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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 16, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 50
International News - Scott Wittet
Section One
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International News

by Scott Wittet - SGN Contributing Writer

Nigeria was criticized at United Nations headquarters in New York this week over the recently passed Senate bill banning same-sex marriage. During a panel discussion to mark Human Rights Day, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch Kenneth Roth and Nigerian Gay rights activist Ifeanyi Orazulike took turns calling for international action against Nigeria and other countries passing such laws.

Orazulike, who is the executive director of the International Center for the Advocacy and Rights to Health, based in New York and Abuja, Nigeria, said that since he launched a campaign against the bill, he had been receiving death threats through email, texts, and his Facebook page.

He disclosed that he would be returning soon to Nigeria, but said, 'I am afraid for my life and the life of my son.'

During the panel, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, 'Homophobic bullying of young people constitutes a grave violation of human rights,' adding that governments must take measures to protect their citizens from violence and discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.

There are currently 76 countries where individuals face criminal sanctions for engaging in private in consensual sexual relations with another adult of the same sex.

In addition to criminalizing Gay marriage, the Nigerian bill also targets people and organizations that 'witness, abet, and aid the solemnization of a same-sex marriage or civil union, or support the registration, operation, and sustenance of Gay clubs, societies, or organizations' and those who 'directly or indirectly make a public show of same-sex amorous relations.'

'What on earth is an indirect public display of affection?' wondered Akwaeke, a Nigerian student and writer. 'Basically if you were holding hands with a friend of yours of the same sex you could be arrested,' she said. 'So there are a lot of loopholes that are going to be used to persecute a lot of people. People aren't talking about that because everyone thinks it's about marriage. It's not.'

Ultimately, this law 'opens the door to all kinds of police abuse,' said Boris Dittrich, advocacy director of the LGBT program at Human Rights Watch. 'This is going to be a tool for the government to silence opposition and other civil society organizations.'

'In Nigeria, politicians use the LGBT community as a scapegoat while they should address issues like poverty and corruption.'

A plan by the U.S. government to use foreign aid and diplomacy to push countries into recognizing Gay rights has sparked outrage in Kenya. Religious leaders vowed to resist attempts to 'impose homosexuality' on Kenyans, even at the cost of losing hundreds of millions of dollars in American aid.

Addressing diplomats in Geneva, Switzerland, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stressed that 'Gay rights are human rights,' and directed U.S. government agencies to consider Gay rights when determining who gets American aid. When Clinton spoke, many ambassadors walked out of the room.

Kenya received $714 million from the U.S. government this year alone for military training, anti-drug trafficking, anti-terrorism, health and child survival, and the fight against AIDS.

The National Council of Churches of Kenya general secretary, Canon Peter Karanja, said, 'America and other Western powers have no right to bully other countries. It is obnoxious and amounts to neo-colonialism.'

The Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims national vice-chairman, Alhaji Abdullahi Kiptanui, accused America of seeking to introduce evil practices in the country, saying the Quran and the Bible condemn homosexuality.

The African country of Malawi has announced that it was reviewing a number of laws, including its anti-Gay and anti-Lesbian laws. Malawi's Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Ephraim Chiume said in a statement, 'In view of the sentiments from the general public and in response to public opinion regarding certain laws, the government wishes to announce to the Malawi nation that it is submitting the relevant laws and provisions of laws to the Law Commission for review.' Chiume said provisions of the penal code concerning 'indecent practices and unnatural acts' would be among the laws reviewed.

The U.K. recently withdrew financial assistance in response to poor governance in Malawi and to moves against civil society and the media. Malawi, however, blamed the withdrawal on non-governmental organizations supporting LGBT human rights. Western governments criticized Malawi last year for jailing a Gay couple on sodomy charges. During their trial, President Bingu wa Mutharika called homosexuality 'evil and very bad before the eyes of God.' He later pardoned the couple following international condemnation of the sentence.

Malawi Broadcasting Corporation bulletins said that organizers of recent pro-Gay demonstrations wanted to use photographs of demonstrators to show to foreign aid donors that Malawians support Gay rights and same-sex marriages. A presidential spokesperson said that organizers of the demonstrations have been receiving 'huge sums of money' from Gay rights groups outside the country.

Other laws to be reviewed include those banning publications and demonstrations, allowing warrantless searches, and a law that doesn't allow citizens to sue the government.

The government has not said how long the law review will take or when it will start.

In the run-up to the Russian parliamentary elections earlier this month - in which the country's authoritarian strongman, Vladimir Putin, and his United Russia Party suffered large losses - the Putin forces made crass appeals to homophobia by introducing a spate of anti-Gay legislation to outlaw almost any expression of pro-homosexual sentiment, according to veteran Gay activist Nikolai Baev in an interview with Gay City News. Baev is the newly named head of the Gay Russia Human Rights Project and a key organizer of Moscow's perpetually banned Gay Pride.

'Homophobia is always used in Russian political campaigns because this is a very good tool against political opponents, from both sides. United Russia calls its opposition 'Gays,' while the anti-Putin opposition calls United Russia 'fags.'

'For example, the KPRF - a very homophobic party which advocates re-introduction of Soviet-era criminal penalties for homosexuality [repealed in 1993] - uses in its campaign the slogan 'Better to be red than blue.' The double meaning of this phrase is that blue is the party color of United Russia, and at the same time the word blue (in Russian, goluboi) also is a slang word for Gay men. So, it is not a surprise that United Russia has used homophobia in this campaign.'

Russia's Gays lack allies in the electoral arena to help them challenge Putin's iron-fisted exercise of power - with one possible, tenuous, and tiny exception. As Baev explained, 'There is not one single deputy in the Russian Duma who supports Gay rights. All four parties represented in the last Duma, and which will be represented in the next, are homophobic. Things could improve if the liberal Yabloko party can win any seats in the next Duma. I doubt they will, but today I voted for them.'

'They were homophobes just a year ago. However, Youth Yabloko - the youth movement in the party - is much more Gay-friendly and they lobbied last year in support of Gay rights. As a result, Yabloko's leader, Sergei Mitrokhin, declared last October that Gay rights should be respected. Five years ago, the same Mitrokhin called Gay Pride a 'provocation.' I see that the situation with Yabloko is getting better. I hope that one day they will publicly support us.'

Imagine if your family published a newspaper story saying you were evil, and that the story made some neighbors feel obligated to smash your skull with rocks. There are thousands of stories like this in Africa. This one has a happy ending.

Vancouver lawyer Rob Hughes, well-known for representing Gay and Lesbian refugees over the past 20 years, says Canadian law allows refugee protection for those who can demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution. They must also prove they cannot be safe in another part of their country and that their own state government is unable or unwilling to protect them.

Hughes represented newcomer Sombede Korak at a refugee hearing in 2011. Korak is from Ghana's second largest city, Kumasi, in the centre of the country's Ashanti Region. Although Korak is now safely in Canada, he prefers to remain anonymous and his name here is a pseudonym.

As a young Ashanti boy, Korak knew he was different. One day, after he wore his sister's clothes on the street, his father beat him so severely it took several weeks to recover.

His adolescence was difficult, but at age 20, he met his first boyfriend.

'We stole time together. & That same year, 2001, a male relative demanded that I date a woman and have sex to prove I was a man, not a homosexual. My family forced me into a heterosexual relationship.' He moved in with his wife and had children.

Korak was rarely home with the babies and their mother. He had a successful business and claimed his trading operation kept him absent, but all along, between 2000 and 2009, he and his boyfriend continued their relationship.

'One afternoon, my boyfriend and I were at a hotel that rented rooms by the hour. Suddenly, my boyfriend's family broke the door and barged into the room, catching us in bed. The mother and sisters screamed and made a loud scene. There was lots of shouting.'

'I ran away. Later, I tried to call my boyfriend several times, but his mobile phone was dead. That was the last time we saw each other. We'd been together nine years.' The boyfriend's family made sure Korak's relatives found out he'd been caught red-handed.

Rather than undergo a traditional cleansing ritual that was likely to kill him, Korak escaped. His family searched for him and relatives contacted Ghana's National Democrat newspaper, announcing they were hunting him for a cleansing ceremony.

The article was as good as signing a death warrant. Ashanti beliefs - that being homosexual shamed the ancestors - meant anyone could beat him to death on sight.

Realizing he could not stay in Ghana, Korak applied for a visa and arrived in Canada as a tourist. In a strange twist, the news story's open invitation to violently cleanse Korak saved his life.

Rob Hughes explained: 'The Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board member who heard the case said she ruled in favor because of the proven death threat [Korak] faced at home. The newspaper clipping corroborated details given earlier in the refugee application about the danger he faced.'

A Gay rights group has condemned a physical assault on the winner of the first ever Mr. Gay Namibia contest. According to the organizers, Wendelinus Hamutenya was assaulted by two men as he returned home.

'The men approached Wendelinus and requested the money he won at the Mr. Gay competition,' Joe Gerstmayr, managing director of Mr. Gay Namibia, said in a statement.

After a short confrontation, one of the attackers kicked Hamutenya to the ground, while the other grabbed his mobile phone and wallet.

Hamutenya is set to take part in the Mr. Gay World 2012 contest in South Africa next April.

Namibia has not passed any laws against Gays or Lesbians and its constitution forbids discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

However, former president and liberation struggle icon Sam Nujoma spoke out strongly against Gays and Lesbians during his time in office.

The U.K. has announced longer minimum jail sentences for murders motivated by hostility to a Transgender person. The starting point used by the judge to set the minimum term will double from 15 to 30 years.

Justice Secretary Ken Clarke said: 'Hate crimes are abhorrent, they leave sections of society living in fear and at risk of unprovoked violence. These proposals make clear offenders should be in no doubt that they face a more severe sentence for these unacceptable crimes.'

In September Leon Fyle, 23, was jailed for life for the murder of Destiny Lauren, a pre-operative Transgender person who worked as a prostitute.

There are no specific figures for violence or hostility towards Trans people but it is believed to be on the increase. The murder of Lauren, who had been born Justin Samuels, was one of a number of recent murders of Transgender people.

People who discriminate against others on the basis of disability, age, health, sexual orientation or gender identity, ethnicity, or religion will soon be penalized in Cebu City. Six city councilors are sponsoring the new law.

Under the draft ordinance, it is unlawful for anyone to deny any person access to public services or to refuse admission or to expel a person from education institutions on the basis of disability, age, health status, sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnicity, and religion.

To ensure that negative social attitudes change, the draft states that the Cebu City government should implement a discrimination and stigma reduction program.

If the ordinance is passed, those who violate it will be punished by a fine of up to $115, or imprisonment of 60 days to one year. The court may impose both penalties.

Human rights groups have appealed to the European Parliament and the Council of Europe to appeal a draft bill which stipulates that families are solely based on heterosexual marriage or common-law partnerships, calling it discriminatory. The Gay rights group Background Society for Homosexuals said that the bill could push hundreds of thousands of couples into a position of legal uncertainty.

The groups noted that the European Court of Human Rights recently ruled that all cohabiting couples constitute a family, regardless of sexuality.

On October 29, a squad of officers from the Shinjuku Police Station raided a men's club and arrested its operator, one employee, and three customers - who had been caught cavorting naked (or nearly naked) - on charges of obscene behavior in public or abetting such behavior.

The club, Destruction, has been in business since 1997. 'The club is on the second floor of an office building,' according to a local news reporter. 'There are about 20 private cubicles closed off by curtains and one large room. There are peepholes for looking into the cubicles. Most of the customers prance around completely naked or nearly so, and if you brush up against another customer, that's likely to lead to some action.'

Admission is 500 yen ($7) for minors and 1,500 yen for those 20 and over. Depending on the night of the week, the club would organize special events catering to 'baldies,' 'guys with short hair,' 'guys with beards,' and so on.

The club is situated in a quiet residential area, and nearby residents, apparently aggravated by raucous, animal-like screams being emitted, complained to police, which resulted in the raid and arrests.

Puerto Rico appears to be going through a wave of vicious murders of Transgender people. At least six people have been murdered in the last 12 months - but none have been recorded as hate crimes. The U.S. territory has had a hate crime law since 2002 covering crimes based on sexual orientation or gender identity, but activists say that authorities are not using it.

'None of these cases have been considered by the state as hate crimes despite offenders even admitting that their motivation was the 'homosexual panic.' This shows an extreme level of homophobia and Transphobia.'

In spite of the murders, the Puerto Rico Senate late last month approved a provision that would eliminate sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, ethnicity, and religion from the current criminal code statute. The House of Representatives is expected to vote on the amended penal code during a special legislative session.

'To eliminate these groups as protected categories is to invite the commission of hate crimes in Puerto Rico,' said Representative Héctor Ferrer. 'It is a setback in the country's public policy.'

On November 30, Lambda Legal and a group of organizations that advocate for the rights of people living with HIV, including HIV-affected immigrants, urged the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to grant asylum to a Transgender Mexican woman living with HIV/AIDS.

'Growing up in Mexico, Karolina Lopez Berera suffered horrific abuse at the hands of her family and police because of her Transgender identity,' said Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, Lambda Legal Staff Attorney. 'She fled to the United States to escape that abuse, and immigration officials concede that she was persecuted.'

'Ms. Lopez Berera has been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. Notwithstanding her diagnosis and her credible claims of persecution and abuse, the U.S. government is intent on deporting her to Mexico. Her forced removal, in light of rampant HIV stigma, discrimination, and persecution amounts to nothing less than an indirect death sentence.'

The friend-of-the-court brief highlights country condition reports, media accounts, and studies that document the persecution, discrimination, and neglect that Transgender individuals, especially Transgender people living with HIV/AIDS, face in critical HIV-related health care services in Mexico. Transgender people are often deliberately excluded from access to HIV medications, says the brief, and Lopez Berera likely will not have access to them. In addition, the brief discusses how Lopez Berera's HIV status places her in great danger of persecution because people living with HIV in Mexico are frequently the victims of hate crimes.

Black Lesbians in South Africa endure ridicule and abuse in schools, workplaces, and churches, sometimes being accused of witchcraft, a Human Rights Watch (HRW) investigation has found.

'Lesbians and Transgender men live in constant fear of harassment as well as physical and sexual violence,' the watchdog group reported.

The research was based on interviews with 121 Lesbians, Bisexual women, and Transgender men over two years in the impoverished townships where most South Africans live.

Same-sex marriage is legal in South Africa, and the country has some of the most liberal laws on sexual orientation on the continent. But cultural attitudes do not always match the constitution.

A number of Lesbians have been murdered, apparently because of their sexuality, in what activists believed should be classified as hate crimes. Noxolo Nogwaza, 24, was stoned and stabbed to death and apparently raped earlier this year. One woman told HRW of a series of rapes by her cousin, her coach, and her pastor. Another said a female cousin spiked her drink so that the cousin's boyfriend could rape her.

Raping a Lesbian, HRW researchers found, can make a man a township hero. Attackers boast publicly of their crimes and declare to their victims: 'We'll show you you're a woman.' Such attacks are often referred to as 'corrective rapes' in South Africa. Lesbians and others who do not fit the norm tend to avoid being alone in public, try not to attract men's attention, and hide their sexual orientation, the report added.

Nearly all those interviewed by HRW said they were reluctant to approach the police for protection or to report crimes.

Nomboniso Gasa, a gender policy analyst, said the country needed to confront a culture of violence and homophobia that betrayed its democratic foundation. 'This violence makes a farce of all that we claimed to achieve in post-apartheid South Africa in the constitution,' Gasa said.

'If there was any other group that was targeted in the way LGBT people are targeted, South Africa would declare a crisis. This report lifts a veil of silence to make visible the realities that South Africa would rather pretend do not exist.'

Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland warned this month that Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Europeans continue to face discrimination in many parts of the continent.

'Homosexuality has been decriminalized all over Europe, but prejudice and hypocrisy still exist towards LGBT persons in Europe,' Jagland said in a statement to mark International Human Rights Day (December 10).

Recently, discriminatory laws have been proposed or adopted in member states such as Lithuania, Ukraine, and in some parts of the Russian Federation. 'This is a violation of basic human rights and a setback to the progress we have achieved in promoting and protecting human dignity,' he said.

'My message on this year's International Human Rights Day is to always remember this, and to bear in mind that human rights are for all or they are for none.'

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