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Congress: Historic Briefing on Worldwide Abuses of Gays

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From U.S. to Zimbabwe Politicians Use Gays as Scapegoats

Worldwide State Department & House Monitoring Urged

Compiled by Badpuppy's GayToday
From International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission Reports

In a precedent-setting meeting, the Congressional Human Rights Caucus and the office of Congressman Tom Lantos (D-CA) hosted the first-ever briefing on sexual orientation and international human rights Friday.

The landmark meeting heard from representatives of Amnesty International (AI), Human Rights Watch (HRW), and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), who described a range of human rights abuses directed against lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgender people. They urged Congress and the U. S. State Department to take an active role in monitoring and responding to these violations. A Turkish witness also testified on his direct experience of abuses there.

Members of Congress sponsoring the briefing included William Delahunt (D-MA), Barney Frank (D-MA), and Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). It was also attended by Congressman Benjamin Gilman (R-NY), chairman of the House International Relations Committee. delahunt.jpg - 15.84 K Rep. Delahunt

Serkan Altan, a 25-year old gay man from Istanbul, said that in Turkey, "The police use terror and violence against homosexuals by permission of the central government. Turkey has been a huge prison for all of us, most of all for homosexuals."

Altan told how, during a 1989 police raid on homes of gay men, "a 17 year-old gay boy committed suicide by jumping from a sixth floor balcony in order not to be tortured by the police chief who had tortured him before."

captive4.jpg - 12.46 K"The Turkish government approves of the abuse," Altan said, "and doesn't allow us to speak out. Gays are in fear all the time."

Scott Long, Advocacy Coordinator for IGLHRC, said that recent incidents from the United States to Zimbabwe show a pattern in which politicians scapegoat sexual minorities and incite violence against them.

'"Human rights knows no scapegoats," Long said, "it recognizes no sacrificial lambs, and it accepts no exceptions to the rule. It insists that people cannot be singled out: that no quality basic to a human being, be it her religious belief, the color of her skin, her ethnicity or sex or her sexual orientation, be used as a pretext to deny her the rights which should be enjoyed equally by all."

"The principle we represent is simple," Long affirmed: "that treating people differently because of their sexual orientation is wrong."

Regan Ralph, Executive Director of the Women's Rights Divison of Human Rights Watch, testified that "international human rights law condemns the denial of fundamental liberties to persons on the basis of qualities inherent to their individuality and humanity. Sexual orientation, too, is such a quality, a deeply rooted and profoundly felt element of selfhood."

Ralph cited the long stuggle for recognition of women's human rights as a model for the expansion of existing protections. "Protecting women's human rights," she stated, "until recently was not seen as the responsibility of governments. Yet by exposing abuses against women and the role of governments in perpetrating or allowing the abuse, women have claimed the recognition that they too are entitled to enjoy their basic rights."

Cynthia Rothschild, Co-Chair of Amnesty International Members for Lesbian and Gay Concerns, noted that "Women often face different and additional obstacles due to sexist prescribed roles within a given society, due to codified government discrimination, and due to the invisibility of women's sexual lives."

"While some might argue that this invisibility 'protects' lesbians," she said, "it is clear that this is far from the case. Women are often harassed, are subjected to rape, sexual abuse, and forced pregnancy, and ultimately suffer from sexism as well as homophobia in any given society."

captive3.jpg - 20.66 KWitnesses called on the US government to ratify human-rights treaties it has so far refused to endorse, including the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. They also urged the US to recognize sexual orientation as a relevant issue both in monitoring and in promoting human rights abroad.

Congressman Lantos promised that he would urge Secretary of State Madeline Albright to include sexual orientation as a category in the State Department's annual country reports, which summarize human-rights situations around the world.

"This is a first meeting, and a first step," Lantos said. "We will move forward."

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) is a non-governmental organization with offices in San Francisco and New York. IGLHRC's mission is to monitor, document, and mobilize response to human rights violations on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and HIV sero-status. For more information, visit the IGLHRC web page at http://www.iglhrc.org.


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