U.S. not doing enough to end persecution of homosexuals
November 27, 2001
We've been hearing a lot from Washington recently about how the Taliban oppresses women but not a word about how they oppress homosexuals.
On Nov. 17, First Lady Laura Bush devoted the president's weekly radio address to the subject of the women who have suffered under the regime. The State Department followed suit with a nine-page report called the "Taliban's War Against Women." The radio address and report tell of how the Taliban force women into burqas and out of schools and jobs. The punishment for noncompliance is brutal.
The information is chilling, but it is not news.
Women's organizations, human-rights organizations, the United Nations and courageous women both in Afghanistan and in exile have been saying as much for years. The world took little heed of their stories of abuse and terror and their repeated pleas for help before Sept. 11.
The story of the persecution and murder of homosexuals has also filtered out over the years, yet neither the first lady or the recently released State Department report mentioned them.
This certainly can't be out of ignorance. In previous years the State Department has reported that under the Taliban rule, those convicted of homosexuality were sentenced to death by stoning or toppling of walls. When deciding on what punishment to "give" homosexuals, a council of Taliban clerics considered burying the condemned to their necks in sand and then dropping a wall on them. Eventually they agreed on a lighter punishment, toppling brick walls without burying the men first, and allowing them a reprieve if they remained alive under the rubble after 30 minutes.
These are the gruesome stories not mentioned by our first lady or acknowledged now by our State Department.
Are homosexuals being left out of the discussions because it is expedient for the United States to build partners for the war on terrorism? Is that why our government turned a blind eye when 23 presumed homosexuals in Egypt were convicted and sentenced to hard labor last week? They and 29 others were arrested several months ago and charged in front of a state emergency court, beaten in prison and vilified in the state-controlled media for alleged homosexual acts.
Egypt is a partner with the United States in the war on terrorism. It is also the second largest recipient of U.S. aid, receiving $2 billion each year. The U.S. government should address our partner's human-rights violations and ask that the Egyptian government not terrorize its own population.
The United States must not remain silent any longer.
Our government says that we are on the side of democracy and freedom. But when we pick and choose which human rights and freedoms, and for whom, the rest of the world notices.
Our government sends the message that it cares about human rights only when expedient. The problem with this, beyond the immediate damage to those whose rights are ignored, is that over time, we lose credibility.
Human rights are for all. We should not only demand full recognition for the rights of women, but we should ask that sexual orientation be protected as well.
The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, the organization I work for, is in contact with hundreds of activists around the globe. We hear their testimonies, their fears, their hopes. Their lives demand an incredible amount of strength of courage. We ask them to keep going, not to give up.
What we ask of our own government is much less difficult. Stand up and speak out now. Acknowledge the human-rights abuses against homosexuals and insist that other governments, including our allies, stop their repression. Morality and consistency demand no less.
Sydney Levy is the communications director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (www.iglhrc.org), which is based in San Francisco. He can be reached at email@example.com.