Cameroon: Stop Discriminating Against LGBT People

Jean-Claude Roger Mbede

Jean-Claude Roger Mbede sentenced to 3 years in prison for “homosexuality.”

Back in December, we told you about several countries where LGBT people are at risk, and Cameroon was one of the countries we listed, and we highlighted the case of Jean-Claude Roger Mbede, sentenced to three years in prison on charges of “homosexuality” under Section 347a of Cameroon’s penal code.

The situation in Cameroon continues to be dangerous for LGBT people, or those perceived as such. Since Amnesty began working on Jean-Claude’s case, at least two more men have been sentenced to prison terms for “homosexual acts” in Cameroon. We can’t let this discrimination continue.

Jean-Claude is scheduled to have an appeal hearing on Monday, March 5th, and we’re taking action—delivering petitions and reminding the president about all the appeals he’s already received—to make sure he hears these three things loud and clear:

LGBT Rights in Turkey: Time for Action

A gay-rights activist holding a placard reading: "Don't hate, apologize," is evacuated as he protests on April 15, 2010 in Ankara against Family Affairs and Women's Minister Selma Aliye Kavaf, who declared that she believed homosexuality was a "biological disorder, a disease." © Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images

Violence, discrimination, and official contempt: a new Amnesty report on LGBT rights in Turkey outlines the difficult straits of the LGBT community in Turkey.

The report makes for grim reading.  The LGBT community in Turkey is subject to a general atmosphere of harassment and discrimination.   Violence is widespread and often comes from members of their own families.  Assault, rape, and even murder go uninvestigated and unpunished.


Hate and Intolerance Find Support in Brazil's House of Representative

Hate and intolerance have a new stage: Brazil’s House of Representatives.  While the legislative body was created for reason and discourse, one of its elected officials has found ways to degrade the federal body by promoting racism and intolerance.  Rio de Janeiro’s congressman Jair Bolsonaro is flagrantly using the legislative chamber to make racist comments against blacks and LGBT citizens, and to disseminate militaristic ideals.

During an interview with a national humoristic program, Mr. Bolsonaro was asked how he would feel if he found his son dating a black woman. He took this as an opportunity to make racist comments and indicated that he would “never allow this kind of promiscuity” (youtube video in Portuguese).  While this interview was widely publicized and has led to a huge debate about racism in Brazil’s society, it is a shame that an elected official would even dare to speak this way of any civil group or minority.   As if that weren’t enough, Mr. Bolsonaro has also expressed his support for military regimes over democratic governments.

It is absurd that an elected official would dare to utter such words.  A person that believes that the military regime is better than democracy and who thinks that minorities aren’t humans with equal rights, ought not to be called a legislator.  Mr. Bolsonaro is on his sixth consecutive term as Federal Representative for the State of Rio de Janeiro. It has been 21 years since he was first elected… What’s even worse is that he is not alone in his attitude and racist ideals.

Another Representative, this time from the State of Sao Paulo, Mr. Marco Feliciano, wrote in his Twitter account that “the filth in homoaffective feelings are conduits to hate, crime and rejection” and that “Africans descend from ancestors cursed by Noah.”

When elected official make comments such as the ones quoted in this article, racist and oppressive groups feel empowered and justified when attacking vulnerable groups.  Just last week, Sao Paulo’s police identified 200 members of skinhead gangs that attacked and in many cases killed members of the black and homosexual communities in the city.  According to a Brazilian gay group, 260 LGBT individuals were killed in Brazil in 2010, which represented 31% increase from 2009 and a 113% increase from 2005.

It is disturbing to know that those who are in charge of approving laws to protect society are the same people responsible for spreading hate and intolerance. We will only be able to reduce the number of hate crimes in Brazil when the country’s citizens demand that the rights of everyone, including the country’s minorities, are respected and protected.  It is imperative that the legislative system focuses on the creation of  laws designed to fight racism and hate crimes. Brazilians deserve better, much better.


"The Injustice of Extreme Poverty"

Yesterday, at the United Nations summit on the Millennium Development Goals, President Obama unveiled a new U.S. approach to global development. It was encouraging to see the president frame poverty as an issue of rights and justice: “In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, [the international community] recognized the inherent dignity and rights of every individual, including the right to a decent standard of living. And a decade ago, at the dawn of a new millennium, we set concrete goals to free our fellow men, women and children from the injustice of extreme poverty.”

Amnesty International – along with Realizing Rights and other organizations – has been working to put human rights at the heart of the fight against global poverty. For the president to make good on his message about human rights and development, here are some key steps for him to take:

  • Fight discrimination. The president said the U.S. will “invest in the health, education and rights of women,” and gender equality is of course crucial. But other disadvantaged groups – including racial and ethnic minorities and Indigenous Peoples – must also be prioritized.
  • Ensure participation. People living in poverty must be the chief agents of change. It’s encouraging to hear the president say that, at the nation-to-nation level, the U.S. will stress “partnering with [developing] countries” in the development process rather than “dictat[ing]” from Washington. It should also create space for each country to ensure the participation of impoverished communities.
  • Improve accountability. President Obama has called mutual accountability a “pillar of [America’s] new approach” towards development. That should include accountability to human rights standards in development.
  • Respect, protect and fulfill human rights. Finally, and most importantly, the U.S. must ensure that all efforts to achieve the MDGs are consistent with human rights standards and respect the broad spectrum of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

There’s much to be hopeful about in the president’s speech. As his administration implements its new development policy, Amnesty International will continue to push for human rights standards in U.S. development policy and the MDGs.

Prop 8 Out, Equality In

The verdict is in.  A federal judge in San Francisco today struck down a voter-approved ban on gay marriage in California.

At Amnesty, we welcome the decision as Proposition 8 challenged our basic human right to be treated equally under the law.  In response to the ruling, Amnesty International USA Executive Director Larry Cox issued the following statement:

“The U.S. District Court has sent a clear message on Proposition 8: discrimination by any means is unacceptable.  This affirms not only equality in civil marriage, but the basic human right to be treated equally under the law, without regard to an individual’s sexual orientation.

“Proposition 8 served only to stigmatize same-sex relationships in ways that can fuel further discrimination. Denying equal civil recognition of same-sex relationships compounds the effects of discrimination and undermines other rights, such as the right to housing or social security.  Amnesty International welcomes today’s ruling as an affirmation of equality under the law.”

Buzz on the Hill: Maternal Health Briefing

On April 14th, 2010, over 60 hill staff and concerned activists came out for a congressional health briefing titled “Does the New Health Care Reform Law Address Barriers Women Face When Seeking Maternal Health Care?” hosted by Congressman John Conyers (D-MI), chairman of the House Committee on Judiciary. At the request of Chairman Conyers, the briefing featured our very own Nan Strauss, Amnesty International USA’s lead researcher on our most recent report Deadly Delivery: The Maternal Health Crisis, as well as two Congressional Research Service (CRS) specialists on Medicaid.

Nan’s compelling presentation on the maternal health care crisis highlighted that while significantly needed strides were made with the passage of health care reform, the magnitude of the maternal health crisis in the U.S. continues to claim the lives of 2 – 3 women every day. Using individual stories as well as global statistics, Nan explained that in the United States:

  • Two to three women die every day of complications resulting from pregnancy or childbirth
  • Maternal deaths in the US are more likely than in 40 other countries
  • Black women are nearly four times more likely to die than white women. In high-risk pregnancies, these disparities increase dramatically
  • Many inner city hospitals are chronically understaffed. Again, women of color are more likely to seek care at understaffed hospitals than white women
  • Nearly half of maternal deaths and ‘near-misses’ could have been prevented with better access to good quality maternal health care
  • Although health care reform has many provisions that will help women, such as ending discriminatory insurance practices based upon ‘pre-existing conditions,’ many of the underlying conditions responsible for the appalling rates of maternal deaths in the US, continue to exist

As the next step after health care reform, she said, Amnesty International is calling for the establishment of an Office of Maternal Health within the Department of Health and Human Services.

You can take action here by writing to Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, and asking her to work with President Obama to establish an Office of Maternal Health.

Mona Luxion contributed to this post.

My Name Is Khan and I'm Not a Terrorist

UPDATE: Shiv Sena, a political organization with waning popularity, has been actively campaigning against this film.  Given the recent history of Shiv Sena, one can only assume that this movie has been targeted because the lead actor, Shah Rukh Khan is Muslim and he is portraying a Muslim who has suffered discrimination.  Today, there has been a noticeable increase in security in Mumbai, but no plans to cancel screenings.  On the contrary, it seems as though this controversy has caused an upsurge in excitement over the movie.

A blog about human rights is not normally a place to read about upcoming movies, but you all should have a look at the Bollywood movie “My Name Is Khan” scheduled for release tonight (2/12/2010).  The movie is about a Muslim man (played by mega Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan) who grew up in a Muslim neighborhood (but secular family) in Bombay (now known as Mumbai), immigrates to America and falls in love with the person who becomes his wife (played by another mega Bollywood superstar Kajol). Oh, here’s the trailer:

So the wrinkle is that Shah Rukh Khan’s character has Asperger’s Syndrome (a mild form of autism) and so has trouble fitting in.  Despite that, things were going really swimmingly until 9/11 results in he and his family being targeted repeatedly because of their Muslim faith.  There is discrimination and racial profiling complicated by Khan’s Asperger’s Syndrome.  The seminal moment comes when Khan is in secondary screening at the airport and he says “My name is Khan and I’m not a terrorist.”

Of course, this being a Bollywood movie, there will still be some uniquely Bollywood touches like Khan somehow ending up in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and the over the top romantic element.  But, unfortunately, there are no song and dance routines which often substitutes for quality acting in many of Bollywood’s output.  Despite that, those interested in how foreigners view the United States after 9/11 albeit in a rather un-nuanced way, cannot go wrong with this movie.  It also shows quite graphically how it feels to be discriminated against in your adopted country.

Sex in India (or, how I worried a little less about Section 377)

A young hijra from Goa.  Photo by Michael Garten,

A young hijra from Goa. Photo by Mike Garten (

OK, I admit that this post is not really about sex, but about gender identity and sexuality.  But, while you’re here, have a look at some of the positives developments for the rights of sexual minorities in India in 2009.  One major caveat: India has a very long way to go before the rights of sexual minorities are fully acknowledged and protected. The victories of 2009 will only make the smallest of dents in India’s large and growing population of people infected with HIV/AIDS and the mainstreaming of “alternative” sexual identities.  Organizations such as the Naz Foundation will theoretically be able to work in vulnerable communities with less fear of police harassment, but it still does not come anywhere close to eliminating the stigma that these communities face on a daily basis.  Thousands of gay men, lesbians and transgendered have to hide their identities from their family and community and these legal victories will do nothing to make their lives any less hidden.

Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code specified sodomy is illegal and is punishable by up to life in prison.  It was adopted in 1860 by the British Indian government at the behest Lord Macaulay.  Although some flavors of heterosexual contact was also forbidden, it was specifically written into the law to outlaw homosexuality.  Although Article 377 has been rarely used, the fact that it has been on the books and has been used to harass HIV/AIDS educators as recently as 2006 is a violation of the human rights of those engaged in private, consensual conduct and of those engaged in educating communities about HIV/AIDS prevention.

On July 2, 2009, history was made when the Delhi High Court declared Section 377 in violation of Article 14 of the Indian Constitution. One of the paragraphs of the Delhi High Court ruling is worth quoting: SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Troubled Waters: Palestinians Denied Fair Access to Water

Israel is denying Palestinians their right to access to adequate water by using discriminatory and restrictive policies.

Donatella Rovera, senior researcher on Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories said,

“Israel allows the Palestinians access to only a fraction of the shared water resources, which lie mostly in the occupied West Bank, while the unlawful Israeli settlements there receive virtually unlimited supplies. In Gaza the Israeli blockade has made an already dire situation worse.”

The report, “Troubled Waters: Palestinians Denied Fair Access to Water,” says Israel uses more than 80 per cent of the water from the Mountain Aquifer, the main source of underground water in Israel and the OPT, while restricting Palestinian access to 20 per cent.  Israel takes all the water from the Jordan River,  the Palestinians get none.


Beyond the Market: Health Care as a Civil or Human Right?

A dramatic disconnect between principles and policies has hampered current U.S. health care reform efforts. This became obvious when candidate Obama declared health care to be a right and then proceeded to treat it as a commodity when negotiating with insurance companies a requirement for individuals to buy a commercial health insurance product.

Similarly, early on in the debate the president championed the principle of universality by promising some form of health coverage – if not necessarily health care – for 46 million uninsured people, only to lower the policy goal to 30 million American citizens in his speech before Congress, excluding many immigrants and low-income people. Since then, further policy provisions that restrict access to health coverage for immigrants – documented and undocumented – and reduce affordability for lower-income people have appeared in the health care bill adopted by the Senate Finance Committee. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST