IGLHRC silent on State Dept. report
by Jeffrey M. Johnson
The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission is being criticized by gay bloggers for failing to issue a statement following the release this month of the State Department's annual country reports on human rights abuses.
Since the State Department's March 6 reports, which list documented abuses in each of the 192-member sovereign states of the United Nations, IGLHRC has not said anything about the LGBT and AIDS-related items in the reports. As in past years, there were documented cases of harassment of LGBT individuals, discrimination, and other abuse in many countries.
In particular, San Francisco activist Michael Petrelis, who organized vigils after the 2005 hangings of two young men in Iran, was sharply critical that there was no statement from IGLHRC about the report.
Paula Ettelbrick, IGLHRC executive director, told the Bay Area Reporter that while the agency did issue a statement last year, it does not plan to do so this year.
"We did not issue a statement," she said in a telephone interview. "We did last year. I did not see a reason to issue a statement, to be quite honest."
Ettelbrick cited the fact that IGLHRC works very closely with the State Department in the compilation of the reports, by providing updated information to them. She does not believe it is IGLHRC's responsibility to "issue a press release to applaud these efforts." Citing examples of documented human rights abuses by the U.S., Ettelbrick posed the question, "Who is the U.S. to issue a report on every other government in the world on its human rights activities, especially in light of Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib?"
"I grieve for my community and how it doesn't demand consistent, quality gay advocacy on crucial global gay rights abuses from our paid advocates," he said. "If global gay activists properly use the annual report to publicize these violations, we might see an increase in the respect for gays and AIDS patients worldwide."
Richard J. Rosendall of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington, D.C., compiled excerpts from the country reports pertaining to LGBT and HIV/AIDS-related incidents.
"The State Department has included gay-related incidents in the country reports since 1991, and this year's compilation appears to contain more GLBT and HIV/AIDS-related information than last year," Rosendall said.
He considers the report "a tool – not the only tool, and not a perfect tool, but a valuable tool" in the fight against human rights violations around the world.
"My main impression from the report is of the bravery and determination of GLBT people all over the world in the face of often brutal repression – people who endure incredible suffering yet refuse to be victims," said Rosendall. "It is quite humbling."
Among the examples cited in the country reports are:
á Brazil: State and federal laws prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and while the laws are generally enforced, there were 81 homicides of homosexuals between January and July 2006, compared with 63 killed during the same period in 2005. The government in Rio de Janeiro, in partnership with non-governmental organizations, operated a hotline and offered professional counseling to victims of anti-gay crimes.
á Ghana: The law criminalizes homosexuality and gays face widespread discrimination as well as police harassment and extortion attempts.
á India: Homosexuals were detained in clinics against their will and subjected to treatment aimed at "curing" them of their homosexuality.
á Iran: The law prohibits and punishes homosexuality; sodomy between consenting adults is a capital crime. In 2005, two teenage boys, one 16 and one 18 years of age, were publicly hanged. A number of groups outside Iran alleged the two were executed for homosexuality; however, the report stated, because of the lack of transparency in the court system, there was no concrete information.
á Romania: While there was the second "march of diversity" gay Pride parade in Bucharest last June that included hundreds of participants, the event was marred by violent physical and verbal attacks by onlookers against the marchers.
On the day that the reports were released, Amnesty International USA issued a news release stating "that while the reports recognize the plight of human rights defenders around the world, they fail to acknowledge that U.S. foreign policy may have exacerbated conditions for many of these brave individuals."
"Today's reports provide useful data that should be factored into foreign policy decisions," said Larry Cox, Amnesty International USA executive director. Cox goes on to say that the U.S. can "provide the leadership to help end abuse around the globe" but "for meaningful change to occur, the Bush administration must not only give lip service to condemn the abuses, but also must refuse to conduct business as usual with repressive governments."
Richard Rosendall's compilation of the State Department country reports is at http://glaa.org/archive/2007/CountryReports2006.shtml. The State Department's Web site is http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2006/.