Category Archives: International Issues

Anti-Gay Marriage Marchers Take to French Streets

Groups opposed to President Francois Hollande’s plans to legalize gay marriage and gay adoptions took to the streets Saturday across France.

Hollande said he would enact his “marriage for everyone” plan within a year of coming to power in May, but vocal opposition from religious leaders, some politicians and parts of rural France has divided the country.

Saturday’s protest, called the “March for Everyone,” included pro-family and Catholic groups. Several thousand people marched in Paris, carrying signs with slogans such as “One child (equals) one father + one mother.”

Their final destination was the Invalides monument, the final resting place of Napeolon Bonaparte, the French leader who invented the country’s prized civil code, which is still in force today. It states that marriage is a union between a man and a woman, a point the gay marriage bill seeks to overturn. Another reform would be to replace the entries in a child’s registry book from “father” and “mother” to “parent 1” and “parent 2.”

Elsewhere, France’s largest demonstrations — estimated to be several thousand people strong — took place in Toulouse and France’s second city, Lyon.

The marches Saturday had a dress code of blue, white and pink — putting a spin on the French tricolore flag’s traditional colors of blue, white and red.

A recent survey found that most French favor gay marriage, while support for adoption by gay couples hovers at around 50 percent.


Gay Rights Movement Gains Momentum Around The World

BOSTON — I was standing within a few feet of Robert Mugabe when he launched a vicious attack on Zimbabwe’s gays.

Mugabe’s hateful vitriol, in which he denigrated gays as “worse than pigs and dogs,” became one of the defining issues of his repressive rule. Before that moment I questioned whether gay rights were a crucial issue for a developing democracy like Zimbabwe. It was then that I learned that gay rights were a litmus test for human rights everywhere.

Mugabe launched his bitter tirade at the opening of the 1995 Zimbabwe International Book Fair, where the Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe set up a stand to distribute pamphlets for safe sex and counseling.

“I find it extremely outrageous and repugnant to my human conscience that such immoral and repulsive organizations, like those of homosexuals, who offend both against the law of nature and the morals of religious beliefs espoused by our society, should have any advocates in our midst and elsewhere in the world,” shouted an angry Mugabe, in front of a group of schoolchildren, who appeared confused by the president’s fury.

“Are you saying that gays have no legal rights?” I asked Mugabe after his speech.

“No, they have absolutely no rights in whatsoever,” said Mugabe, grabbing my arm for emphasis and shoving me. My head banged into the television camera behind me as Mugabe got into his Mercedes limousine and sped off.

It was the start of Mugabe’s campaign against gays in which he denounced homosexuality as “un-African” and urged citizens to denounce gays to the police for arrest. Mugabe also promoted new anti-gay legislation.

Even then Mugabe was battling against declining popularity and many Zimbabwean analysts said he calculated that a crusade against gays would win him widespread popularity.

Mugabe’s youth militia burned down the stand of the Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (Galz) at the book fair, but overall the campaign fizzled. Zimbabwean society is conservative, but tolerant, and Mugabe failed to stir up popular anger.

An unexpected consequence was that Mugabe’s invective galvanized the country’s gays who, far from cowering in the closet, became more public and assertive. At first some Zimbabwean human rights groups were reluctant to champion the cause of gays, because many of their supporters were members of church groups. But soon almost all accepted that the country’s gays deserved the fundamental rights of all other citizens. Today the issue of gay rights is firmly in the Zimbabwe’s human rights camp.

In neighboring South Africa, gays fighting against apartheid demanded that the African National Congress include their rights as part of its liberation platform. At first the ANC said that the end of apartheid should come before other issues like gay rights but the party was convinced by its gay members that their rights were part and parcel of the country’s liberation.

Thanks to the backing of the ANC, in 1996 South Africa became the first country in the world to adopt a constitution that guarantees the rights of gays and lesbians. The recent murder of a lesbian soccer player has tragically highlighted that the South African constitution is ahead of the conservative beliefs of many South Africans.

The struggle of Zimbabweans and South Africans for gay rights has been repeated across Africa and indeed around the world. Their battles are daunting.

“More than 70 countries continue to outlaw homosexuality with penalties ranging from one year in jail to life imprisonment,” says Peter Tatchell, a British activist who campaigns for gay rights internationally. “Six Islamist states impose the death penalty, including Saudi Arabia, Iran and Sudan. In parts of Nigeria and Pakistan, Shariah law stipulates that ‘sodomists’ can be stoned to death. Under the new ‘democratic’ Iraqi penal code, those who murder homosexuals to defend the honor of their family are exempt from punishment.”

International law gives little protection, according to Tatchell. “No international human rights convention explicitly acknowledges sexual rights as human rights,” he says. “The right to love a person of the same sex is not specifically recognized in international law. There is nothing in U.N. conventions that explicitly prohibits homophobic persecution and protects lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.”

In most of the world legal discrimination against homosexuals remains. Gays are forced to hide their sexuality, fearing abuse, ostracism, discrimination, imprisonment, torture and even murder. Some of this violence is perpetrated by vigilantes, including right-wing death squads in countries like Mexico and Brazil.

But there have been significant gains. Of the 192 member states of the U.N., several have repealed all major legal inequalities against gays, including Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the U.K. Activists like those in Zimbabwe and South Africa are determined to carry on in their crusades.

Gay rights are not limited to Europe or the U.S. or Africa. The debates are in the news in India, Mexico, Senegal and Spain.

The worldview of gay rights has changed. Leaders who rant against gays, such as Robert Mugabe and Fidel Castro, are defined as dictators. Countries that make being gay a crime are widely viewed as repressive. Gay rights are no longer viewed as a frivolous or fringe issue, but one that is central to human rights.

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Europe has still a long way to go to combat violence against transgender people

European countries should take further steps to protect trans people from violence that has left in excess of a thousand dead worldwide in the past four years, Amnesty International urged on Trans Remembrance Day.

There were 1,083 reported killings of trans people worldwide from 2008 to 2012, with research showing the number of deaths has risen each year.

Data from the Trans Murder Monitoring show that 64 trans people were killed in Europe from 2008 to date. Yet throughout the continent, only France, Sweden, Scotland (United Kingdom) and Croatia (as of 1 January 2013) include violent attacks based on gender identity in anti-hate crime legislation.

“Trans people are discriminated against and targeted for violence on the grounds of their gender identity and expression – in Europe and around the world,” said Marco Perolini, Amnesty International’s discrimination expert.

“This lack of protection against gender identity-based violence flouts human rights standards, and fails to acknowledge that transphobic hate crime is a form of discrimination”.

“If criminal law fails to acknowledge that hate crimes can happen based on real or perceived gender identity, the hate motive is not thoroughly investigated and prosecuted.”

Hate crime is not the only form of discrimination suffered by trans people.

In the majority of European countries trans people cannot seek legal recognition of their gender unless they comply with a list of criteria that can include psychiatric diagnosis, sterilisation, genital surgery and divorce.

Moreover, trans identities are still classified as mental disorders at the international level and frequently at the national.

In countries such as Ireland and Lithuania, gaps in national legislation make it impossible for trans people to legally change their gender.

In many countries including Belgium, France, Finland, Norway and Turkey trans individuals who do not wish to undergo gender reassignment surgeries and sterilization are not allowed to change the gender on their birth certificate.

“Compulsory requirements such as sterilisation, divorce and gender reassignment treatments upon which gender legal recognition is made dependent, violate the rights of trans people to equality before the law, to private and family life, to freedom from degrading treatments and to the highest attainable standards of health,” said Perolini.


The Trans Murder Monitoring (TMM) project (Respect versus Transphobia), which monitors, collects and analyses reports of homicides of trans people worldwide, revealed in November 2012 a total of 1,083 reported killings of trans people in 56 countries worldwide from January 2008 to November 2012.

Amnesty International refers to transgender, or trans, people as individuals whose gender expression and/or gender identity differs from conventional expectations based on the physical sex they were assigned at birth. Trans is a political umbrella term that is used to describe a wide range of identities, experiences and people whose appearance seem to conflict with the binary gender norms of society, including transsexuals, transgender, travesti, gender queers, cross dressers, drag queens, drag kings and many more.

The International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10) adopted by the World Health Organization in 1990 includes under the category “gender identity disorders” transsexualism, dual-role transvestitism and gender identity disorder of childhood.  The Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM IV, American Association of Psychiatrists, 1994) includes “gender identity disorders”, “transvestic fetishism”. Amnesty International supports the removal of the classification of gender identities as mental disorders in the DSM and ICD and the reclassification of only those relevant aspects of transgender-related health care in a non-stigmatizing manner to facilitate access to health care.

Malawi: Courageous Move to Suspend Anti-Gay Laws | Human Rights Watch

(Nairobi) – The Malawian government’s decision to suspend enforcement of laws that criminalize consensual same-sex conduct is the right thing to do, and should serve as an inspiration to other countries that criminalize homosexuality, Human Rights Watch said. During a radio debate last week with activists from Malawi’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, the justice minister announced a moratorium on arrests on the basis of the country’s colonial-era sodomy laws. 

Justice Minister Ralph Kasambara said the decision was based on concerns that Malawi’s anti-gay laws, which punish consensual same-sex conduct with prison sentences of up to 14 years for men and 5 years for women, may be unconstitutional. “The idea to issue a moratorium is that if we continue arresting and prosecuting people based on the said laws and later such laws are found to be unconstitutional it would be an embarrassment to government,” he said. The minister’s statement reflects a growing consensus that arrests on the basis of consensual same-sex conduct violate international human rights standards, as well as constitutional guarantees of equality in many countries in which laws nonetheless continue to discriminate against LGBT people. 

“Malawi has taken a bold step forward, putting respect for its own constitutional guarantees of equality front and center,” said Tiseke Kasambala, Africa advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “No one should go to prison for consensual relations with someone of the same sex, and Malawi’s decision has given hope to thousands who risk prison sentences under such laws.”

The question of decriminalization of same-sex intimacy in Malawi has been debated since President Joyce Banda assumed power in April. Banda initially told parliament that she would take steps to decriminalize same-sex intimacy, but told reporters from international media in September that Malawians might not be ready for such a change, and suggested that members of parliament should take the question of decriminalization back to their constituencies. The justice minister’s call for a moratorium on arrests is a compromise position, which will permit parliament to debate possible legislative change. 

During the colonial era, Britain imposed laws banning sodomy on over 40 of its colonies. Most colonies, including Malawi, inherited a cookie-cutter version of the same law, belying the claim that anti-gay laws are rooted in African tradition. Colonial laws in various jurisdictions shared virtually identical language, punishing “carnal knowledge against the order of nature” – generally understood to mean anal intercourse – with up to 14 years in prison. When such laws have been enforced, they have almost invariably targeted same-sex couples rather than heterosexual couples. Former president Bingu wa Mutharika signed a bill criminalizing same-sex conduct between women in February 2011. 

However, Malawi’s constitution includes strong provisions on equality and human dignity. According to Article 12(iv), “The inherent dignity and worth of each human being requires that the State and all persons shall recognize and protect fundamental human rights and afford the fullest protection to the rights and views of all individuals, groups and minorities whether or not they are entitled to vote.” The constitution also guarantees all Malawians equal protection before the law and bans discrimination on the grounds of race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, nationality, ethnic or social origin, disability, property, birth, or other status.

Malawi is also a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The Human Rights Committee, a treaty body tasked with interpreting the ICCPR, has ruled that criminalization of consensual same-sex conduct violates the covenant’s provisions on privacy and non-discrimination.

Malawian LGBT rights activists have assiduously lobbied the government for repeal of the provisions that criminalize homosexuality. The justice minister’s statement announcing the moratorium on arrests was made in a radio debate with human rights activists, organized by two Malawian nongovernmental organizations, the Center for the Development of People (CEDEP) and the Center for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR). It reflects the effectiveness of Malawian activists’ strategy of engaging with the government in open dialogue about sexual orientation and gender identity. 

At least 76 countries, 38 of them in Africa, criminalize consensual same-sex conduct. Arrests on the basis of Malawi’s anti-gay laws have been rare – two men were convicted in 2009 and sentenced to 14 years, but were subsequently pardoned. But Human Rights Watch has found that even unenforced anti-gay laws have nefarious consequences, including blackmail, restricted access to health services, and lack of access to justice. In the handful of countries that frequently prosecute people for homosexuality, LGBT people live in constant fear of arrest. 

“The need for a moratorium on arrests of LGBT people is all the more urgent in countries where arrests and prosecutions on homosexuality charges shatter the lives of innocent citizens,” said Kasambala of Human Rights Watch. “Other countries that criminalize homosexuality, all too often invoking vague notions of ‘African tradition’ to justify such laws, would do well to take note of Malawi’s positive example.”