U.N. Security Council hears persecuted LGBTs' stories

  • by Heather Cassell
  • Wednesday August 26, 2015
Share this Post:

In a historic meeting with the United Nations Security Council this week, two Middle Eastern gay men spoke of atrocities they witnessed, their fear, and plight escaping their homelands.

It was the first time the council has ever addressed LGBT rights during a special closed-session meeting at U.N. headquarters in New York City.

"Today we are making U.N. history," U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power told the attendees during a briefing. "This is the first time in history that the council has held a meeting on the victimization of LGBT persons. It is the first time we are saying, in a single voice, that it is wrong to target people because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. It is a historic step. And it is, as we all know, long overdue."

The meeting was called by Power and U.N. Ambassador Cristian Barros Melet of Chile to address the atrocities of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, known as ISIS.

The informal meeting, known as an Arria, was open to all 193 representatives of U.N. member states and the 15-member security council. Eleven council members were in attendance, including four countries that have troubling records on LGBT rights �" China, Malaysia, Nigeria, and Russia �" that remained, but didn't speak, throughout the briefing.

Chad and Angola refused to participate.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was unable to attend the meeting, but sent remarks.

Gay Syrian refugee Subhi Nahas addressed the session. A gay Iraqi using the pseudonym Adnan, who attended the meeting by phone from an undisclosed location for safety reasons, also told his story.

They were joined by Jessica Stern, executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, and Deputy U.N. Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, who also briefed the council.

The men, citing some examples, said that if people wore jeans, styled their hair or shaved a certain way that the militants didn't like, or spoke out against ISIS, they were labeled as being gay by their community and their families, whether they were or not.


Targeted for death

In prepared remarks, Nahas, 28, recounted the government's anti-gay campaign and raids of known gay social hangouts, arrests, tortures, and said some people were not heard from again at the beginning of Syria's civil war in 2011. Things got worse in 2012 when Jabhat Al Nusra, a branch of al-Qaida, infiltrated his small town of Idlib, north of Damascus. The militants promised at mosque to cleanse the town of "those involved in sodomy," and used an effeminate man they arrested as their example, Nahas said. More sweeps followed, where people were arrested, tortured to confess their sins, and killed.

During this time Nahas said he became a target while on his way to university. Soldiers stopped the bus at a checkpoint and removed all of the young people and took them to a secluded location, he told the council. They assaulted the captives, but noticed Nahas' effeminacy and detained him longer and mocked him more than the others.

"Calling me faggot, sissy, and other profanities," Nahas said. "I feared that one of them �" or all of them �" would rape and kill me."

The situation became worse as ISIS took over in 2014 and members used social media to publicize their exploits such as executions of accused LGBT people. ISIS claimed responsibility of the executions of at least 30 people accused of sodomy, Stern told the council, providing a timeline of the executions.

Adnan was also targeted. He told the council in a prepared statement, "In my society, being gay means death. Most people are happy because they think we are evil," he said.

Nahas agreed, describing scenes where people celebrated gay executions "like they were at a wedding," he told the council.

Adnan said ISIS is "professional when it comes to tracking gay people."

"They hunt them down one by one. When they capture people, they go through the person's phone and contacts and Facebook friends," he said. "It's like dominoes. If one goes, the others will be taken down too."

Nahas was lucky. He was released by the militants.

However, home wasn't a safe place for either of these men as they isolated themselves in fear for their lives from their community and their own family, they both told the council.

Nahas bears a scar from his father as a reminder of the danger he once lived in until he escaped to Lebanon, then Turkey before coming to the U.S. a few months ago with the help of the Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration.

"There's a community in the Middle East that is now standing up, and we want to push back," said Nahas, who currently works for ORAM as an advocate for LGBT and other refugees and as a systems administrator. "We want our voices to be heard, we want our rights to be acknowledged, and we will prevail in the end."


Meeting hailed

LGBT human rights experts, the U.N., and the White House hailed the meeting as a step forward to address ISIS' ongoing violent attacks against those suspected of being LGBT.

"ISIS' horrific violence is a haunting reminder of humankind's capacity for evil," said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, in an August 24 blog post by the organization. "By convening this meeting, Ambassadors Power and Melet have made clear that these human rights abuses against LGBT people are not only deeply heinous and inhumane, but also a matter of utmost importance to global security."

In a statement following the meeting, White House spokesman John Kirby agreed. "This historic event recognizes that the issue of LGBT rights has a place in the U.N. Security Council," he said.

He reiterated President Barack Obama's position in line with Ban's position that LGBT people have a right to live with dignity and without harm simply for "who they love."

However, not everyone praised the meeting.

LGBT rights advocate Scott Long, who formerly worked for Human Rights Watch, called the meeting "useless" and expressed concern about the repercussions on LGBT communities living in ISIS-ruled territories in a critical article on his blog, Paper Bird.

"It's vital not to confuse talk with the ability to act," he wrote. "Discussions aren't 'historic.' Change is."

He called the praise of the meeting "cruel to LGBT people whose lives are at risk to celebrate so gushingly a discussion that has little chance of leading to change," and warned "It'll lead to that indolent repletion where people feel they've acted when they've actually done nothing. At worst, it's going to cause more killings."

There were unconfirmed reports of the killing of more than nine accused gay people in Ninawah, a northern province of Iraq, during the weekend in response to the meeting, Long wrote August 25. Images of one of the executions were posted on ISIS site Justpaste August 22, he said, citing an Iraqi News story.

Stern responded to questions about Long's criticisms pointing out that the council has hosted discussions of ISIS' treatment of women; minority communities like the Yazidi; and Christians. It was important to include LGBT people to document ISIS' brutality, she said.

"The international community must understand anti-LGBTI persecution as a component of how ISIS treats those it labels as 'impure,'" Stern said. "We must recognize that these threats exist on a continuum of violence and discrimination before, during, and after conflict."

Power also said that the meeting would do good.

"Condemning ISIL's violent and systematic targeting of LGBT individuals is the easiest step we can take today," said Power, using another acronym for ISIS. "While today's session is focused on the crimes against LGBT persons committed by ISIL, we know the scope of this problem is much broader."


Open your gates

In spite of the Council's inability to act, Nahas urged the body to "rally your nations to save my people �" those who are trapped in Syria and those who like me have lost everything and have become refugees."

ORAM Executive Director Neil Grungras and Stern, whose organizations have worked for years pushing for LGBT human rights and urging countries like the U.S., the Netherlands, Canada, France and others to take in LGBT refugees, backed Nahas up.

"Of the millions of LGBTI people who face human rights abuses each year, only a handful manage to escape and become refugees," Grungras told the council members in a statement. "It is up to the nations of conscience represented here today to open their doors and give these refugees the safety they need."

Power pointed out that the U.S. has resettled 75 to 100 LGBT refugees annually, but she fell short of supporting reserved spots for LGBT refugees or fast-tracking their applications. Instead, she called for Congress to increase the number of refugees resettling in the U.S., which are currently 70,000. An estimated 60 million people are displaced globally.

"The main thing is we need to work together to insure that there's more political support up on the Hill to fund and to accommodate a larger pool of refugees," she told BuzzFeed.

For more information, visit http://iglhrc.org/content/iglhrc-exposes-targeted-violence-against-lgbt-iraqis-new-publications and IGLHRC's "Don't Turn Away" campaign against ISIS at http://iglhrc.org/dontturnaway, or http://www.oraminternational.org/en/.


U.S. Marine admits he strangled Filipino transgender woman

In a court hearing this week, U.S. Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton admitted to strangling, but not killing, Jennifer Laude, a transgender woman, in a hotel room in Olongapo City in the Philippines last year.

Pemberton claimed self-defense to the Olongapo City Regional Trial Court Branch 74 on Monday.

During the hearing Pemberton told the court that on October 11, 2014 he was out on "liberty time" when he met Laude and another unidentified woman. They all went to the hotel where one of the women performed oral sex on him and left.

Laude was engaged in oral sex too when Pemberton reached down between her legs and he discovered she was transgender. He got angry. They fought and he choked her then tried to revive her in the bathroom, he said.

Authorities later found Laude with her face in the toilet. Medical authorities testified in May that Laude died due to strangulation and asphyxia by drowning.

Pemberton was charged with the murder of Laude in December and has been held at the Joint U.S. Military Assistance Group inside the Armed Forces of the Philippines' headquarters at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.

If convicted, Pemberton faces up to 20 years to life in prison. A verdict is expected next month, reported the Global Post .


Jerusalem Pride attacker charged

Orthodox extremist Yishai Schlissel was charged August 24 with first-degree murder in the death of Shira Banki.

Schlissel, who was admitted to a psychiatric ward last week, is facing one count of premeditated murder, six counts of attempted murder, and with causing injuries under aggravated circumstances for his alleged July 30 knife attack on Jerusalem Pride.

The attack left 16-year-old Banki dead and five others injured, one seriously.

This was Schlissel's second attack on Jerusalem Pride. He served 10 years in prison for his 2005 assault on the parade.

Schlissel refused representation, rejecting the court's authority. The prosecutor's office said that Schlissel should remain in custody through the end of the legal proceedings, reported Gay Star News.


Got international LGBT news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at 00+1-415-221-3541, Skype: heather.cassell, or [email protected].