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Wednesday, September 9, 2015

United Nations Security Council Addresses Issues Concerning the LGBT Community

On Monday the 24th of August, the United Nations Security Council convened for an unprecedented meeting, organized by the U.S. and Chilean delegations to discuss issues concerning the LGBT community. This was an Arria-formula meeting, an unofficial, confidential and non-mandatory gathering of Security Council Members attended by 13 of the 15 members states of the security council (Chad and Angola chose not to participate).  China, Russia, Nigeria and Malaysia, known for their poor records regarding the LGBT community declined to comment.  

U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson (a long standing proponent for LGBT rights) and Executive Director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commision, Jessica Stern addressed the member states, as well as two young men from Iraq and Syria who shared their experiences with those present.  Speaking under the pseudonym “Adnan,” an Iraqi gay man delivered his testimony via telephone, asserting that “ISIS are professional when it comes to tracking gay people.  They hunt them down one by one.”  He spoke to the thorough and sophisticated manner in which ISIS has utilized social media. “When they capture people, they go through the person’s phone and contacts and Facebook friends.  They are trying to track down every gay man.  And it’s like dominoes.  If one goes, the others will be taken down too.” 

The persecution facing Individuals who identify with the LGBT community in both Syria and Iraq is no novelty.  However, such prejudices have been deeply exacerbated by the ongoing conflict.  Moreover, the extremity of the Islamic State’s brutality has garnered the attention of the international community. Reports have emerged documenting executions of individuals by ISIS accused of homosexuality by stoning, beheading, firing squads and throwing them from buildings--all the while, such acts have been glorified on its massive social media machine.  

United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, declared the meeting an historic event, as it is “the first time in history that the Council has held a meeting on the victimization of the LGBT persons.  It is the first time we are saying, in a single voice, that it is wrong to target people because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.  It is a historic step.  And it is, as we all know, long overdue.”  Power highlighted the scope of LGBT discrimination, which extends beyond the territory of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, but is rather a global human rights issue, and therefore the effort to realize equal rights for LGBT individuals “must be waged within every one of our countries, even those where important progress has been made--and that includes the United States.”  

The Middle Eastern dynamic of this discussion was illustrated by Subhi Nahas of Idlib Syria, who has since settled in San Francisco after gaining refugee status. Nahas feared for his life due to the presence of the Islamic State and other homophobic, extremists groups in the conflict however, Nahas could not seek refuge in his own home.  According to Nahas, in his society, “being gay means death.”  He bears the scars from his father as evidence of his intolerance.  Nahas also continued to underline the importance of recognizing LGBT rights as universal human rights, hoping his “message will prove that LGBT is not just 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.”

According to ORAM international, about 400 LGBT Syrian refugees have fled to Turkey, though it suspects a much higher figure since individuals are often afraid to speak out.  Gay women are even less likely to seek refugees status than men, due to an inequity in resources between the sexes, where women are less empowered in many instances (such as needing a male figure’s permission to travel or obtain a travel document).  

In a press release following the meeting, Samantha Power again highlighted the varying degrees of intolerant societies around the world, including countries where identifying as LGBT or engaging in homosexual acts is criminalised. “Today’s meeting is a sign that this issue is getting injected into the DNA of the United Nations [...] Until today the Security Council had never broached this topic and so this represents small but historic step.”