LGBT Progress Overshadowed by Abuses

United Nations general assembly hall

United Nations general assembly hall

NEW YORK - The second report ever released by the United Nations on protecting LGBT rights was published today by the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The report outlines steps for governments to take in stopping LGBT discrimination.

There are 80 countries in the world today that criminalize consensual same-sex relations. The punishments vary, including prison sentences, torture, and the death penalty.

The report represents the gradual progress being made by governments in protecting LGBT people around the world. Since the first report released in 2011, 14 countries have adopted or strengthened laws that protect LGBT rights. These changes often extended protection of sexual orientation, gender identity and introduced legal protections for intersex persons.

But it is clear that the progress is overshadowed by abuse. The report states that “since 2011, hundreds of people have been killed and thousands more injured in brutal, violent attacks” because of their LGBT identity.

This violence is in part fueled by anti-LGBT rhetoric issued by regional, national, and international leaders.

In May the president of Gambia, Yahya Jammeh at a rally said that he would “slit the throats of gay men” in the West African nation. In 2014, the president of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, said that gay people were “disgusting” after being asked if he personally disliked homosexuals in a BBC interview.

Even in 2012, the Nobel peace prize winner and president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, defended the current law that criminalizes homosexual acts by saying, “We like ourselves just the way we are.”

Although these leaders have not changed their opinion on supporting legislation that criminalizes LGBT persons, the UN report published today is meant to outline international obligations that leaders like these have in protecting their LGBT citizens.

The report outlined five standards and obligations that every state has in protecting the human rights of LGBT persons.

The report calls on countries to protect LGBT individuals from violence, torture and ill-treatment. This includes condemning “conversion” therapy for LGBT persons, forced and otherwise involuntary sterilization and treatment performed on intersex children.

The report also demands states to “decriminalize homosexuality and to repeal other laws used to punish individuals on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.”

States also have the “obligation to address discrimination against children and young persons who identify or are perceived as LGBT or intersex.” This means that states are obligated to protect children in schools from harassment, bullying, and in addition to protecting all LGBT people from lack of access to health information and services.

The report also outlined the obligation that countries have to “protect the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly and to take part in the conduct of public affairs.” This means that states must protect the rights of LGBT persons and LGBT allies to assemble and advocate for their rights.

In much of the world these standards and obligations are not followed and support for LGBT rights is often cited as a western construct meant to destroy autonomy and “traditional cultural values” that exist in sovereign nations.

However the United Nations has made it clear once again that this view is not acceptable.

The report states that “All human beings, irrespective of their sexual orientation and gender identity, are entitled to enjoy the protection of international human rights law.”

Contributing Editor: @AustinBryan
LinkedIn: Austin Drake Bryan

Domestic Terrorist Kills Sikh Worshipers

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 23:51 PM EDT, 5 August 2012

Updated 14:20 pm EDT, 6 August 2012:
Wade Michael Page, Perpetrator of the Wisconsin Sikh Temple ShootingAccording to USA Today, the man who fatally shot six people at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin was identified today as Army veteran Wade Michael Page, 40, pictured to the left, who washed out of the military in 1998 after a six-year hitch.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a group that has studied hate crimes for decades, says on its website that Page was a frustrated neo-Nazi who had been the leader of a racist white-power band known as End Apathy."

OAK CREEK, Wisconsin - Yesterday, Wade entered a Sikh Temple and open fire on congregants of the 400 member temple, killing 6 people before police shot and killed him. Reportedly the lone gunman also shot a policeman 8 times as he was helping one of the victims who had been attending a birthday party. The police officer is in critical condition but is expected to live. Though it is early in the investigation, authorities have tentatively labeled this as a domestic terrorist hate crime.

Attacks against Sikhs have increased significantly since the September 11, 2011 terrorist attack. Though Sikhs are primarily Indian, because of their habiliment and skin tone, many xenophobes label them as Islamic terrorists. Sikhism was founded in South Asia 16th century in Punjab India. It is a monotheistic faith and has almost 27 million adherents worldwide, with the majority residing in India and about 500,000 live in the United States.

The Washington-based Sikh Coalition has reported more than 700 incidents in the U.S. since 9/11, which advocates blame on anti-Islamic sentiment. Observant Sikh men do not cut their hair or beards which are considered sacred – and instead twist and cover the unshorn locks with turbans, and thus are often mistaken for Muslims.

Though there is no direct link to the 2012 U.S. Presidential election, the racial sentiment that has been fomented by the extreme right-wing members of the American electorate seems to have provided hate groups and domestic terrorists with a thinly veiled justification to harm any person they do not understand or who doesn’t look like them.

This is the same population that is vehemently anti-President Barak Obama simply because he is a man of color, and despite evidence to the contrary, they persist in believing that he is Muslim and a Communist.

According to reports, 'The White House said President Obama was aware of the shooting and was being kept up to date by the FBI who has taken over the investigation. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker issued a statement, saying, "Our hearts go out to the victims and their families, as we all struggle to comprehend the evil that begets this terrible violence."'

The shooter was allegedly a Caucasian male who was armed with a 9-millimeter, semi-automatic pistol, was heavily tattooed, wore a white t-shirt and black military BDU pants. The first responders, including the policeman who was shot by the gunman, have been credited with saving additional lives because of their prompt intervention. Oak Creek emergency medical personnel identified seven people dead - four inside the temple and three outside, including the suspect.

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Ramadan Kareem 2012 | Post Arab Springs

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 01:58 AM EDT, 20 July 2012

MIDDLE EAST, ASIA, & AFRICA – Across the globe 1 billion Muslims have begun to celebrate Ramadan 2012 which will start on Friday, the 20th of July and will continue until Saturday, the 18th of August. For the next 30 days, Muslims are required to abstain from food, drink, sex, and other physical needs from sun up to sundown.

During this time, observant and non-observant Muslims are challenged to reevaluate their lives and make the appropriate adjustments to bring their actions and lifestyle back in line with Islamic teachings. Adherents are commanded to make peace with those who have wronged them or whom they have wronged, resist engaging in bad habits, help the poor, purify their souls and refocus on God.

The holiday occurs amidst numerous conflicts which continue to besiege the Middle East in the wake of the Arab Springs. Most notably: the ongoing civil war in Syria, the ousting of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, and the death of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi at the hands of rebel fighters.

Just like the Syrian government remains at odds with its citizens and other nations with the exception of Russia and China; it has also set itself apart by proclaiming that Ramadan will begin on Saturday, 21 July 2012.

Internecine conflict between Sunni and Shiite Muslims regarding religious interpretation is particularly evident during this holy month. The differences between the two streams are quite complex and historically rooted in the dispute over succession following the death of the Prophet Mohammed.

Thus, “Dar al-Fatwa, the highest religious authority for Sunni Muslims in Lebanon, announced on Thursday that Friday will be the first day of the holy month of Ramadan. While the Higher Islamic Shiite Council declared that the first day of Ramadan will start on Saturday.” (Source: yaLibnan)

Today, the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is an Alawi, which is a branch of the Twelver school of Shia Islam, announced that Ramadan will begin on Saturday. But, the Syrian National Council which seeks to overthrow the Assad government said that the holy day will be observed starting Friday.

In a grand gesture, Egypt’s newly elected President Mohammed Morsi ‘righted wrong doing’ by pardoning 572 pro-democracy activists who were arrested during protests for regime change. While Israeli President Shimon Peres extended a Ramadan Kareem greeting via video to Muslims worldwide. (Watch Here)

During this month of Ramadan, Muslims are challenging themselves personally and communally to continue their commitment to God, to achieving peace, and promoting greater understanding of their faith and culture.

It is incumbent upon the rest of us to meet moderate Muslims half-way if we as a human race ever expect to achieve peaceful coexistence with all people despite country of origin, culture, or religious practices.

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Africa's Christians Under Attack

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 22:05 PM EDT, 30 April 2012

NAIROBI, Kenya - In recent months, across Africa, Christian sects have been under attack from extremist. On Sunday, 29 April 2012, a church in Ngara was bombed leaving one person confirmed dead and 16 others seriously injured.

Although the US embassy warned of an imminent threat of terrorist attacks in the country, specific targets were not identified. The lone attacker is said to have entered God’s House of Miracles International Church with other worshipers, at which point he hurled a grenade toward the front pews before hastily retreating toward the exit.

Police immediately launched an investigation while many of the victims were taken to be treated at the Guru Nanak and Kenyatta National hospitals. Unlike the conflict between radical Islamists and Christians in northern Nigeria, the terrorist’s attacks in Kenya are primarily a reaction to Kenya’s incursion into Somalia in October 2011 when troops were dispatched to fight al-Shabab fighter.

Terrorist attacks like the Sunday church bombings in Kenya and Nigeria seem to be the favored method of expressing dissatisfaction with the government. Prior to the Ngara bombing, there was a grenade attack on a church service in Mtwapa, Mombasa that left one person dead and ten others seriously injured.

From East Africa to West Africa, the incidence of sectarian violence is escalating. Previously, we reported on the rising conflict between Christians and extremist Islamic factions in northern Nigeria’s Kano State. The radical Islamic sect known as Boko Haram has in recent months unleashed bloody attacks on Christians and other non-Islamic sects as they seek to impose Sharia law in Nigeria.

Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, is widely believed to be Boko Haram's base of operations and has the highest number of incidents of violence against Christians, police, and the military. Thus, the Monday 30 April 2012, Kano church attack by Boko Haram, a day after the Nairobi bombing was surprising.

The Nigerian attack was carried out by gunmen on motorcycles who hurled small homemade bombs into a university lecture hall where church services were being conducted. A total of 19 people were injured or killed in Boko Haram attacks on Christians in Maiduguri and Kano on both Sunday and Monday.

According to an official presidential statement, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan condemned the murderous terrorist attack on the Bayero University Campus in Kano yesterday and the "brutal killing of innocent worshipers by vicious assailants." However, many Nigerians believe that Goodluck has not been forceful enough in his efforts to eradicate Boko Haram and restore peace in the North.

The Vatican has also condemned the incidents. “The new terrorist attacks in Kenya and Nigeria at Christian celebrations are horrible and despicable acts,” Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said.

“We must be close to victims and communities that suffer just as they are peacefully celebrating a faith that wants love and peace for all,” he said. “We must encourage the whole population.... not to give in to the temptation to fall into the vicious circle of homicidal hatred,” he added. (Source: Independent Catholic News)

Feast, Fete, Dead Guests | Famadihana Funeral Ritual

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 22:24 PM EDT, 16 March 2012

Famadihana, Rewrapping Body, Madagascar, Photo by Save Your Smile

AMBOHIMIRARY, Madagascar — When people think of dancing with the dead, they usually picture the New Orleans Carnival pre-Hurricane Katrina. Carnival in that city was an admixture of ghosts, ghouls, scantily clad women and men dancing through aged alleys full of shops selling haints, potions and the occasional voodoo apothecary.

However, in Madagascar, an island in the Indian Ocean off the Coast of East Africa, the inhabitants of the small farming village of Ambohimirary actually dance with their dead. The village is 20 miles west of the nation’s capital, Antananarivo, and it is inhabited by the Malagasy who practice a ritual called famadihana (pronounced fa-ma-dee-an).

This custom entails the exhumation of the shrouded bodies of dead relatives so that they may participate in a celebration which has been organized in their honor. The festival occurs every five, seven, nine or eleven years depending on the family and the amount of resources at their disposal.

The tradition is based on the belief that spirits do not leave their bodies until they completely decompose. Although the Island nation is predominantly Catholic, and the government initially attempted to outlaw the practice, millions of Malagasy still honor their ancestors in this way.

Everyone in the town and the surrounding villages are invited to participate in the three day festival which can cost around $1.2M Malagasy Ariary or $550. It is the responsibility of the families of the deceased to pay for the festivities and provide meals up to three times a day to all the guests who can number in the hundreds.

The fete begins with the bodies being removed from the family crypt. The soiled shrouds are sprinkled with expensive perfume or sparkling wine and then wrapped in woven mats. A marching band then leads a procession of the living, which carries the often cumbersome corpses of the dead to the place designated for the joyous celebration.

The Malagasy who practice famadihana believe that this is an important rite of passage because it honors their ancestors to whom they feel they owe a debt of gratitude. They do not ascribe to the Judeo-Christian belief that man comes from mud. For them, human beings come from the body, and the boundary between life and death is fluid, thus famadihana facilitates spirit travel back and forth across the void.

What makes this custom strange to most Jews, Muslims and even Christians, is the fact that the Malagasy remove and handle the bodies. In Judaism and Islam dead bodies are unclean, and after burial more so and thus should not be touch. In all three faiths the act of removing a dead body from its final resting place is considered desecration.

But every society has its own customs, for instance in India, the Hindus and Buddhist have their unique ceremonial practices in preparing loved ones for their transition.

“In Hinduism, immediately after the death, family members close the mouth and eyes of the deceased, and put the arms straight. Minimal contact with the body is observed because the body is believed to be impure. Then, the body is placed on the floor with the feet pointing towards the south which is the direction of the dead. An oil lamp is lit and placed near the body during a three day wake.

Hindus believe that once the soul sheds the body it prepares to depart immediately on its karmic journey. Because of this, it's very important to cremate the body as soon as practicable so there is no allure for the soul to linger this side of the world.

For this reason, both Buddhists and Hindus cremate the bodies immediately, preferably on the riverbank of the Ganges, the holiest place on earth for both faiths. The Buddhists prefer immediate dispersal of the ashes over the river, while the Hindus collect the ashes in an urn for disposal in a special year-end ceremony.” (Source: Webhealing & Wikipedia)

But, in Madagascar, this small, island nation off the coast of East Africa, after three days of raucous dancing and eating, the conversations with the corpses conclude, and the families prepare to return the bodies to the crypts. Carefully caressing and redressing the bodies; they bid adieu to their relatives, with the assurance that they will be reunited soon.

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Bahrain's Bloody Spring

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 23:58 PM EDT, 23 February 2012

King Hamad Bin Isa Al-KhalifaMANAMA, Bahrain - Only history will reveal the true extent of change wrought by the 2011 Arab Spring, but it is obvious that the situation in the Middle East is fundamentally different from what it was a year ago. Many changes have occurred, though many appear to be cosmetic when measured against the deep historical changes which did not materialize.

The Arab Spring revolution started peacefully in Tunisia, then spread to Egypt, where the ruling family led by President Hosni Mubarak chose to violently suppress protesters.

As the world watched with fascination, emboldened citizens in Libya, Yemen and Syria also took to the streets to demand regime change.

Courageous protesters risked imprisonment, torture and death in the pursuit of freedom. Journalists and on-the-ground activists leveraged traditional and social media outlets to expose human rights violations which eventually resulted in the dethroning or exile of entrenched heads of states, their families and coteries.

But, as the immediacy of the revolution began to fade, the citizens of the island kingdom of Bahrain continue to be oppressed. The Sunni ruling monarch, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, rules over a Shia Muslim majority, and in his efforts to thwart the reform demanded by the populace, his government has been accused of sanctioning gross human rights violations.

On 14 February 2011, Bahrainis dissidents organized massive protests coordinated by word of mouth, texts messages, and "a Facebook page named "Day of Rage in Bahrain", a page that was liked by more than 90,000 people just one week after its creation.

The Bahrain government responded with what has been described as a "brutal" crack down on the protest, including shocking violations of human rights that caused massive anger. Later on, demonstrators demanded that King Hamad step down." (Source: Wikipedia)

In an effort to demonstrate equanimity and transparency, King Hamad ordered the creation of an Independent Commission of Inquiry. The Commission has subsequently recommended reform and advised the monarchy to provide unfettered access to the country by Human Rights NGO's that are currently denied entry to document abuses.

Bahrain's Bloody Spring is a human rights travesty, but the rest of the world bears some responsibility for ignoring these people who have given so much in pursuit of a more democratic governmental process.

The award-winning documentary which follows, won the Foreign Press Association Documentary Award of the year. It provides a graphic and unvarnished portrait of the dangers protesters and those who would assist them face. We need to spread the word to let them know that their efforts are not in vain and their struggle is not forgotten.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=xaTKDMYOBOU]

 

Tibetan Monk Self-Immolates

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 16:24 PM EDT, 16 February 2012

Konchog Wangdu Tibetan MonkLOBSANG GYATSO, Tibet - A 19-year-old monk from the Kirti monastery set himself ablaze on the main street, according to the London-based International Campaign for Tibet (ICT). Security forces beat Gyatso while extinguishing the flames, then took him away, the group said in an online statement posted late Monday. It was not immediately clear whether he survived.

Tibetan’s are a deeply religious and independent culture. The annexation of the country, forced resettlement, plus the exile of one of its most revered figure, the Dalai Lama has sparked intense resistance . Many monks remain fiercely loyal to Tibet's exiled Buddhist leader, who fled the Himalayan region in 1959 amid an abortive uprising against Chinese rule.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EASprHOwZ48&feature=related]

China's tacit acceptance of the country's religious fervor does not negate the fact that the Tibetan people have expressed feelings of oppression from and domination by the invading Chinese. Out of fear of reprisal many Tibetans, including the man who was interviewed in 2008 by Michael Palin, will only publicly state that they have experienced no problems with their assimilation into Chinese society and culture.

Tibet is governed by China as an autonomous region and the territories of Lhasa and Yushu were featured prominently in Palin’s documentary “The Roof of the World.” The rich culture depicted in the documentary seems quite different from that of the Chinese. From this perspective, it is not surprising that this clash of cultures would result in an escalation of the number and kinds protests that dissidents would engage in to capture the world’s attention and highlight the human rights abuses that occur in Tibet on a daily basis.

Self-immolation is one of the most extreme forms of civil protest, second only in my opinion to a hunger strike. The case of the Tibetan monk setting himself on fire is reminiscent of another monk who burned himself to death in protest of the persecution of Buddhists by South Vietnam’s Roman Catholic government.

His name was Thích Quảng Đức and the photos of his self-immolation are burned into the psyche of anyone born in the 60’s. His self-sacrifice brought attention to the repressive policies of the Diệm regime. Malcolm Browne won a Pulitzer Prize for his renowned photograph of the monk's death.”(Source: Wikipedia)

Premier Wen Jiabao on Tuesday, 14 February 2012, stated that with regard to China's policies on Tibet, they respect the Tibetans traditional culture and freedom of religious belief. He further cast aspersions on the monk by stating that "in his opinion this monk and others like him are being manipulated by outside nations to incite the populace and destabilize the country."

Group: Tibetan sets herself on fire in protest

It would appear, based upon China’s response to this deadly incident that the officials view this movement as economic sabotage. China has invested a great deal in the infrastructure of Tibet, including building new dams, roads and communications networks. According to a CBS reporter who recently visited, he claimed that cellular service was better there than in America.

The Chinese government views these improvements as a benefit to Tibetans, but in reality the continued development encroaches on the nomadic, peaceful and spiritual lives of the Tibetans. Like the Native Americans, the Tibetans are facing the loss of their autonomy and culture through the imposition of the English and Chinese languages, habiliment and atheism.

Premiere Wen was quoted as saying, "Any attempt to incite a small number of monks to take radical moves to undermine stability in the Tibet Autonomous Region is not in the interest of development in Tibet or the interests of the people living in Tibet. Such attempts can have no popular support." He delivered this pronouncement to reporters at a joint press conference with visiting leaders from the European Union.

It is interesting that he used the imperative when stating that this movement “can have no” popular support. His words connoted a subtle but implied threat to any Tibetan who would seek to embarrass or otherwise demonstrate dissatisfaction with Chinese rule. Much of the recent unrest has occurred in adjoining provinces with large Tibetan populations, particularly Sichuan.

According to ICT, 20 Tibetan monks, nuns and laypeople have set themselves on fire in China over the past year, with at least 13 dying from their injuries. These self-immolations have occurred with increasing frequency in recent weeks, and most have taken place in Sichuan's remote and mountainous Tibetan areas.

Independent verification of the true status of these anti-Chinese dissidents is unknown since Western reporters trying to visit that part of Sichuan have been turned away by security forces.