Homophobia Olympics in the Former Soviet Union

LGBT Rights in Russia

Russian police detain a gay rights activists during an attempt to hold an unauthorized rally in central Moscow. (ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images)

In the sporting world, countries from the former Soviet Union are used to winning medals. But in terms of gay rights, the only accolades these countries are winning are the wrong ones.

olympic medalsShort of outright criminalizing homosexuality as was the norm during Soviet times, Russia and most of its former satellite states are increasingly violating lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) rights. If a 2012 Eurasia Homophobia Olympics were held today, the “winning” countries trampling on the human rights of LGBTI people would be as follows:

Gold Medal: Armenia, for officially (and utterly shockingly) justifying and defending the firebombing of a gay-friendly bar by self-described young “fascists.”


Good News for International Justice

For years, rebel group leader Callixte Mbarushimana has been living in France, enjoying impunity for heinous crimes committed in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).   Callixte leads the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a rebel group operating in the eastern part of the DRC, that has been responsible for innumerable killings of civilians, rape, abductions of women and girls for sexual slavery, recruitment of child soldiers, destruction of villages and other human rights abuses.

But fortunately, Mbarushimana’s spate of good luck may be ending. On October 11, French police arrested him on a warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC has charged him with five counts of crimes against humanity (murder, torture, rape, inhumane acts and persecution) and six counts of war crimes (attacks against the civilian population, destruction of property, murder, torture, rape and inhuman treatment). France’s actions have signaled its commitment to the ICC and to arresting war criminals.

In addition to France’s move, there are two other positive developments in the fight for international justice.  Moldova recently became the 114th country to join the ICC.  And the ICC trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo is finally set to begin on November 22, 2010, despite his last-ditch effort to appeal his case as inadmissible.  Bemba is charged with two counts of crimes against humanity (murder and rape) and three counts of war crimes (murder, rape and pillaging) for his role in crimes committed in the Central African Republic in 2002 and 2003.

You can join us in the fight for international justice. Ask the US to support the ICC’s investigations.

Crackdown After Disputed Elections?

Following disputed elections in Moldova, human rights defenders find themselves increasingly under threat. In addition to organizers of peaceful protests, several civil society organizations, including Amnesty International, are now being targeted in an intimidation campaign from the government.

These organizations have received letters from the Ministry of Justice, dated April 16, asking each to explain its position on the riots and any measures taken by them to prevent and stop the violence. Some of the organizations are claiming that this is a “call to statements of loyalty”. The majority of these organizations have also received subpoenas from their local tax inspectorates asking them to submit financial reports for 2008 and 2009, and identify their sources of income and expenditure.  Furthermore, on April 28, representatives from the local tax inspectorate visited the Amnesty International office in Moldova, requesting that the organization provide all consultants’ contracts for 2008 and 2009 as well as a copy of the list of paid members and all their passport details. This creates a grave concern for the protection of human rights and human rights defenders in Moldova, which should be guaranteed under the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

Nicola Duckworth, AI’s Europe and Central Asia program director, made the following statement:

The Moldovan authorities are failing in their duty to ensure that human rights activists are able to carry out their work unhindered and to protect them against any violations of their rights, as stated in the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights Defenders

Organizers of Moldova's Twitter Revolution Remain at Risk

The last ten days have seen massive protests in several countries, including Moldova, where the government is now accusing the organizers of peaceful demonstration on April 6 of inciting the use of extreme violence the following day.

On April 6, protestors participated in a “peaceful day of mourning” in Chisinau, in order to demonstrate against the outcome of the recent parliamentary elections. The next day, in a separate event, the protests turned into violent riots as the crowds attempted to overtake government buildings. It is unclear who started the violence, with witness accounts stating that objects were being thrown at police forces from the crowd as well as allegations that plain clothes police officers in the crowd provoked the violence.

The organizers of the April 6 demonstration, including fellow blogger Natalia Morar, used twitter and social networking sites to mobilize people. The government has accused these organizers of the peaceful protests of also planning the violence on April 7, even though they did not organize these riots. Two of the organizers, including Natalia Morar, are hiding, and urgent action is needed to protect them. The Economist just published a story that sums up Moldova’s chaos pretty well.

The protestors were demonstrating against the recent elections, which the opposition claims were manipulated. Faced with these accusations, President Voronin agreed to a recount, which the Constitutional Court authorized. This recount is being boycotted by the opposition, as they claim that it is a “trick” by the ruling party to distract from the fraudulent activities.

Moldova is a young democracy, gaining its independence after the fall of the Soviet Union. The move to a democracy has not always been easy for the Post-Soviet States, and even within Moldova there is a disputed autonomous region. The recent election has demonstrated some of the divisions within the country, as the current government has close ties to Russia and many of the opposition wants to move closer to their Romanian and its Western neighbors. Despite the difficulties in of being a young democracy, human rights cannot be ignored. Not only must the government be held accountable for any human rights abuses already committed, but it must reaffirm its dedication to human rights, ensuring that they will be respected no matter the outcome of the recount. This recount should be transparent and fair.

What detention looks like on Twitter

One of the side effects of our new social networking technology is we are getting to see human rights violations and the workings of security agencies occur in real time through tools such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.  I’ve known that for some time, but the knowledge feels different when it’s someone you have met who is affected.

Laila el-Haddad is a Duke graduate and Gaza activist.  She lives most of the time in Gaza but has returned to Duke on several occasions to talk about the Middle East.  She was passing through Cairo’s airport today on way to another venue when suddenly she and her family members were detained.

el-Haddad immediately started Twittering her detention.  If you have a Twitter account, you can follow her postings at @gazamom.  For more than 12 hours she described the unreal procession of questionings, of waiting, of discussions with the other detainees.  The most recent word she gives is authorities are denying her return to Gaza but will deport her to the U.S.

But not just a window into the detention, Twitter was also a means by which other activists could come to her assistance.  Friends at Duke immediately got in touch; American and Egyptian authorities were pressed for more information.  It seems unlikely that in this case she was saved from actual arrest, but Twitter has been credited in gaining releases in other cases.

Beyond the Twitter aspect, the detention also casts light on the hypocracy of many Arab governments’ support for Palestinian activists. The government’s support for Palestine often goes only as far as it serves their own purposes; when activists make the cause their own independently, it often — as it did in Laila’s case — brings the weight of the security forces on them.

More on Twitter: Activists in Moldova are attempting to see what a revolution would look like on Twitter.  Click here for the story.

(Thursday update and More on Twitter: Today, Egyptian police broke into the house of blogger Wael Abbas.  His reports are available on Twitter at @waelabbas.)