Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Tie US Aid to Jamaica to Gay Rights Improvements

In response to the latest US State Department human rights report released in late February, openly gay former ambassador to Romania Michael Guest, on behalf of the new international gay advoccacy organization Council for Global Equality, penned a thought-provoking column for the site.

Guest offered diplomatic reactions to the gay references, and proposed solutions from our federal government to address the human rights violations our brothers and sisters face around the planet:

Where this year's report mentions either LGBT abuses by government security forces, or legal discrimination against LGBT individuals, I want our embassies to be instructed to engage immediately with host foreign officials, at senior levels, to seek recourse.

I want each of those embassies to be instructed by Washington to draft country strategies aimed at strengthening LGBT groups as part of civil society, repealing or revising discriminatory laws, and reducing societal discrimination.

I want USAID to consider augmenting or redirecting program funds for countries that are willing to make equality a real priority. And for countries that refuse this goal, I want our bilateral assistance levels to be reviewed.

Those sound like highly reasonable ideas to me, to use US ambassadors to be more active in addressing the local gay abuses, and to look at if and how foriegn aid can be tied to how a country treats its gay citizens.

But given the slow nature of the State Department on any matter, much less a gay one, I'm not convinced Guest's ideas will be considered by the department this year, and I'd be delighted if the department proved me wrong with at least publicly responding to his proposals.

An optimist might believe that after the Obama administration directed our representatives at the United Nations to support the gay declaration addressing our human rights needs, that the State Department would be more open to combating and preventing antigay abuses, and that Guest's plans have merit. I'll monitor the Council for Global Equality's site and see if they share an update of any sort on Guest's ideas.

The council issued a critique of the 2008 State Department human rights report and made suggestions to improve the situation in Jamaica for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons.

From the council's top-ten list of countries where the US should do more:

The 2008 report cites credible claims of harassment and arbitrary detention of homosexuals by public employees, with little if any investigation by police. There also have been numerous anti-gay mob attacks, at times apparently with direct police complicity; some of these attacks have resulted in murder. In December, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued a statement “....strongly condemn(ing) the high level of homophobia that prevails throughout Jamaican society (which) has resulted in violent killings of persons thought to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transsexual, as well as stabbings, mob attacks, arbitrary detention and police harassment.” Referring to four murders in the past year and a half – including the firebombing of the home of a person believed to be gay, and the chopping to death by machete of another individual who was gay – the statement further notes that “Defenders of the rights of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals have been murdered, beaten and threatened, and the police have been criticized for failing in many instances to prevent or respond to reports of such violence.”

What can the U.S. do?

Senior U.S. officials should urge Jamaica’s Prime Minister to show leadership by condemning this violence and instituting measures to bring these and any future perpetrators to justice. U.S. police assistance should be targeted toward programs that promote tolerance and the defense of vulnerable groups against mob violence.

It's been a few weeks since the council made this recommendation, which I hope was shared with the appropriate senior officials, and I'd like to know if the State Department has replied to the council. I'll get in touch with Guest and his group this week to what advances they've made with their Jamaican concerns.

What I like about Guest's foreign aid review tied to a country's gay human rights record is that it's another stick with which to leverage some change with the Jamaican government. Such a review, coupled with our ambassador in Kingston exerting more pressure on the government to protect the lives of gays, are other avenues along with Boycott Jamaica campaign, that will show the Jamaican government and people the rules of engagement on homosexuals are changing.

No more anti-gay Jamaican business as usual. And be sure to visit the fabulous site.

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