Sunday, July 11, 2004

LGBT Rights Project Human Rights Watch

found on: lgbt-india

From Scott Long (
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Project
Human Rights Watch

Dear fellow activist,

I want to introduce you to an important new program at Human Rights
Watch.  We have launched a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender
Rights Project; we can now give permanent institutional form to our
commitment to combating violations based on sexual orientation or gender identity. I have accepted a position as Director of this new program.

Human Rights Watch, as many of you are aware, is one of the largest and best-known human rights organizations in the world.   We carry out timely and accurate investigations, offer informed policy
recommendations, and generate intense pressure to confront human rights abusers and defend basic freedoms.  Through vigilant monitoring, reporting, and advocacy, Human Rights Watch has advanced essential human rights protections in over ninety countries for twenty-five years.

This announcement of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Project is a belated one---due to the intensity of the work we’ve been engaged in since its start.  The first day of the program, March 1, saw me in Cairo, accompanied by Human Rights Watch’s executive director, Kenneth Roth, to release our report on Egypt’s persecution of men suspected of having sex with men.  “In A Time of Torture: The Assault of justice in Egypt’s Crackdown on Homosexual Conduct” detailed for the first time the full scope and sweep of a massive campaign of repression.  Since then, we have intensively lobbied Egypt’s government, as well as European and U.S. officials, to end the arrests. (You can find a copy of the report at

In March and April, we spent six weeks in Geneva, during the annual
session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.  Together with the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), we assisted over a dozen grassroots activists to attend the session, and meet and lobby government delegates.  The activists spoke out at panels and on the floor of the Commission itself about abuses based on sexual orientation and gender identity. They met with U.N. officials and networked with other non-governmental organizations. As a result, we saw unprecedented recognition of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues at the U.N.’s most important human rights forum.  The voices and visions of campaigners for sexual autonomy gained unprecedented attention.  And many governments had to take unprecedented heed of people whose inherent dignity they steadily attack while, ironically, denying their very existence.  These committed, courageous activists sent a message to those who wield power: sexual rights matter.

These projects have set a demanding precedent for this program’s future work.  We will continue with detailed reporting about human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity.  We will show their seriousness; the conditions that allow them to occur; and the changes needed to end them.  Most importantly, though:  we want to support activists like yourself wherever possible, in your vital situations and struggles.  We look forward to learning from you, and strategizing with you in responding to discrimination and abuse.  We hope to help build bridges between movements working in differentsituations, yet facing similar obstacles. We hope as well to help bridge the gap between activists doing essential work at the grassroots level, and the organizations and international institutions that have too often neglected lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people’s concerns.

This new program builds on the substantial work Human Rights Watch has already undertaken in defending lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people’s rights.  In past years, we have shown the brutal impact of Romania’s criminalization of homosexual conduct, and helped mobilize Europe for the repeal of sodomy laws continent-wide.  We have revealed the extent of violence against LGBT youth in U.S. schools, and shown how school officials’ toleration of such “bullying” violates international human rights standards.  

We are the only “mainstream” international human rights organization to have taken a stand supporting equality in civil marriage.  Together with IGLHRC, we have documented the effects of state-sponsored homophobic rhetoric on people’s lives in southern Africa.    In the coming months Human Rights Watch will release reports
on widespread discrimination and abuse targeting LGBT people in Turkey,and on appalling homophobic violence in Jamaica.  (For more information on all this, visit our webpage at

You, as activists, make all these efforts possible.  The constituencies you support and the information you gather are the backbone, and inspiration, behind our own work in support of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people’s rights.  We want to work closely with you in the coming years.  We encourage you to contact us at any time—with questions, suggestions, or concerns.  We especially encourage you to tell us about cases of abuse or discrimination as  they occur.  We want to cooperate with you in confronting such cases--and in ending their underlying causes.

I have been a human rights activist for almost a decade and a half.  For much of that time I worked, like many of you, at the grassroots level. In launching this program at Human Rights Watch, I commit us to continue to think locally as well as globally.   Yet I also hope the credibility this organization has amassed over a quarter-century of advocacy can be used to advance a simple principle: that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people’s rights are not “special” or trivial, but basic to universal rights protections.

Sexual rights are not a privilege, nor the property of a minority.  They are everyone’s birthright and everyone’s concern.  The man who faces arrest and torture in Egypt because he fell in love with a man; the lesbian in South Africa whose family believes that rape will “cure” her; the transgender woman in the United States harassed and brutalized on the street---these people share, despite their differences of geography and detail, a common cause with the woman confronting a sentence of death for adultery in Nigeria; with the mother ostracized and shunned by her village community in Jamaica because she contracted HIV/AIDS from a sexual partner; and with the woman in Pakistan whose parents can take her life with impunity, because her behavior supposedly strikes at the family’s “honor”---and her safety is unprotected by the state.  All these people endure abuse, and are denied their basic rights, because they have  claimed their sexual and physical autonomy in ways the state condemns and society fears.  We must stand together in asserting that our bodies are our own, that our pleasures like our pains are part of us, that our privacy and integrity and dignity cannot be bargained away.

At Human Rights Watch, we look forward to serving you, and standing with you, in the years to come.

In solidarity,

Scott Long
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Project
Human Rights Watch
350 Fifth Avenue, 34th Floor
New York, NY 10118  USA
Tel. +01 (212) 216-1297
Fax +01 (212) 736-1300


Post a Comment

<< Home