Showing posts with label UN. Show all posts
Showing posts with label UN. Show all posts

December 10, 2016

UN New Gay Rights Advocate Unfazed About Anti Gay Activism

 Nations may outlaw same-sex relations, execute gay people and oppose the very existence of his job, but the United Nations' first investigator tasked with combating violence and discrimination against gay and transgender people is undeterred.

Even countries perceived as the most virulent opponents of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) rights may have pockets of openness and tolerance, said Vitit Muntarbhorn of Thailand, the U.N.'s new gay rights independent investigator.

Muntarbhorn's job - to address, protect against and combat violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity - was created by the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council despite strong objections by Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries.

African states then sought to have his work suspended, but their effort was overridden by Latin American and Western nations at the United Nations last month.

Still, Russia and Egypt, speaking on behalf of the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, have said they would not recognize Muntarbhorn's mandate nor cooperate with him.

"What is important from my perspective is not to see countries or governments as monolithic," Muntarbhorn told the Thomson Reuters Foundation this week, in one of the first interviews he has given since his appointment in September.

"If you start to liaise and bridge-build, you will also find niches where you will find people who are more open," he said.

"So my approach has always been that I must dialog with, I must interlink with those who might say no to the mandate from the start."

More than 70 nations have laws against same sex relations, and hundreds of LGBTI people have been killed and thousands injured in recent years, the U.N. has reported.

Yet one country might take entirely different approaches toward gay and transgender people, leaving room for progress, said Muntarbhorn, 64, an international law professor at the Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand.

He has served on several U.N. bodies, including inquiries on Syria and as a special rapporteur on North Korea.

"For example, in my country, there's no law against gays ... but for the trans group, they can't change their gender identity," Muntarbhorn said.

Unable to change their legal identities, transgender people face issues from access to toilets to job and immigration rights, he said.

Other countries might support transgender rights yet have laws making gay people subject to the death penalty, he said.

Neither are the rights or expectations of the LGBTI community the same across the world, he added.

Along with violence and discrimination are such issues as rights to marry and adopt, he said. Some intersex people, meanwhile, who have ambiguous sex characteristics and identify as neither male nor female, are concerned with overcoming a medical perception that they are abnormal, he said.

Muntarbhorn added that he does not look at his task in terms of how many people he might represent around the world.

"One person might be affected 10, 20, 100 times, bullied at a young age, can't go to toilet, laughed at, tortured, ultimately killed and defamed at the same time," he said. "How many violations can you count?" (Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols, Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit

Ellen Wulfhorst
(Thomson Reuters Foundation) -

November 22, 2016

Putin,Arabs Tried Killing LGBT Rights Investigator’s Office-Putin Lost


African states failed on Monday to halt the work of the first U.N. independent investigator appointed to help protect gay and transgender people worldwide from violence and discrimination.

The 47-member U.N. Human Rights Council, based in Geneva, created the position in June and in September appointed Vitit Muntarbhorn of Thailand, who has a three-year mandate to investigate abuses against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people.

In an unusual move, African states put forward a draft resolution in the 193-member U.N. General Assembly third committee, which deals with human rights, calling for consultations on the legality of the creation of the mandate. They said the work of the investigator should be suspended.

However, Latin American countries, supported by Western nations, successfully proposed an amendment that gutted the African group draft resolution. The amendment was adopted in the third committee on Monday with 84 votes in favor, 77 against and 17 abstentions.

The amended draft resolution, which makes no change to the work of the gay rights investigator, was then adopted by the third committee with 94 votes in favor, three against and 80 abstentions.

Russia and Egypt, speaking on behalf of the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, said they would not recognize the mandate of the gay rights investigator and would not cooperate with Muntarbhorn. Britain urged all countries to cooperate with the investigator.

Being gay is a crime in at least 73 countries, the U.N. has said. The issue of gay rights consistently sparks heated debate at the United Nations.

In 2014, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon said the U.N. would recognize all same-sex marriages of its staff, allowing them to receive U.N. benefits. Russia unsuccessfully tried to overturn it last year, with Saudi Arabia, China, Iran, India, Egypt, Pakistan, and Syria among 43 states that supported Moscow.

In February the African Group, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and the 25-member "Group of Friends of the Family," led by Egypt, Belarus and Qatar, protested the launch of six U.N. stamps promoting LGBT equality.

Then a group of 51 Muslim states blocked 11 gay and transgender organizations from officially attending a high-level U.N. meeting in June on ending AIDS, sparking a protest by the United States, Canada and the European Union. (Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Grant McCool)

September 21, 2016

Proof Positive Russian Airstrikes Hit the Aid Convoy

This image provided by the Syrian anti-government group Aleppo 24 news, shows damaged trucks carrying aid, in Aleppo, Syria, Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016. A U.N. humanitarian aid convoy in Syria was hit by airstrikes Monday as the Syrian military declared that a U.S.-Russian brokered cease-fire had failed. The US says it is holding Russia responsible for the attack, saying two Russian SU-24 figther jets (inset) were in the area during the attack. AP

 American military officials told CNN on Tuesday that radar, signals intelligence, and aerial surveillance all suggest that Russian aircraft were responsible for airstrikes on an aid convoy near Aleppo, Syria that killed at least 20 people.
"All the evidence we have points to that conclusion," one official told CNN.
The Red Crescent aid convoy was heading to a village just outside Aleppo Monday night when 18 of its 31 trucks, which were carrying UN supplies, were struck in at least two waves of strikes. As a result, the UN has halted all aid delivery in the country.
The attack occurred shortly after a ceasefire agreement between the Syrian regime and rebels seeking to oust President Bashar al-Assad, which was intended to allow the passage of humanitarian aid, broke down amid renewed fighting.
The Russian military had already denied that Russia or Syria had anything to do with the attacks. Russia's defense ministry released drone footage that they argue proves other factors were at play.
"We carefully studied the video recordings of the so-called activists from the scene and found no signs that any munitions hit the convoy," said Russian military spokesperson Igor Konashenkov, according to Kremlin-owned news agency TASS. "Everything shown on the video is the direct consequence that the cargo caught fire and this began in a strange way simultaneously with carrying out a massive offensive of militants in Aleppo."
While the official explanation was that the convoy had not been hit with munitions, Konashenkov did imply that an offensive from Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda linked militant group, had something to do with the deadly strikes.
Later in the day, TASS issued a new report, again quoting Konashenkov, suggesting that the convoy had been accompanied by a "terrorists' truck with a mortar."
"It is not clear who is covering home [sic]: either the mortar is covering the convoy with the White Helmets volunteers or vise versa," the spokesperson said, seemingly implying that the humanitarian aid workers had been working in conjunction with the al-Nusra fighters.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which employs a network of activists in the country to monitor attacks on civilians, reports that it was a series of airstrikes that took out the convoy in Aleppo.
If Russia is proven responsible for the attack, it would be a black eye for the Putin regime, which spent the better part of Monday condemning an accidental airstrike carried out by the US on a Syrian military position, also near Aleppo. 
It's not the first time Russia and America have argued about who was behind an airstrike in Syria. In August, neither country could agree on who was responsible for taking out the Islamic State's second-in-command.
Despite the seeming disintegration of the cease fire, US Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters that the agreement is “not dead" and is planning on meeting his counterparts, including Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, again on Friday.
Follow Justin Ling on Twitter: @Justin_Ling

July 1, 2016

U.N. Creates Watch Dog for LGBT Human Rights

The top human rights body of the United Nations voted on Thursday to appoint an independent monitor to help protect gay and transgender people around the world from violence and discrimination.

The U.N. Human Rights Council, based in Geneva, creates an “independent expert” charged with identifying the root causes of violence and discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity, and then talking with governments about ways to protect them.

The resolution that passed was the United Nations’ most overt expression of gay rights as human rights, and is considered a milestone.

The vote on the 47-member council passed only narrowly, with 23 nations in favor, primarily from Europe and Latin America. Though that was not a majority, six countries abstained, including India, South Africa and the Philippines. The 18 votes against it came from Russia, Africa and most of the Muslim countries on the panel. Albania was the only member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to favor creating an envoy for LGBT issues. The seats periodically rotate, and the United States currently does not sit on the council.

In a bow to the sensitivities of those countries where homosexuality is widely frowned upon, the resolution had a last-minute amendment added noting that “the significance of national and regional particularities and various historical, cultural and religious backgrounds must be borne in mind.” Nevertheless, it adds, “It is the duty of States, regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems, to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

Randy Berry, the State Department’s Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons, called the decision historic, but expressed disappointment that opponents had succeeded in adding wording suggesting LGBI rights may be a cultural imposition.

“It diminishes very slightly something extraordinary that happened,” he said in an interview. “As we look at what motivates that kind of objection, it’s a misplaced fear that the intent of creating an independent expert is to condemn or criticize. All along, it was clear the dialogue is to be informative, a resource for all countries, including our own, to get better on LGBTI issues.”

The resolution was put forward not by the United States but by several countries in Latin America — Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Uruguay. Latin America has some of the world’s most advanced legal protections for gay and transgender people.

Though the resolution was being prepared before the June 12 massacre in a gay nightclub in Orlando, some human rights activists said they thought the mass shooting played a role in propelling the Human Rights Council resolution forward.

The U.N.Security Council condemned the Orlando shooting in a statement that made headlines because for the first time the body had specifically mentioned sexual orientation as a factor, saying 49 victims they had been targeted because of who they are. 

“Orlando became part of the conversation around the resolution,” said Jessica Stern, executive director for Outright Action International, a U.S.-based human rights group. “I think it caused some governments on the fence to stop and take their decision much more seriously. You can’t keep your head in the sand after what happened at the Pulse nightclub.”

Under the resolution that passed, all the members of the United Nations are expected to cooperate with the expert, like the experts who already exist to investigate human rights abuses in countries or around themes. The countries are asked to facilitate the expert’s visits, and consider any recommendations that are made.

Shawn Gaylord, an advocacy counsel with Human Rights First, said the position has symbolic and practical value.
“It makes clear that LGBT rights are human rights,” he said. “That’s an essential part of the U.N. moving forward. On a practical level, there are resources that will flow and more staffing for LGBT issues to be researched, reviewed and recommendations made.”

Gaylord said an expert can find room for common ground, even in countries where gay and transgender people face social ostracism.

“If you’re talking about whether LGBT people should be protected from violence, a lot of countries would speak up for that,” he said. “Some countries are more challenging than others. But there’s always room for debate.”

Homosexual activities are illegal in 70 countries, 10 of which treat it as a capital offense.

May 19, 2016

American Culture Wars Like LGBT and HIV Hits the UN

Image result for world un  aids

THE PHENOMENON known in American domestic affairs as the culture wars has gone well and truly global. If anyone needs proof of that, consider the row that has erupted at the United Nations in recent days over plans for a high-level meeting next month on the fight against HIV/AIDS. The United States, the European Union and Canada are appalled by the fact that 11 gay and transgender groups have been barred from the gathering under pressure from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which groups 57 mainly Muslim lands. Egypt spearheaded the OIC’s diplomatic moves.

According to agency reports, America’s UN ambassador Samantha Power (pictured) raised the matter in an indignant letter to the president of the General Assembly. She wrote:

Given that transgender people are 49 times more likely to be living with HIV than the general population, their exclusion from the high-level meeting will only impede global progress in combating the HIV/AIDS pandemic...The movement to block the participation of NGOs on spurious or hidden grounds is becoming epidemic and severely damages the credibility of the UN.
Around UN headquarters on New York’s East River, the origins of this “movement” are clear enough: it reflects a social-conservative diplomatic coalition orchestrated mainly by the OIC and Russia, with some opportunistic support from China. Last year, all those parties tried to overturn a decision by Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, to recognise same-sex marriages among the world body’s staff. Feelings are running high this week because of yesterday’s International Day against Homophobia. 

This traditionalist coalition has been rallying its forces even as LGBT rights gain prominence in the diplomatic agenda of Western countries. Ms Power, a respected writer on the subject of genocide, has made the LGBT question a personal priority. She recently invited 17 of her fellow UN ambassadors, including the envoy of Russia, to watch a musical set in a small American town about a father and daughter who are both gay.

It’s striking that Vladimir Putin’s Russia, while taking a strident stance against Islam-inspired terror, has been eager to team up with Islamic governments in resisting the global movement for LGBT rights and same-sex marriage. Moscow’s foreign-policy rhetoric has raised the standard of “traditional” values and cultures which have a common interest in resisting the liberal tide. As is pointed out by Lucian Leustean, a scholar of geopolitics and religion at Britain’s Aston University, Russia’s new national-security strategy makes prominent mention of “spiritual security”, in other words the idea that Russia’s moral and metaphysical values are under global threat. This converges, at least in part, with the concept of “faith security” which has been used by the Egyptian government to justify strict government oversight of religion, clamping down on atheism and “blasphemy” as well as ultra-pious extremism.

And in Russia and Egypt alike, being an international advocate for traditional values seems perfectly consistent with dealing fairly harshly at home with forms of religion that don’t conform to officially approved norms. Forum 18, an independent religious-freedom campaign, said today in a report that it knew of 119 individuals who had been prosecuted in Russia last year for exercising freedom of religion; they ranged from Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons to followers of China’s Falun Gong movement. Most had received fines, a few found themselves briefly in custody. The total was a sharp rise on the 2014 figure of 23 prosecutions. 


              LGBT Group from Jamaica Barred from Attending UN AIDS Conference

The United States and the European Union are protesting a UN decision to bar at least 20 non-governmental groups from taking part in a major AIDS conference next month.
US Ambassador Samantha Power said the NGOs taken off the list of participants "appear to have been chosen for their involvement in LGBTI, transgender or youth advocacy."
In a letter to UN General Assembly president Mogens Lykketoft, Power requested that these groups, including the US-based Global Action for Trans Equality, be allowed to take part in the June 8-10 high-level meeting on HIV/AIDS.
European Union Ambassador Joao Vale de Almeida said the NGOs had been struck from the list following objections from member states and requested information on which countries opposed their presence. 
One of the European NGOs that has been barred from taking part is the Eurasian Coalition on Male Health, based in Estonia, which has been vocal on gay rights in Russia and other former Soviet republics.
Egypt requested that 11 groups be barred from attending the AIDS conference, in a request sent on behalf of 51 countries of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), according to a letter seen by AFP on Tuesday.
Aside from the Estonian and US gay activist groups, Egypt objected to the participation of Ishtar Men Who Have Sex With Men group from Kenya and the Asia Pacific Transgender Network from Thailand.
The list cited groups from Egypt, Guyana, Jamaica, Peru, Ukraine as well as African Men for Sexual Health and Rights, a coalition of 18 LGBT groups across Africa.
The EU ambassador wrote in his letter sent last week that changes to an initial list of delegations were made without consulting member states.
"Given that transgender people are 49 times more likely to be living with HIV than the general population, their exclusion from the high-level meeting will only impede global progress in combatting the HIV/AIDS pandemic and achieving the goal of an AIDS-free generation," Power wrote in her letter.
The high-level meeting is aimed at fast-tracking measures to end the HIV epidemic by 2030.

March 3, 2016

US Ambassador to UN Takes Russian Counterpart to Gay Play

Image result for Tony Award-winning play “Fun Home”

Over 70 countries have anti-gay laws which is one reason why Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, decided to take 17 U.N. ambassadors to the theater Tuesday night to see the Tony Award-winning play “Fun Home” whose main character is a lesbian with a closeted gay dad.

Power, a strong advocate for the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals, got a standing ovation at the end of the play, led by Tony nominee Beth Malone who thanked her and President Barack Obama for doing “so much for LGBT rights.”

Based on the autobiographical graphic novel by Alison Bechdel, “Fun Home” centers on growing up in a family-owned funeral home in a small Pennsylvania town where the daughter realizes she’s attracted to women and the father has secretly had affairs with men.
Power said she invited a diverse group of ambassadors to see the stories of real lives to bring home “the challenges that LGBT people face every day around the world.”

According to a report last June by the U.N. human rights chief, at least 76 countries have laws used to criminalize and harass people on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity or expression, including laws criminalizing consensual same-sex relationships among adults.

The 17 ambassadors spanned the globe from Australia, Vietnam and Namibia to Norway, Mexico, Uruguay and Russia, which was strongly criticized for its anti-gay laws ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Several ambassadors said after the play that they arrived not knowing what it was about.

Power said the play dramatizes the LGBT issue “in a way that (U.N.) resolutions and statements never can.”
“This is the way we are going to break through,” she said. “It’s about imagining oneself. It’s about imagining one’s child. It’s about imagining one’s father.”

But Power stressed that “it takes time to change the DNA of the U.N. just as it’s taken a lot of time to change the DNA of the United States.”

Actress Cynthia Nixon from the TV series “Sex and the City” moderated an after-theater panel with the writers and cast, followed by comments from several ambassadors.
“Too often our work is about abstracts,” Switzerland’s Ambassador Jurg Lauber said. “Once in a while it’s important to tell us it’s about people.”

Joao Vale de Almeida, the European Union’s ambassador to the U.N. who is from Portugal, said his younger brother told him that he was gay on a long car ride – similar to one in the play – and they organized the way that he would tell their parents.

“It could have gone wrong but they went pretty well,” he said. “It’s a good story in my case. I know (for) other people, the stories were not so good.”
Vale de Almeida said the performance was “great” and told the cast “it’s crucial that you shared (the story) with everybody.”

March 3, 2015

Putin Tries to Block UN Gay Employees Families from Getting Benefits


Last June, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a far-reaching administrative ruling that offered marital benefits for the first time to all of the United Nations’ lesbian and gay employees, as well as to other U.N. workers who had entered legally recognized domestic partnerships. On Monday, March 2, Russia gave the plan a resounding nyet.

Speaking Monday morning at a meeting of the U.N.’s main budget committee, a Russian diplomat demanded that Ban reverse his decision on the matter, saying the U.N. chief’s action violated a U.N. General Assembly resolution that left it to U.N. employees’ governments to determine whether are eligible for spousal benefits. Moscow has been weighing whether to force a vote in the budget committee, known as the Fifth Committee, to halt funding such benefits, a vote that it likely could win. Unlike the U.N. Security Council, the United States and other big powers don’t have the power to veto votes in the Fifth Committee. While its decisions are generally made by consensus, states can call for a vote.
“We will insist that the secretary-general urgently revoke the administrative bulletin” expanding benefits to same-sex couples, the Russian diplomat told the committee.“We will insist that the secretary-general urgently revoke the administrative bulletin” expanding benefits to same-sex couples, the Russian diplomat told the committee.

Russia’s critics characterized the gambit as a cynical political maneuver aimed at checking the authority of a U.N. leader who has clashed with Moscow over its policies from Syria to Ukraine. Russia has transformed what is by all accounts a low-priority administrative dispute into a high-profile power struggle with the U.N. leader.

Russia “is looking for any excuse to curtail the U.N. secretary-general’s authority,” said Jessica Stern, the executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. “It’s no secret that the secretary-general and Russia have been at cross-purposes over Ukraine and Syria, and the Russians have found the perfect political vehicle for attacking him.”

Philippe Bolopion, the U.N. representative for Human Rights Watch, said U.N. member states “should push back hard against Russia’s backwards efforts to impose on the U.N. the same kind of homophobic attitudes Moscow promotes at home.”

The Russian move comes several weeks after its diplomats distributed a memo, known as an aide-mémoire, to all U.N. members arguing that Ban’s action “violates the sovereign rights of members states to determine the legal framework of [the] life of their citizens.” Moscow said the move would make U.N. states that do not recognize same-sex marriages liable for the costs of some of those additional benefits and increase the likelihood of fraud. Under the new arrangement, according to the Russian memo, “each staff member who is not married can easily register sham traditional or same-sex marriage and can get additional dependency allowances.”

The European Union and the United States challenged the Russian position, saying the U.N. secretary-general had the authority to extend benefits for employees in domestic partnerships without seeking the approval of U.N. member states. “The secretary-general, as the head of this organization, has broad authority to manage U.N. staff under his authority, and we will protect his prerogatives in this manner,” Isobel Coleman, the U.S. representative to the United Nations for management and reform, told the U.N. budget committee Monday. “This should not be a forum for member states to undermine essential rights with respect to race, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity.”

U.N. officials say the Russian initiative, were it to succeed, could have an impact well beyond same-sex marriages, risking benefits for children adopted in a foreign country.

The U.N. first tackled benefits for same-sex couples in January 2004, when then-Secretary-General Kofi Annan issued an administrative order, known as a bulletin, that extended benefits to spouses in “domestic partnerships” as long as the union was considered legal in the staff member’s country.

The decision drew protests from conservative states, including the Vatican, and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (now called the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation), a bloc consisting of 56 Islamic countries. They pressured the U.N. to reissue a new bulletin, stripping out any references to domestic partnerships and reinforcing the need for a U.N. employee to secure his or her government’s approval to receive spousal benefits.

The new bulletin, adopted in September 2004, still allowed U.N. employees from countries where same-sex marriage was legal to receive benefits for their spouses. But it gave conservative countries a virtual veto over their nationals’ ability to receive such benefits, even if they were married in a place like New York or Paris, where same-sex marriage is recognized by the state.

The arrangement, according to U.N. officials, proved inherently discriminatory, denying benefits to U.N. employees who had the misfortune of being born in countries where same-sex marriage is outlawed. U.N. lawyers also feared it would set the stage for legal challenges within the organization. In June, Ban sought to rectify the situation, issuing a new bulletin that took the exclusive power to determine an employee’s eligibility for benefits out of the hands of his or her government. Instead, the U.N. will now look to the “competent authority” — that is, the city, country, or church or synagogue — that recognized the domestic partnership in the first place.

Russia, which has taken a harsher stance on gay rights under President Vladimir Putin, has only recently joined the fight, according to U.N. officials and human rights groups. In its memo, Russia raised concern about the “financial and legal implications” of the U.N.’s policy. But an internal U.N. review turned up only one case since Ban issued his administrative ruling last June in which a U.N. employee claimed benefits for a same-sex marriage, according to a senior U.N. official.

September 25, 2014

Obama Tell Russia Stay Out of My Way on war against Isil


Barack Obama UN speech
Barack Obama speaking about the challenge of tackling Isis extremists at the UN general assembly. Photograph: Xinhua /Landov/Barcroft Media
Barack Obama sought to strike a delicate balance at the UN general assembly on Wednesday. He had come to New York to rally the world for a new struggle against Islamic extremism – but at the same time he had to reassure his global audience it was not about to witness a replay of George W Bush’s “war on terror”.
Moreover, the president had to achieve that feat at a time when the Security Council is at its most divided for over a decade, with deep rifts between the West and Russia over Ukraine and Syria. The tone of Obama’s remarks addressed towards Moscow were as stern as anything heard from an American president since well before the fall of the Berlin Wall. In an echo of the language of the cold war, he portrayed Russia as the very antithesis of everything America stood for, and invited the world to choose between the two very models they represented.
However, most of the speech was devoted to the new challenges to world order presented by the Isis extremists in Syria and Iraq. He portrayed “the cancer of violent extremism that has ravaged so many parts of the Muslim world” as the most important challenge facing the world as it was “the one issue that risks a cycle of conflict that could derail progress” on all the other challenges facing the international community.
While acknowledging that terrorism was nothing new, the president suggested that the movement’s extreme brutality coupled with its mastery of tools of globalisation such as social media made the group a particularly potent threat.
“With access to technology that allows small groups to do great harm, they have embraced a nightmarish vision that would divide the world into adherents and infidels – killing as many innocent civilians as possible; and employing the most brutal methods to intimidate people within their communities,” he said.
Speaking hours after news broke that the US-led air campaign against the group had been extended from Iraq into Syria, he vowed that the Isis militants (for which he used the acronym Isil) would be degraded and then destroyed.
“We will use our military might in a campaign of air strikes to roll back Isil. We will train and equip forces fighting against these terrorists on the ground. We will work to cut off their financing, and to stop the flow of fighters into and out of the region,” he said. “Today, I ask the world to join in this effort. Those who have joined Isil should leave the battlefield while they can.”
In the tenor of his remarks, Obama made it clear he was aware that his address risked sounding like an echo of UN speeches made over 10 years ago by President George W Bush – an era marked by widespread distrust of the US and its motives. It is an impression deepened by the widespread doubts voiced over the legal underpinning of the campaign in Syria. But Obama tried to distance his campaign against extremism from his predecessor’s “war on terror”.
“I have made it clear that America will not base our entire foreign policy on reacting to terrorism,” Obama pledged. With the Bush legacy clearly in mind, he promised: “America will be a respectful and constructive partner. We will neither tolerate terrorist safe havens, nor act as an occupying power.”
Acknowledging that “no external power can bring about a transformation of hearts and minds”, the president said that the rejection of sectarianism and extremism was a “generational task” for the people of the Middle East. He emphasised that Washington was now seeking as wide a coalition as possible to combat the influence of Isis, starting in the Islamic world. “It is the task of all great religions to accommodate devout faith with a modern, multicultural world,” he says, calling for the battle of ideas to be taken online.
“That means contesting the space that terrorists occupy – including the Internet and social media. Their propaganda has coerced young people to travel abroad to fight their wars, and turned students into suicide bombers. We must offer an alternative vision,” he said, and he praised the #notinmyname campaign launched by young British Muslims.                                           

Obama addressed head-on the deep divide between the West and Russia that has threatened to paralyse the work of the UN Security Council. He laid out the details of Moscow’s intervention in Crimea and eastern Ukraine saying its actions in Ukraine represented a threat to the international order established after the second world war and symbolised by the UN.
“This is a vision of the world in which might makes right – a world in which one nation’s borders can be redrawn by another, and civilised people are not allowed to recover the remains of their loved ones because of the truth that might be revealed,” Obama said. “America stands for something different. We believe that right makes might – that bigger nations should not be able to bully smaller ones; that people should be able to choose their own future.”
Obama stressed that the US was willing to cooperate with Moscow on the pressing global challenges of the day, such as climate change and the spread of the Ebola virus, but only “if Russia changes course.”

July 17, 2014

UN Scores Viral Hit Vid Promoting Gay Rights


File this one away under the category of unlikely success stories: The United Nations has scored a viral hit with a Bollywood music video promoting gay rights. It sounds too good to be true, but the music video, featuring a gay couple winning over a skeptical, possibly homophobic Indian matriarch, has racked up more than a million views on YouTube.
An adaptation of the Bollywood classic Uthe Sab Ke Kadam, the video is part of the U.N.'s Free & Equal campaign to encourage gay rights and LGBT acceptance, an issue that has been championed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who last week extended spousal benefits to gay couples throughout his organization. The video features the Indian actress Celina Jaitly, who is an outspoken advocate of gay rights in India, where gay sex was recently criminalized
Here’s the video in full:

March 14, 2014

UN Chief Comes Down Hard on Nigeria on Gay Human Rights

The UN rights chief, Navi Pillay, Thursday said Nigeria's recent ban on same-sex marriage violated human rights and the nation's constitution.
"I'm concerned with the implication of the recently-passed Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act," Pillay said during a meeting with Nigeria's justice minister as part of her three-day official visit to Africa's most populous nation.
"In addition to the violation of fundamental human rights enshrined in the ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights), it is a violation also of the African Charter and the Nigerian constitution itself," she said.
Nigeria has been under fire internationally for banning gay marriage and alleged abuses while tackling Islamist insurgents in the north of the country.
President Goodluck Jonathan had in January approved a bill banning gay marriage and same-sex partnerships that sparked international condemnation.
Under the terms of the law -- criticised by the EU, US and Amnesty International among others -- anyone who enters into a same-sex marriage or civil union can be sentenced to 14 years in prison.
"It (the law) may have negative consequences for public health in Nigeria," the UN chief said.
"It may deter LGBT persons from taking up HIV education, prevention treatment and care services and also hinder the ability of government as well as civil society and religious groups from implementing such services.
She called on authorities to observe a "moratorium on prosecution".
The anti-gay law follows similar legislation in Uganda that was condemned by US President Barack Obama as "odious" and compared to apartheid by South African peace icon Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Pillay, who ends her visit to Nigeria on Friday, also expressed her concern about "the impunity enjoyed by perpetrators of human rights violations" in the country and urged authorities "to investigate and prosecute allegations of human rights violation".
She alleged that crimes committed by Boko Haram Islamists and security forces battling insurgents have "horrendous impact" on civilians.
Rights bodies and other groups have often accused security forces of human rights violations in their campaign to battle the insurgency which has claimed thousands of lives since 2009.
She said she would encourage Nigeria to take concrete steps to abolishing the death penalty by reducing the number of crimes punishable by it.
In response, Justice Minister Mohammed Bello Adoke said "the focus of the (anti-gay) Act is therefore discouragement of same-sex marriage which is a reflection of the overwhelming beliefs and cultural values of the Nigerian people".
He claimed that a 2013 opinion poll showed that 92 percent of Nigerians rejected same-sex marriage.
He added that the constitution did not approve extra-judicial killing and "has zero tolerance for any form of cruelty or inhuman treatment".
"While there have reports of extra-judicial killings, let me assure you that security officers that have been found culpable, irrespective of their position, are made to face the full weight of the law," he said.
Her visit is the first by UN human rights chief to Nigeria.
Agence France-Presse

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