and its overall foreign policy continues to spark widespread outrage among activists and their supporters.

Cuban police stand watch at the end of an unsanctioned LGBTQ march that took place in Havana on May 11, 2019. Several participants were arrested when the march reached the oceanfront in Havana. (Photo courtesy of Pedro Luis García)

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

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