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Countries urged to offer refuge to LGBTQ Afghans

Taliban has said it will execute gay men

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(Bigstock photo)

Advocacy groups have urged the U.S. and other countries to offer refuge to LGBTQ Afghans after the Taliban regained control of the country.

“As Afghanistan falls to the Taliban, members of the LGBTIQ community are among those at greatest risk of suffering under Taliban rule,” tweeted the Organization for Migration, Refuge and Asylum on Tuesday. “The international community must act quickly and decisively to aid all those fleeing persecution.”

Stonewall, a British LGBTQ rights group, echoed ORAM’s call.

“LGBTQ+ Afghans have endured routine discrimination, abuse and persecution, including by the state,” said Stonewall CEO Nancy Kelley on Tuesday. “With the Taliban in power we expect this situation to deteriorate further, including the potential for a return to active enforcement of the laws that prohibit same sex relationships.”

President Biden last month announced U.S. military operations in Afghanistan would end on Aug. 31. The previous White House in 2020 brokered a peace deal with the Taliban that set the stage for the withdrawal.

The Taliban on Sunday entered Kabul, the Afghan capital, and toppled President Ashraf Ghani’s government. Evacuation flights resumed at the city’s Hamid Karzai International Airport on Tuesday, a day after thousands of Afghans who were desperate to leave the country swarmed it.

Media reports indicate a Taliban judge last month said the group would execute gay people if it once again governed Afghanistan.

“Afghanistan already is not a safe place to be LGBTQI+ people,” said Kimahli Powell, executive director of Rainbow Railroad, a Toronto-based organization that assists LGBTQ refugees around the world. “According to the U.S. State Department, public attitudes across the diversity of Afghan society towards LGBTQI+ people are extremely negative, which leads members of the LGBTQ+ community to keep their gender identity and sexual orientation a secret in fear of harassment, intimidation, persecution and death. Now, with the return of the Taliban, there is understandable fear that the situation will worsen.”

“Rainbow Railroad is concerned that the return to power of the Taliban will lead to instances of extreme violence directed at members of the LGBTQI+ community in Afghanistan,” added Powell. “And although it remains to be seen how the Taliban will respond to international pressure to uphold human rights, early signs are not encouraging. Just last month, a Taliban judge threatened that gay men will be crushed to death by toppling walls onto them should the group regain control of Afghanistan.”

Powell said Rainbow Railroad has received 50 “requests for help originating in Afghanistan” so far this year, “and we anticipate an uptick in requests due to the deteriorating security situation that threatens the safety of LGBTQI+ people.”

“Moreover there is very limited human rights defenders and civil society engagement to support LGBTQI+ persons at risk,” said Powell. “However, we are currently relying on our deep international network and contacts within the country in order to reach people at risk. “

‘We don’t know what’s happening’

Charbel Maydaa is the founder and general director of MOSAIC, a Lebanon-based advocacy group that works throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Maydaa is also the first alternate co-chair of ILGA Asia.

Maydaa on Tuesday noted to the Washington Blade that the Taliban use Sharia law to target LGBTQ people. Maydaa noted the Taliban wants “to look good in front of the international community,” but added LGBTQ Afghans who remain in the country are terrified.

“We lost contact with many people there,” said Maydaa. “We don’t know what’s happening. They’re not online or they are really afraid to talk on Facebook.”

Maydaa said three female academics with whom he has worked “disappeared” five days ago. Maydaa told the Blade an LGBTQ person in Kabul with whom he spoke on Monday “didn’t mention anything.”

“He was really afraid to communicate, so he was just like I’m alive. I’m fine,” said Maydaa.

Maydaa said ILGA Asia is currently working to find shelters for LGBTQ people in Afghanistan before they are able to leave the country. Maydaa added ILGA Asia is also “trying to advocate for some governments” to “literally rescue them.”

The Canadian government on Friday announced it will allow up to 20,000 Afghans — including members of the LGBTQ community — to resettle in the country.

“Canada will continue to implement the special immigration program for Afghans who contributed to Canada’s efforts in Afghanistan,” a Canadian government spokesperson told the Blade on Monday. “In addition, we will introduce a special program to focus on particularly vulnerable groups that are already welcomed to Canada through existing resettlement streams, including women leaders, human rights defenders, journalists, persecuted religious minorities, LGBTI individuals and family members of previously resettled interpreters.”

“The program will welcome government-supported and privately sponsored refugees, along with those sponsored by family already in Canada,” added the spokesperson. “In the coming weeks and months, we will be engaging with our international and domestic partners to develop a plan for moving forward.”

President Biden on Monday said the U.S. will expand “refuge access to cover other vulnerable Afghans who worked for our embassy; U.S. non-government agencies — or the U.S. non-governmental organizations and Afghans who otherwise are at great risk; and U.S. news agencies.” State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Monday also said the State Department will “continue to pursue all options to relocate interested and qualified Afghan SIV (Special Immigration Visas) applicants and their immediate families, as well as other vulnerable Afghans.”

Price and Biden in their remarks did not specifically mention LGBTQ Afghans. Rupert Colville, a spokesperson for U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet did not either on Tuesday.

“We call on the international community to extend all possible support to those who may be at imminent risk, and we call on the Taliban to demonstrate through their actions, not just their words, that the fears for the safety of so many people from so many different walks of life are addressed,” said Colville.

Log Cabin Republicans Managing Director Charles Moran on Monday sharply criticized the Biden administration.

“Make no mistake, the reinstatement of the Taliban is a literal death sentence for LGBT Afghans,” said Moran. “Human rights abuses will absolutely increase under this radical regime. The Biden administration talks a tough game about supporting the LGBT community, but that support evidently doesn’t extend to our allies in Kabul.”

“We hope the administration will be held accountable by both parties for this unprecedented disaster, but right now the priority must be to evacuate as many proven U.S. partners and allies from Kabul as possible, including LGBT Afghans,” added Moran.

Powell stressed “now is time for governments to step up and support LGBTQI+ Afghan refugees.” He specifically noted the Canadian government’s announcement.

“Rainbow Railroad is looking forward to engaging with the Canadian government to identify and refer LGBTQI+ Afghans in need of emergency assistance,” said Powell. “We strongly encourage other governments to do the same.” 

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Russia

State Department reiterates concerns over Chechnya human rights record

Anti-LGBTQ crackdown continues to spark outrage

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(Public domain photo)

The State Department on Thursday reiterated its concerns over Chechnya’s human rights record that includes an ongoing anti-LGBTQ crackdown.

“We reject Chechnya Head Ramzan Kadyrov’s baseless attempts to malign human rights defenders and independent journalists and we urge him to end authorities’ targeting of those who dissent, LGBTQI+ persons, members of religious and ethnic minority groups, and others, including through reprisals against their family members,” said spokesperson Ned Price in a statement. “We call on Russian federal authorities to refrain from enabling repressive acts, including acts of transnational repression, originating in Chechnya and to bring those responsible for continuing egregious human rights violations in Chechnya to justice consistent with the law of the Russian Federation and Russia’s international human rights obligations.”

Price in his statement also said the U.S. “is troubled by continuing reports of abductions and arbitrary detentions carried out by authorities in Russia’s Republic of Chechnya, including dozens of reported abductions and arbitrary detentions in recent weeks targeting the relatives of Chechen human rights defenders and dissidents.”

“In addition to cases within Chechnya, there have been numerous instances of individuals being detained in other parts of the Russian Federation and forcibly transferred to Chechnya, such as Zarema Musayeva, the mother of human rights lawyer Abubakar Yangulbayev. Musayeva was taken from Nizhny Novgorod last week,” said Price. “We call for the immediate release of all who have been unjustly detained. We are also concerned by reports that Chechen authorities are using such pressure tactics against the relatives in Chechnya of dissidents living outside the Russian Federation. Such acts, which harm entire families, is an especially pernicious form of repression.”

The anti-LGBTQ crackdown in Chechnya continues to spark worldwide outrage.

Chechen authorities in April 2020 arrested two brothers, Salekh Magamadov and Ismail Isaev, after they made a series of posts on Osal Nakh 95, a Telegram channel that Kadyrov’s opponents use. Magamadov and Isaev were reportedly forced to make “apology videos” after they were tortured.

The Russian LGBT Network helped the brothers flee Chechnya, but Russian police last February arrested them in Nizhny Novgorod. Chechen authorities brought them back to Chechnya.

Magamadov and Isaev last month reportedly began a hunger strike after a judge denied their request to have another court hear their case. The Crisis Group “North Caucasus SOS” that represents the brothers said the Supreme Court of Chechnya on Wednesday denied their request for a different venue.  

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World

Advocacy group renew calls for U.S. to help LGBTQ Afghans

New report details Taliban abuses

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Two men in Kabul, Afghanistan, in July 2021 (Photo courtesy of Dr. Ahmad Qais Munzahim)

Advocacy groups on Wednesday renewed calls for the U.S. and other countries to do more to help LGBTQ Afghans who remain inside Afghanistan after the Taliban regained control of it.

A report from OutRight Action International and Human Rights Watch that details the plight of LGBTQ Afghans includes a series of recommendations for the U.S. and other “concerned governments.”

– Use any diplomatic leverage to press the Taliban to recognize the rights of everyone in Afghanistan, including LGBT people.

– Recognize that LGBT Afghans face a special risk of persecution in Afghanistan and neighboring countries and expedite their applications for evacuation and resettlement.

– Support and facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance to Afghans in need, and support organizations providing humanitarian assistance, including programs specifically designed to assist LGBT Afghans.

– Ensure that support to organizations working in Afghanistan is directed to organizations that commit to gender-sensitive programming, nondiscrimination, and inclusion of LGBT beneficiaries.

– In engagements with formal and informal civil society groups in Afghanistan, including human rights organizations, women’s rights and feminist organizations, and organizations focused on health, education, or youth, raise concerns about abuses against LGBT Afghans and urge such groups to be inclusive of LGBT Afghans.

– Engage with civil society organizations directly or indirectly addressing LGBT issues in Afghanistan, informal groupings of LGBT people, and community leaders who are well networked within LGBT communities to best help them protect their rights.

The report also includes recommendations for countries from which LGBTQ Afghans have asked for asylum.

– Fully respect the rights of Afghan people who are or are perceived to be LGBT to claim asylum where they can demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution.

– When considering asylum claims and other requests for protection from LGBT Afghans, fully consider all evidence regarding violations of the rights of LGBT people in Afghanistan, who faced severe discrimination previously and especially since the Taliban takeover.

– When considering asylum claims for LGBT Afghans, take into consideration that LGBT individuals often conform to societal norms, such as entering into different sex marriage, in order to survive. Married status should not be taken as an indication of someone not being LGBT.

The report’s other recommendations include calls for international aid organizations inside Afghanistan to “provide targeted and specialized assistance to LGBT people” and for the Taliban to “urgently end any and all forms of discrimination or violence against anyone based on a person’s perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity.”

OutRight Action International and Human Rights Watch released their report less than six months after the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan.

A Taliban judge last July said the group would once again execute gay people if it were to return to power in the country. The report notes a Taliban official later said the group “will not respect the rights of LGBT people.”

The report includes interviews with 60 LGBTQ Afghans inside Afghanistan and in five other countries that OutRight Action International and Human Rights Watch conducted between October and December 2021.

A 20-year-old man with whom the groups spoke said Taliban members “loaded him into a car” at a checkpoint and “took him to another location where four men whipped and then gang raped him over the course of eight hours.” The report notes the man went into hiding, but the Taliban continued to target him and his family.

A lesbian woman with whom OutRight Action International and Human Rights Watch spoke said her parents “arranged for a speedy wedding” with a man before the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan. The report notes her parents beat her when she “tried to refuse to go through with it.”

The woman’s parents, according to the report, paid her husband to take her out of Afghanistan. They now live in another country, and he “beats her nearly every day and will not allow her to leave the house.”

The report also details an incident in which the Taliban beat a transgender woman and “shaved her eyebrows with a razor” before they “dumped her on the street in men’s clothes and without a cellphone.” She had been living with other trans women in an abandoned youth hostel in Kabul, the Afghan capital, when the Taliban regained control of the country.

“Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in Afghanistan, and others who do not conform to rigid gender norms, have faced an increasingly desperate situation and grave threats to their safety and lives since the Taliban took full control of the country on Aug. 15, 2021,” reads the report’s summary.

‘More needs to be done’

Two groups of LGBTQ Afghans that three advocacy groups — Stonewall, Rainbow Railroad and Micro Rainbow — evacuated from Afghanistan with the help of the British government arrived in the U.K. last fall. Some of the dozens of Afghan human rights activists who Taylor Hirschberg, a researcher at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health who is also a Hearst Foundation scholar, has been able to help leave the country since the Taliban regained control of it are LGBTQ.

Rainbow Railroad; the Council for Global Equality; the Human Rights Campaign; Immigration Equality; the International Refugee Assistance Project; the Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration in a letter they sent to President Biden last September called for his administration to “prioritize the evacuation and resettlement of vulnerable refugee populations, including LGBTQI people, and ensure that any transitory stay in a third country is indeed temporary by expediting refugee processing.”

Rainbow Railroad Executive Director Kimahli Powell on Wednesday during a webinar on the report noted his organization has “had really encouraging conversations with” Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ rights who was previously OutRight Action International’s executive director, and “her team and with the U.S. government and the Canadian government as well” about the evacuation of LGBTQ Afghans.

“More needs to be done,” said Powell.

Powell added there “are concrete things that we’ve asked to be done within the context of Afghanistan that can be done.”

“It’s encouraging that governments signaled early on that they want to help out Afghans at risk,” he said. “That signaling has led to many folks in Afghanistan who have enough social media to read those messages to ask how (sic) does that look like, including reaching out to us at Rainbow Railroad. And what we’re asking governments to do now is to help us answer that question, help us answer the question as to what we can do to protect people who are still stuck in Afghanistan, help people who are displaced outside of Afghanistan awaiting resettlement and partner with us to do it.”

OutRight Action International Senior Fellow J. Lester Feder echoed Powell.

“Regardless of the identity of the vulnerable people involved, not enough has been done to help vulnerable people,” said Feder during the webinar.

Feder also urged the U.S. government to do more to help LGBTQ Afghans and other vulnerable groups who remain inside the country.

“We know with the amount of support — either with people who had direct connections to the U.S. government or the U.S. military when they left — have been left stranded in Afghanistan,” said Feder.

“People who are supporting and support vulnerable Afghans in the United States need to speak up and show support for the government processing (asylum) cases faster and for more spaces being made available,” he added.

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Europe

French lawmakers outlaw conversion therapy

The National Assembly unanimously approved ban

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

In a vote hailed by French President Emmanuel Macron, lawmakers in the National Assembly unanimously voted 142-0 on Tuesday to ban the discredited practice of so-called gay conversion therapy.

In a reaction to the vote, Macron tweeted: “The law prohibiting conversion therapy is adopted unanimously! Let’s be proud, these unworthy practices have no place in the Republic. Because being yourself is not a crime, because there is nothing to be cured.”

The law had already been passed by senators in December.

Those found guilty of so-called gay conversion therapy could face two years imprisonment and a €30,000 ($33,714.45) fine. The punishment could rise to three years in prison and a fine of €45,000 ($50,571.68) for attempts involving children or other particularly vulnerable people, Euronews reported.

“The practice of trying to “convert” LGBT+ people to heterosexuality or traditional gender expectations is scientifically discredited,” MP’s in support of the measure had argued previous to the final vote.

“We are sending out a strong signal because we are formally condemning all those who consider a change of sex or identity as an illness,” said Laurence Vanceunebrock, an MP with Macron’s ruling En Marche party.

Nearly every French MP who spoke on Tuesday echoed the same words; “there is nothing to cure.”

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