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The “Kill the Gays” Bill is Back

3:30 pm in Uncategorized by PaulLeGendreHRF

Several weeks ago Sharon Kelly, my colleague at Human Rights First, warned that Uganda’s notorious “Kill the Gays” might come back. Well, here it is:

The controversial Anti Homosexuality bill is one of several bills that Members of Parliament on the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs committee are set to debate when the House resumes business next week…

Public hearings are expected to be held on the bill and its author, MP David Bahati, reportedly “welcomed the development.”

Uganda is one of 83 countries where homosexuality is criminalized. If the proposed bill were to pass, it would become the eighth country where it is punishable by death.

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Are Russia’s Neo-Nazis Upping the Ante?

9:32 am in Uncategorized by PaulLeGendreHRF

On April 12, Eduard Chuvashov, a federal judge of the Russian Federation was gunned down in front of his apartment building in Moscow in a contract-style killing. Russian President Dmitri Medvedev denounced the killing as "cynical" and vowed to bring the perpetrators to justice. Police officials stated that the murder may have been an act of retribution for the sentences Judge Chuvashov handed down against neo-Nazi skinheads convicted in violent hate crimes that targeted Russian minorities.

Just last week, the 47-year-old judge sentenced two skinheads to 10 years in prison. Their group, the Ryno Gang, was convicted of killing 20 people of "non-Slavic" appearance and posting videos of the murders on the Internet. Earlier this year, in February 2010, Chuvashov jailed nine members of "White Wolves," a gang of mostly teenage skinheads that clubbed and stabbed dark-skinned migrants to death.

At some level, this brutal murder – as brazen as it was – may come as little surprise those familiar with Judge Chuvashov. Judge Chuvashov had received death threats for several weeks before the attack. One neo-Nazi website had also included him on a list of "enemies of the people" to be targeted for violence. Furthermore, this killing seems to be part of a broader trend documented by the SOVA Center for Information and Analysis – Russia’s leading monitors of neo-Nazi violence – in which the targets of neo-Nazi violence have increasingly included judges, lawyers, rights defenders, and journalists.

This murder can’t but recall several other similarly brutal slayings of those involved in work to address neo-Nazi violence: Stanislav Markelov, a human rights lawyer who had represented the mother of an anti-fascist campaigner who was murdered by skinheads, was himself gunned down in downtown Moscow, allegedly also by neo-Nazis, in January 2009; Anatasia Baburova, a freelance journalist who reported on the problem of hate crime violence, was murdered with Markelov; and Nikolai Girenko, an expert witness in several hate crime cases, who was gunned down at the entrance of his St. Petersburg apartment in 2004. Nobody has been held accountable in any of these cases, although a group of men are on currently on trial in St. Petersburg for a range of murders and other crimes, including the murder of Girenko.

The Russian criminal justice system, long overwhelmed by the surge in violent hate crimes, largely perpetrated by adherents of far-right and neo-Nazi ideologies, has begun to make some progress. In 2009, the number of such crimes decreased for the first time since 2004, in what was partly attributed to efforts by law enforcement to bring to justice some of those responsible for these brutal hate crimes. Yet, this latest tragic murder makes clear that these efforts need to include more robust protections to the prosecutors, judges, and witnesses involved in bring to justice those responsible for Russia’s endemic hate crime problem.

Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill: an Insider’s View

11:04 am in Uncategorized by PaulLeGendreHRF

Julius Kaggwa, a Ugandan human rights activist campaigning against the anti-homosexuality bill recently introduced in Uganda, analyzes the effects for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) community in today’s Huffington Post.

Kaggwa’s story illustrates the harassment the LGBT community face regularly:

In an attempt to determine the cause of my sexual variance, a dentist once
asked me if there were witches in my family. In addition to my dentist’s
unwelcome inquiries, I’ve had my house set on fire, had several demands for
invasive body searches as a prerequisite for job interviews and church
membership, and lost a job due to slanderous media coverage about my sexuality.
My personal experiences speak to the harassment that affects LGBT Ugandans every day.

The bill threatens to worsen persecution, sanctioning forms of discrimination against gays and LGBT individuals:

The more controversial provisions of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill would
sentence HIV-positive homosexuals to death for their sexual acts, make it
illegal to publicly defend LGBT rights, or provide social and medical services to LGBT individuals, and turn Ugandan citizens into anti-homosexual informers.

This piece is the first in a series of blogs Human Rights First has organized around the Human Rights Summit – which takes place February 17-19, organized by Human Rights First and Freedom House.

The event will be streamed live from Human Rights First’s site. Kaggwa will be joining an impressive list of speakers – including the Dalai Lama – to present at one of the panels. Come back to watch.

Decision on Hate Crime Adopted by the 56 OSCE States

4:13 pm in Uncategorized by PaulLeGendreHRF

On December 1-2, foreign ministers and other officials from the 56 states of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) – a conflict prevention organization bringing together states from North America, Europe, and the former Soviet Union – met in Athens, Greece for the annual ministerial meeting. A Decision on "Combating Hate Crime" was one of a dozen or so decisions adopted by ministers on issues related to security, democratization, and human rights.

This Decision comes at a time when hate crimes are on the rise throughout many parts of the OSCE and indeed, the world.

Racist and other hate crimes are reprehensible and unacceptable, whether it is a beheading of a Tajik migrant worker in Moscow, the brutal murder of a Congolese asylum seeker in Kyiv, a vigilante raid on Roma camps in Italy, an aggressive assault on gay pride parade participants in Eastern Europe, or a beating to death of a Mexican immigrant in the United States. Beyond the incomprehensible and immediate damage inflicted upon the victims of hate crimes and their families, this ongoing violence continues to erode every person’s sense of security and equality–necessities that a healthy society needs to function, much less flourish.

For some, it may come as a surprise that hate crimes are occurring so frequently. But the latest report by the Warsaw-based human rights arm of the OSCE reaffirms that hate crimes continue to be a serious problem across the region. They reported that, on the basis of data collected by States, hate crimes are occurring across the OSCE region and are motivated by a wide variety of forms of intolerance: racism and xenophobia, antisemitism, bias against Roma and Sinti, Muslims, Christians and members of other religions, bias based on sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as bias based on physical or mental disability."
Even worse, what we know may only be the tip of the iceberg because underreporting of incidents is severe and widespread. Many victims do not trust law enforcement authorities and so they keep quiet. Furthermore, contrary to their promises and commitments, countries continue to produce poor and unreliable data. As a result, it’s difficult to identify recurring trends and to know with any certainty the real number of attacks committed in a given country and the way a government has responded to them.

With this Decision, States have committed (in many cases re-committed) to taking a number of important steps to combat hate crime, including by: enacting laws that provide effective penalties for hate crimes, collecting reliable statistics on incidents, investigations, and prosecutions; encouraging better victim reporting of attacks, training law enforcement and criminal justice officials, and conducting awareness raising campaigns.
Undoubtedly, all of these are important and much needed steps. Until now, OSCE governments have largely been failing to fulfill many of these commitments: 22 states still have no express provisions on hate crime, and only 14 states are fulfilling their basic commitments to collect reliable data on hate crimes.

The international community must take a firm stand against any hate crime against anyone, anywhere. No one community under threat should be left to stand alone in the face of violent hatred and bigotry. Let’s hope that the recognition OSCE ministers gave to this issue will allow their respective governments to seize the opportunity and implement the policies prescribed by this Ministerial Council Decision.

The Ilan Halimi Murder Trial: Moving Beyond Hatred?

4:32 pm in Uncategorized by PaulLeGendreHRF

On Friday, July 10, the leader of a Paris gang was sentenced to life in prison for torturing and murdering a young Jewish man, Ilan Halimi.

In February 2006, Halimi was kidnapped, tortured and killed because he was a Jew. He was held captive for twenty-four days during which he was stabbed and burned with cigarettes and acid before being found naked and handcuffed to a tree.
The murder of Ilan Halimi sparked outrage in the international community. Human rights and community groups urged then-President Jacques Chirac to ensure that Halimi’s murderers were brought to justice. More than three years later, some level of justice and accountability was achieved with Friday’s court decision.

Although Human Rights First does not take a position on the adequacy of sentencing decisions in individual cases, there have been mixed reactions to the verdict and sentencing of the twenty-seven defendants. On the one hand, the murderer, Yousseuf Fofana, was sentenced to life imprisonment – the maximum sentence prescribed by the French criminal code. On the other hand, the Halimi family lawyer Francis Szpiner told reporters that he was “scandalized” that other suspects received relatively light sentence recommendations. Some Jewish organizations in France called for a mass gathering outside the Justice Ministry to protest against “too-lenient court sentencing” for the gang of youths. Beyond Fofana, twenty-four other members were handed sentences ranging from six months suspended to 18 years in prison. Two were acquitted. Fofana’s two main accomplices were sentenced to 15 and 18 years respectively, while a young woman who lured Halimi to his place of captivity will spend nine years in jail. On July 13, in apparent response to complaints of lenient sentences, French Justice Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie called for a new trial of 14 of Fofana’s accomplices in the murder of Halimi.
A Read the rest of this entry →

A Place for Human Rights at the U.S.-Russia Summit

4:56 pm in Uncategorized by PaulLeGendreHRF

In a week, President Obama will travel to Moscow to meet with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. The agenda items of the summit in Moscow are of course numerous and complex, but it would be a mistake to let human rights concerns get lost in the mix. High among those concerns is the troubling rise in hate crimes in Russia, the government’s inadequate response to this trend, and increased harassment – including at times murder – of human rights defenders. These and other outstanding human rights issues could make Russia a far less reliable partner in addressing economic, security, and other issues.

During the past five years there has been a sharp increase in the number of racist and other bias-motivated attacks in Russia, a rise of about 15 percent per year. In 2008, there were nearly 100 such reported murders in Russia – by far the highest incidence of such serious violence in Europe. This problem has been compounded by a lackluster governmental response to these heinous acts. Russia’s deeply-flawed antiextremism legislation has been used to silence government critics, rather than to thoroughly investigate and prosecute the cases of increasingly brutal violent hate crimes. In recent years, human rights activists have Read the rest of this entry →