UN told of persecution of gays in Africa and the Middle East
The United Nations Security Council has heard how gay people live in constant fear of violence and death where they are living under authoritarian governments, militant groups and the Islamic State (ISIS).
In the first-ever meeting on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights at the United Nations Security Council in New York this month, two gay refugees gave testimony in a closed session, co-sponsored by US and Chile.
The session was held to highlight the risk of violence faced by LGBT people in ISIS-held areas.
Homosexuality is generally not culturally accepted in many Middle Eastern and African countries; a situation which has led to the persecution of many in the LGBT communities.
Protecting the rights of these groups is further complicated in areas where armed conflict is raging.
“In Syria and Iraq, the presence of ISIS has increased the vulnerability of millions and further entrenched structural and cultural violence against women and LGBT persons,” Jessica Stern, Executive Director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, told the Security Council.
Ms Stern urged UN agencies to create programs to assist LGBT people and for the UNHCR and governments to help resettle LGBT refugees.
ISIS has documented its acts of brutality against anyone who violates their strict interpretation of Islamic tenets, including gay people.
Since beginning their campaign to establish an Islamic caliphate across Iraq and Syria in the last year, ISIS has killed at least 30 people for ‘sodomy’ including by stoning, shooting them to death, beheading them and throwing them from buildings.
The UN session featured a disturbing slideshow of images depicting the killings of those accused of sodomy by ISIS between June 2014 and August 2015.
Subhi Nahas, a gay Syrian refugee, addressed the Council in person while “Adnan,” a gay Iraqi, spoke by phone and used a pseudonym for his own security.
Nahas said he hoped his testimony would highlight the struggle faced by many LGBT youth in ISIS-besieged areas, while Adnan told the Security Council he had to leave a society where “being gay means death.”
“I was hoping that my message will prove that LGBT is not just a terminology invented by the West, but there is an LGBT community in the Middle East and in Africa and they stand together and they want their rights too,” Nahas told reporters outside the Security Council.
Nahas described how attacks on gay people in Syria ramped up in 2011 as rebel militias and armed groups, as well as Syrian government troops, arrested and beat gay men in bars, parks and other locations known for being frequented by LGBT people. In 2012, Nahas was arrested along with 11 others at a government checkpoint while on his way to university.
After his detention, Nahas went back home. His father became increasingly violent toward him and he was afraid to go out.
A few months later Jabhat al-Nusra, a Syrian militant group linked to Al-Qaeda, took control of Nahas’s hometown, Idlib, and vowed to cleanse the city “of everyone who was involved in sodomy,” Nahas said. “I was terrified that would be my fate,” Nahas told Newsweek magazine.
“I knew I would face death if I didn’t do anything, so I contacted my friend in Lebanon and I arranged my escape there,” he said.
From Lebanon he went to Turkey then to the US.
Nahas now works for the Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration (ORAM), a policy group that helps resettle LGBT refugees and asylum seekers.
Nahas said he felt “very empowered” to address the Security Council. “We’re doing something really big,” he said.
‘Adnan’ told the council how his own family turned against him when ISIS began hunting him.
“If ISIS didn’t get me, members of my family would have done it,” he said.
Neil Grungras, founder and executive director of ORAM, says most LGBT refugees originate from the Middle East—namely Syria, Iraq and Turkey—and Africa—primarily Kenya, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia.
Members of the LGBT community “really fear persecution” as they “watch these horrendous sights of people being hurled off buildings,” Grungras said.
“They won’t come out and request protection because they’re too afraid to tell anyone,” he said.
Chad and Angola, two members of the 15-member council, did not attend the meeting, according to Associated Press reports.
Being gay is illegal in Angola, and while homosexuality is legal in Chad, the country’s government is seeking to outlaw it.
The remaining members of the council made statements at the meeting, except Russia, China, Malaysia and Nigeria.
The US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power said after the session that it was “a very moving meeting and “a sign that this issue is getting injected into the mainstream at the United Nations.”
AMES Australia Staff Writer