UN Vote Restores “Sexual Orientation” to Resolution on Extrajudicial, Summary Executions

Jodi Jacobson

On Tuesday (12-21-10), the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) voted overwhelmingly in favor of restoring reference to "sexual orientation" in a high-profile resolution condemning extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. The reference to sexual orientation had been removed by an earlier amendment at the committee level by governments opposed to ensuring protection for individuals targeted because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation.

This report comes from our colleagues at the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, which spearheaded efforts to achieve this victory.  Please see the IGLHRC website to sign up for regular updates.

On Tuesday (12-21-10), the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) voted overwhelmingly in favor of restoring reference to “sexual orientation” in a high-profile resolution condemning extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. The reference to sexual orientation had been removed by an earlier amendment at the committee level by governments opposed to ensuring protection for individuals targeted because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation. The vote – which passed 93 to 55, with 27 abstentions and 17 absent or not voting – demonstrated that efforts to exclude vulnerable groups from human rights protections at the UN will be vigorously opposed.

The dramatic vote comes after a UN General Assembly sub-committee responsible for human rights issues voted in November to remove the reference to “sexual orientation” from a paragraph enumerating vulnerable populations in the resolution condemning extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

The earlier removal of the reference to sexual orientation, approved in committee by a vote of 79 in favor, 70 opposed, with 17 abstaining and 26 not voting, was met by an international outcry – including from governments such as the United States who vowed to re-open the issue.

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Introducing the amendment, the representative of the United States called on governments to acknowledge that all persons have the right to be free from extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, including those targeted because of their sexual orientation. The US later went on to note that the voices of civil society and human rights defenders had been heard. They also called on UN Member States to sign onto the 2008 General Assembly declaration confirming that international human rights protections include protection from violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The discriminatory vote in November prompted a massive mobilization by civil society including through action alerts issued by ARC International and by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission – an organization which, in July, faced unsuccessful efforts by the same conservative forces to prevent it from gaining official NGO status at the UN.

“This, of course, could not have happened without the concerted and passionate efforts of several governments. But what this victory also demonstrates is the power of civil society at the UN and working across countries and regions to demand that their own governments vote to protect LGBT lives.” said Cary Alan Johnson, Executive Director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC). “The outpouring of support from the international community sent the strong message to our representatives at the UN that it is unacceptable to make invisible the deadly violence LGBT people face because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation.”

Following the November vote, civil society from around the world – including strong coalitions from the Global South – were vocal in pressuring their governments to support critical human rights protections for LGBT people. As the ad hoc civil society coalition from South Africa noted:

“The November amendment … aggravates an already difficult environment for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people and their defenders, who live in continual fear of violent attack and experience discrimination throughout Africa and many other parts of the world. …and ignores the overwhelming evidence that people are routinely killed around the world because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation.”

Following the successful inclusion of language on sexual orientation, the resolution itself passed with a vote of 122 in favor and 1 against (with 62 abstentions and 17 absences). It now states, “To ensure the effective protection of the right to life of all persons under their jurisdiction and to investigate promptly and thoroughly all killings, including those targeted at specific groups of persons, such as…killings of persons belonging to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities, or because of their sexual orientation….”

This marks a return to previous inclusive language that governments in the UN have supported for close to a decade. These abuses have also been consistently documented by UN Special Rapporteurs in reports to the UN Human Rights Council and its predecessor, the Commission on Human Rights, a point noted in today’s statement by Belgium on behalf of the European Union.

Regrettably, governments have so far failed to include in the resolution mention of, or specific protection around, killings committed on the basis of gender identity. This is despite the fact that transgender people around the world are among those most vulnerable to violence and killings.

The vote to reinstate protections passed with broad cross-regional support. Many states took the floor in support of inclusion of reference to the vulnerability of LGBT people and calling for a stronger response against killings on the basis of sexual orientation that take place all too frequently around the world.

Several swing states indicated a change from their votes in November. South Africa, a key vote from the African region, stated that in today’s vote they were “guided by our Constitution that guarantees the right to life” and that “no killing of human beings can be justified whatsoever.” Colombia, which abstained on the earlier vote, also offered its unequivocal support during the new vote.

Although several countries claimed a supposed lack of a definition of sexual orientation in international law as a reason for their opposition, countries such as Rwanda firmly rejected this saying: “Take my word, a human group need not be legally defined to be the victim of executions and massacres as those that target their members have [already] previously defined [them]. Rwanda has also had this bitter experience sixteen years ago. It is for this that the Delegation of Rwanda will vote for this amendment and calls on other delegations to do likewise.”

Tuesday’s vote affirms the message of UN Secretary Ban Ki Moon, who on International Human Rights Day, delivered an unequivocal statement – much quoted by States supporting the amendment – on the obligation of the UN and its member states to end violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

He declared:

“Together, we seek the repeal of laws that criminalize homosexuality, that permit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, that encourage violence. People were not put on this planet to live in fear of their fellow human beings.”

Watch the video from Human Rights Day Event and read UN Secretary Ban Ki Moon’s full statement »

Commentary Politics

On Immigration, Major Political Parties Can’t Seem to Agree on What’s ‘Un-American’

Tina Vasquez

As far as immigration is concerned, neither the Democrats nor Republicans are without their faults, though positions taken at the conventions were clearly more extreme in one case than the other.

Read more of our coverage of the Democratic National Convention here.

Immigration has been one of the country’s most contentious political topics and, not surprisingly, is now a primary focus of this election. But no matter how you feel about the subject, this is a nation of immigrants in search of “el sueño Americano,” as Karla Ortiz reminded us on the first night of the Democratic National Convention (DNC). Ortiz, the 11-year-old daughter of two undocumented parents, appeared in a Hillary Clinton campaign ad earlier this year expressing fear that her parents would be deported. Standing next to her mother on the DNC stage, the young girl told the crowd that she is an American who wants to become a lawyer to help families like hers.

It was a powerful way to kick-start the week, suggesting to viewers Democrats were taking a radically different approach to immigration than the Republican National Convention (RNC). While the RNC made undocumented immigrants the scapegoats for a variety of social ills, from U.S. unemployment to terrorism, the DNC chose to highlight the contributions of immigrants: the U.S. citizen daughter of undocumented parents, the undocumented college graduate, the children of immigrants who went into politics. Yet, even the stories shared at the DNC were too tidy and palatable, focusing on “acceptable” immigrant narratives. There were no mixed-status families discussing their deported parents, for example.

As far as immigration is concerned, neither the Democrats nor Republicans are without their faults, though positions taken at the conventions were clearly more extreme in one case than the other. By the end of two weeks, viewers may not have known whether to blame immigrants for taking their jobs or to befriend their hardworking immigrant neighbors. For the undocumented immigrants watching the conventions, the message, however, was clear: Both parties have a lot of work to do when it comes to humanizing their communities.  

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“No Business Being in This Country”

For context, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his running mate Mike Pence are the decidedly anti-immigrant ticket. From the beginning, Trump’s campaign has been overrun by anti-immigrant rhetoric, from calling Mexicans “rapists” and “killers” to calling for a ban on Muslim immigration. And as of July 24, Trump’s proposed ban now includes people from countries “compromised by terrorism” who will not be allowed to enter the United States, including anyone from France.

So, it should come as no surprise that the first night of the RNC, which had the theme of “Make America Safe Again,” preyed on American fears of the “other.” In this case: undocumented immigrants who, as Julianne Hing wrote for the Nation, “aren’t just drug dealers and rapists anymorenow they’re murderers, too.”

Night one of the RNC featured not one but three speakers whose children were killed by undocumented immigrants. “They’re just three brave representatives of many thousands who have suffered so gravely,” Trump said at the convention. “Of all my travels in this country, nothing has affected me more, nothing even close I have to tell you, than the time I have spent with the mothers and fathers who have lost their children to violence spilling across our borders, which we can solve. We have to solve it.”

Billed as “immigration reform advocates,” grieving parents like Mary Ann Mendoza called her son’s killer, who had resided in the United States for 20 years before the drunk driving accident that ended her police officer son’s life, an “illegal immigrant” who “had no business being in this country.”

It seemed exploitative and felt all too common. Drunk driving deaths are tragically common and have nothing to do with immigration, but it is easier to demonize undocumented immigrants than it is to address the nation’s broken immigration system and the conditions that are separating people from their countries of originconditions to which the United States has contributed. Trump has spent months intentionally and disingenuously pushing narratives that undocumented immigrants are hurting and exploiting the United States, rather than attempting to get to the root of these issues. This was hammered home by Mendoza, who finished her speech saying that we have a system that cares more about “illegals” than Americans, and that a vote for Hillary “puts all of our children’s lives at risk.”

There was also Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a notorious racist whose department made a practice of racially profiling Latinos and was recently found to be in civil contempt of court for “repeatedly and knowingly” disobeying orders to cease policing tactics against Latinos, NPR reported.

Like Mendoza, Arpaio told the RNC crowd that the immigration system “puts the needs of other nations ahead of ours” and that “we are more concerned with the rights of ‘illegal aliens’ and criminals than we are with protecting our own country.” The sheriff asserted that he was at the RNC because he was distinctly qualified to discuss the “dangers of illegal immigration,” as someone who has lived on both sides of the border.

“We have terrorists coming in over our border, infiltrating our communities, and causing massive destruction and mayhem,” Arpaio said. “We have criminals penetrating our weak border security systems and committing serious crimes.”

Broadly, the takeaway from the RNC and the GOP nominee himself is that undocumented immigrants are terrorists who are taking American jobs and lives. “Trump leaned on a tragic story of a young woman’s murder to prop up a generalized depiction of immigrants as menacing, homicidal animals ‘roaming freely to threaten peaceful citizens,’” Hing wrote for the Nation.

When accepting the nomination, Trump highlighted the story of Sarah Root of Nebraska, a 21-year-old who was killed in a drunk-driving accident by a 19-year-old undocumented immigrant.

“To this administration, [the Root family’s] amazing daughter was just one more American life that wasn’t worth protecting,” Trump said. “One more child to sacrifice on the altar of open borders.”

It should be noted that the information related to immigration that Trump provided in his RNC speech, which included the assertion that the federal government enables crime by not deporting more undocumented immigrants (despite deporting more undocumented immigrants than ever before in recent years), came from groups founded by John Tanton, a well-known nativist whom the Southern Poverty Law center referred to as “the racist architect of the modern anti-immigrant movement.”

“The Border Crossed Us”

From the get-go, it seemed the DNC set out to counter the dangerous, anti-immigrant rhetoric pushed at the RNC. Over and over again, Democrats like Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-CA) hit back hard against Trump, citing him by name and quoting him directly.

“Donald Trump believes that Mexican immigrants are murderers and rapists. But what about my parents, Donald?” Sánchez asked the crowd, standing next to her sister, Rep. Loretta Sánchez (D-CA). “They are the only parents in our nation’s 265-year history to send not one but two daughters to the United States Congress!”

Each speech from a Latino touched on immigration, glossing over the fact that immigration is not just a Latino issue. While the sentiments were positiveillustrating a community that is thriving, and providing a much-needed break from the RNC’s anti-immigrant rhetoricat the core of every speech were messages of assimilation and respectability politics.

Even in gutsier speeches from people like actress Eva Longoria, there was the need to assert that her family is American and that her father is a veteran. The actress said, “My family never crossed a border. The border crossed us.”

Whether intentional or not, the DNC divided immigrants into those who are acceptable, respectable, and worthy of citizenship, and those—invisible at the convention—who are not. “Border crossers” who do not identify as American, who do not learn English, who do not aspire to go to college or become an entrepreneur because basic survival is overwhelming enough, what about them? Do they deserve to be in detention? Do their families deserve to be ripped apart by deportation?

At the convention, Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL), a champion of immigration reform, said something seemingly innocuous that snapped into focus the problem with the Democrats’ immigration narrative.

“In her heart, Hillary Clinton’s dream for America is one where immigrants are allowed to come out of the shadows, get right with the law, pay their taxes, and not feel fear that their families are going to be ripped apart,” Gutiérrez said.

The Democratic Party is participating in an all-too-convenient erasure of the progress undocumented people have made through sheer force of will. Immigration has become a leading topic not because there are more people crossing the border (there aren’t) or because nativist Donald Trump decided to run for president, but because a segment of the population has been denied basic rights and has been fighting tooth and nail to save themselves, their families, and their communities.

Immigrants have been coming out of the shadows and as a result, are largely responsible for the few forms of relief undocumented communities now have, like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which allows certain undocumented immigrants who meet specific qualifications to receive a renewable two-year work permit and exemption from deportation. And “getting right with the law” is a joke at this point. The problem isn’t that immigrants are failing to adhere to immigration laws; the problem is immigration laws that are notoriously complicated and convoluted, and the system, which is so backlogged with cases that a judge sometimes has just seven minutes to determine an immigrant’s fate.

Becoming a U.S. citizen is also really expensive. There is a cap on how many people can immigrate from any given country in a year, and as Janell Ross explained at the Washington Post:

There are some countries, including Mexico, from where a worker with no special skills or a relative in the United States can apply and wait 23 years, according to the U.S. government’s own data. That’s right: There are people receiving visas right now in Mexico to immigrate to the United States who applied in 1993.

But getting back to Gutierrez’s quote: Undocumented immigrants do pay taxes, though their ability to contribute to our economy should not be the one point on which Democrats hang their hats in order to attract voters. And actually, undocumented people pay a lot of taxes—some $11.6 billion in state and local taxes last year, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy—while rarely benefiting from a majority of federal assistance programs since the administration of President Bill Clinton ended “welfare as we know it” in 1996.

If Democrats were being honest at their convention, we would have heard about their failure to end family detention, and they would have addressed that they too have a history of criminalizing undocumented immigrants.

The 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, enacted under former President Clinton, have had the combined effect of dramatically increasing the number of immigrants in detention and expanding mandatory or indefinite detention of noncitizens ordered to be removed to countries that will not accept them, as the American Civil Liberties Union notes on its site. Clinton also passed the North American Free Trade Agreement, which economically devastated Mexican farmers, leading to their mass migration to the United States in search of work.

In 1990, then-Sen. Joe Biden introduced the Violence Against Women Act, which passed in 1994 and specifically excluded undocumented women for the first 19 of the law’s 22 years, and even now is only helpful if the victim of intimate partner abuse is a child, parent, or current/former spouse of a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident.

In addition, President Obama is called by immigrant rights advocates “deporter in chief,” having put into place a “deportation machine” that has sent more than two million migrants back to their country of origin, more than any president in history. New arrivals to the United States, such as the Central American asylum seekers coming to our border escaping gender-based violence, are treated with the same level of prioritization for removal as threats to our national security. The country’s approach to this humanitarian crisis has been raiding homes in the middle of the night and placing migrants in detention centers, which despite being rife with allegations of human rights abuses, are making private prison corporations millions in revenue.

How Are We Defining “Un-American”?

When writing about the Democratic Party, community organizer Rosa Clemente, the 2008 Green Party vice president candidate, said that she is afraid of Trump, “but not enough to be distracted from what we must do, which is to break the two-party system for good.”

This is an election like we’ve never seen before, and it would be disingenuous to imply that the party advocating for the demise of the undocumented population is on equal footing with the party advocating for the rights of certain immigrants whose narratives it finds acceptable. But this is a country where Republicans loudly—and with no consequence—espouse racist, xenophobic, and nativist beliefs while Democrats publicly voice support of migrants while quietly standing by policies that criminalize undocumented communities and lead to record numbers of deportations.

During two weeks of conventions, both sides declared theirs was the party that encapsulated what America was supposed to be, adhering to morals and values handed down from our forefathers. But ours is a country comprised of stolen land and built by slave labor where today, undocumented immigrants, the population most affected by unjust immigration laws and violent anti-immigrant rhetoric, don’t have the right to vote. It is becoming increasingly hard to tell if that is indeed “un-American” or deeply American.

News LGBTQ

Republicans Shamed on House Floor for Anti-LGBTQ Vote

Christine Grimaldi

The episode got uglier after the seven Republicans switched their “aye” votes to “noe” and pandemonium erupted on the House floor. Shouts of “Shame!” devolved into continuous booing as the amendment failed.

Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives led chants of “Shame! Shame! Shame!” Thursday as GOP leaders undermined a vote to counter an anti-LGBTQ provision in the fiscal year 2017 defense authorization bill.

The House initially voted 217 to 206 in favor of an amendment to nullify language undoing President Obama’s LGBTQ anti-discrimination measures for federal contractors found in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) (HR 4909), The Hill reported.

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) moved to counter the NDAA provision during Thursday’s series of House votes on amendments to the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2017 (HR 4974).

GOP leaders kept the vote open after the clock ran out and pressured seven Republicans to change their ballots without making the changes in full view of lawmakers at the front of the chamber, resulting in a 213-212 loss for the amendment, according to The Hill.

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Twenty-nine Republicans ended up voting in favor of the Maloney amendment. The discriminatory language could be removed when a conference committee of House and Senate lawmakers convenes to reconcile the differences between their defense authorization bills.

Rep. Steve Russell (R-OK) authored the NDAA provision, which would hold federal contractors accountable to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. The protections and exemptions under these federal laws do not apply to LGBTQ people, undoing Obama’s 2014 executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Obama didn’t bow to pressure from religious leaders to include broad religious exemptions.

“This is one of the ugliest episodes I’ve experienced in my three-plus years as a member of this House,” said Maloney, the amendment’s author, who is openly gay.

The episode got uglier after the seven Republicans switched their “aye” votes to “noe” and pandemonium erupted on the House floor. Shouts of “Shame!” devolved into continuous booing as the amendment failed.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) condemned the move in scathing terms after the failed vote.

“If we had done to the Republicans what was done to us, what was done to switch votes so that discrimination could prevail, there would be outrage expressed long into the night,” Hoyer said. Under that scenario, he said, Republicans would accuse Democrats of “undermining democracy, undermining this House, and making the House less than it should be.”

Hoyer took aim at House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), who was not on the floor after the vote. The switch occurred “far beyond what Speaker Ryan has said ought to be the end of votes,” Hoyer said.

Ryan in a press conference denied any knowledge of the GOP’s floor maneuverings. “I don’t even know,” Ryan told reporters.

“This is federalism. The states should do this,” Ryan added. “The federal government shouldn’t stick its nose in this business.”

Back on the floor, Hoyer wouldn’t name the lawmakers who switched their votes.

“Seven people who had voted not to allow discrimination decided perhaps that principle was not as important as they thought just a minute or so before,” Hoyer said. “And they will have themselves to look at tonight in the mirror.”

Hoyer’s office later confirmed the names of the Republican lawmakers—Reps. Jeff Denham (CA), Darrell Issa (CA), Bruce Poliquin (ME), David Valadao (CA), Greg Walden (OR), Mimi Walters (CA) and David Young (IA)—to Rewire.

House Rules Committee Chair Pete Sessions (R-TX), who denied a vote the day before on Rep. Charlie Dent’s (R-PA) bipartisan amendment to strike the anti-LGBTQ provision, said the Republican floor action did not amount to discrimination.

“First of all, let me say this: I am a Republican. We do not discriminate,” Sessions said in a back-and-forth with Hoyer.

Hoyer denied accusing Republicans of discrimination.

“I will not, at this point in time, hazard an opinion on that fact,” he said.

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