LGBT Directive Review Anticipated to Show Progress
Washington, DC – The Obama Administration will soon release a public snapshot of its findings from a six month review of the implementation of the December 2011 Presidential Memorandum on International Initiatives to Advance the Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) persons. Human Rights First welcomes the administration’s comprehensive political and diplomatic leadership on these fundamental human rights issues. “The Obama Administration should be credited for its engagement at the highest levels and consistent advocacy based on the simple proposition that human rights apply to all people, including LGBTI people,” said Human Rights First’s Duncan Breen. “As some politicians in countries like Uganda step up efforts to target and persecute LGBTI people, the United States must continue to make clear that protecting the rights of all people – regardless of who they are – is a priority.” The information made available to the public is expected to offer insights into the ways in which the administration, including at least a dozen U.S. government agencies, has translated this simple message into action. The directive tasks agencies such as the Department of State, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Homeland Security to focus on the following priorities:
- Combat criminalization of LGBT status or conduct abroad.
- Protect vulnerable LGBT refugees and asylum seekers.
- Provide foreign assistance to protect human rights and advance nondiscrimination.
- Ensure swift and meaningful U.S. responses to human right abuses of LGBT persons abroad.
- Engage international organizations in the fight against LGBT discrimination.
The administration has made progress in a number of these areas, including by:
- Making clear at the highest level the U.S.’ strong opposition to a pending Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda that would severely criminalize homosexual behavior and threaten all those who support the rights of LGBTI persons.
- Establish the Global Equality Fund to advance justice, support advocates, and increase public dialogue as a tool in U.S. diplomatic efforts.
- Supporting the right to freedom of assembly, including through the participation of a senior administration official in a gay pride march in Riga, Latvia.
- Supporting the leadership of South Africa at the U.N. Human Rights Council in the first ever resolution of human rights based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
- Meeting regularly with civil society activists around the world working to advance the rights of LGBTI persons.
Human Rights First notes that progress has been made in another area of concern – protecting the rights of LGBTI refugees. Human Rights First documented in a May 2012 report on “The Road to Safety: Strengthening the Protection of LGBTI Refugees in Uganda and Kenya” that the administration has made significant strides, including by training United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Refugee and Asylum Officers to better adjudicate asylum claims related to persecution on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The administration has also worked with some non-governmental organizations abroad to provide assistance to vulnerable LGBTI refugees, encouraged non-governmental organization operational partners to include LGBTI refugees along with other vulnerable groups in their work and has provided support for UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, as it continues to develop its capacity to work with LGBTI refugees. Though progress has been made, Human Rights First cautions that the administration has more work to do. There is a continued need to reduce the time frames for expedited resettlement for LGBTI refugees and others facing high risks of violence in their country of asylum, including by appointing staff in the different regional Resettlement Support Centers to help coordinate the multiple steps in the process and move at-risk refugees through the system more rapidly. The current minimum time frame is around three months and the appointment of specialist staff and a commitment in each region to specific reduced target time frames will help significantly improve protection. Human Rights First also urges the U.S. to provide support for forms of protection such as safe shelter for at-risk LGBTI refugees while they wait for resettlement, as well as for particularly vulnerable individuals in their country of asylum. “The administration must continue to work to improve the timing, transparency and effectiveness of U.S. expedited resettlement processing of individuals facing urgent or imminent risks of harm, including LGBT people,” observed Breen, author of The Road to Safety. “The President’s directive has played a key role in focusing government resources and attention on the need to protect the human rights of the LGBT community and provide rapid protection to LGBT refugees who are at risk in the countries to which they have fled.” “The Presidential Memorandum report is expected to offer an opportunity to reflect on some of the administration’s successes in recent months and years,” concluded Breen. “This administration has to continue on this pace in the next six months to institutionalize its important work and secure its legacy on these issues.”