State Department releases annual human rights report

By : Michael K. Lavers OF THE WASHINGTON BLADE, COURTESY OF THE NATIONAL LGBT MEDIA ASSOCIATION
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The State Department’s annual human rights report that was released on Wednesday notes anti-LGBTI violence and discrimination remained widespread around the world in 2018.

The report cites statistics from the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights that indicate nine transgender women and eight gay men were killed in “hate crime homicides” in Mexico’s Veracruz state in the first eight months of 2018. The report also notes activists in the city of San Luis Potosí have said “homophobia in police ranks” has hindered the investigation of the case of a man who was allegedly beaten to death by a group of 10 taxi drivers outside a gay bar on Aug. 5, 2018.

The report notes Marielle Franco, a bisexual Rio de Janeiro councilwoman who was of African descent, and her driver were killed on March 14, 2018, after they left a black women’s empowerment event. The report also indicates “politically-motivated violence, especially against journalists, Afro-Brazilians, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, was reported throughout Brazil” ahead of President Jair Bolsonaro’s election last October.

Marielle Franco, a bisexual Rio de Janeiro councilwoman, and her driver were murdered in their car on March 14, 2018. (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

The report accuses authorities in Chechnya of carrying out extrajudicial killings of LGBTI people. It also cites statistics from two Guatemalan LGBTI advocacy groups — Asociación Lambda and Red Nacional de Diversidad Sexual y VIH de Guatemala — that indicate 19 LGBTI people were killed in the Central American country from April 20-Nov. 11, 2018.

The report notes Saudi Arabia and Iran are among the countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain punishable by death. The report also says the Cuban government in 2018 “did not recognize domestic human rights groups or permit them to function legally.”

“Several unrecognized NGOs that promote lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex human rights faced government harassment, not for their promotion of such topics, but for their independence from official government institutions,” it reads.

The report notes several countries last year decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations.

The India Supreme Court on Sept. 6, 2018, issued a unanimous ruling that struck downthe country’s colonial-era sodomy law. The Trinidad and Tobago High Court on Sept. 20, 2018, upheld a justice’s decision from earlier in the year that found the Caribbean country’s anti-sodomy statute unconstitutional.

Activists highly critical of Trump anti-LGBTI, foreign policies

The State Department released the report less than a month after the Trump administration announced an initiative led by openly gay U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell that encourages countries to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations.

Many activists in the U.S. and around the world remain skeptical of the initiative, which many observers view is part of the Trump administration’s policy towards Iran. The White House also continues to face widespread criticism over its LGBTI-specific policies in the U.S. and its overall foreign policy.

“The policy of this administration is to engage with other governments, regardless of their record, if doing so will further U.S. interests,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in the report’s preface. “At the same time, we recognize that U.S. interests in the enduring stability, prosperity and security of a world filled with strong, sovereign states will only be served if governments respect human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

“To that end, individuals seeking reforms to end the wrongful interference in the exercise of unalienable rights — whether those individuals are in or out of government — will find a sympathetic friend and strong supporter in the United States of America,” he added.

Pompeo in the preface did not specifically mention LGBTI rights. He also did not refer to them when he spoke with reporters at the State Department on Wednesday.

“Today, the State Department continues to play a leading role in championing human rights across the globe, honoring the vision of our founders and expressing our time-honored American aspiration for all people to be free,” said Pompeo.

“By issuing today’s report, we deploy the truth — the truth about abuses occurring around the globe — as one of the most powerful weapons in America’s diplomatic arsenal,” he added.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did not specifically refer to LGBTI rights in his public comments on the release of the State Department’s annual human rights report on March 13, 2018. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

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