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El SALVADOR: No safe haven for LGBT people

Strengthen protections, end asylum pact with US.

 

By Neela Ghoshal

 

HRW (08.01.2021) – https://bit.ly/3qkN5ZV – Salvadoran president Nayib Bukele agreed on December 15 to implement an Asylum Cooperative Agreement with the US government. It allows US immigration authorities to transfer non-Salvadoran asylum seekers to El Salvador, instead of allowing them to seek asylum in the US.

 

US President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to terminate the deeply flawed agreement, a deeply flawed deal that presupposes El Salvador can provide a full and fair asylum procedure and protect refugees. But for some groups, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, El Salvador provides no safe haven. Its own LGBT citizens lack protection from violence and discrimination.

 

A recent Human Rights Watch report confirms the Salvadoran government’s own acknowledgment that LGBT people face “torture, inhuman or degrading treatment, excessive use of force, illegal and arbitrary arrests and other forms of abuse, much of it committed by public security agents.” Social and economic marginalization further increase the risk of violence. Many LGBT people flee from home.

 

Between January 2007 and November 2017, over 1,200 Salvadorans sought asylum in the US due to fear of persecution for their sexual orientation or gender identity. In a groundbreaking judgment, a UK court recently granted asylum to a non-binary Salvadoran, finding that their gender expression exposed them to police violence and daily abuse and degradation.

 

Five years ago, El Salvador seemed poised to champion LGBT rights. It joined the UN LGBTI Core Group. It increased sentences for bias-motivated crimes. Its Sexual Diversity Directorate trained public servants and monitored government policies for LGBT inclusiveness.

 

Bukele, then a local official, pledged to be “on the right side of history” on LGBT rights. When he ran for president, his promises dissolved. He opposed marriage equality, effectively shut down the government’s sexual diversity work, and refused to support legal gender recognition for trans people. Despite the landmark conviction of three police officers in July for killing a trans woman, violence remains commonplace, and justice out of reach, for many LGBT people.

 

The Salvadoran government should back a gender identity law and comprehensive civil non-discrimination legislation, prosecute anti-LGBT hate crimes, and reestablish a well-resourced office to promote inclusion and eradicate anti-LGBT violence. It should axe the Asylum Cooperative Agreement.

 

As things stand, El Salvador fails to provide effective protection to its own LGBT citizens, let alone LGBT people fleeing persecution elsewhere.

Photo: A transgender woman shows a photograph of Camila Díaz, whom she met while migrating to the US, where they both turned themselves in to immigration authorities. Both women were eventually deported. © 2020 AP Photo/Salvador Melendez.





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U.S. Christian groups spent $280m fighting LGBT+ rights, abortion overseas

Right-wing U.S. groups have put more than $280 million into campaigns against LGBT+ rights and abortion worldwide since 2007, almost $90 million of which focused on Europe.

 

By Rachel Savage

 

Thomson Reuters Foundation (27.10.2020) – https://bit.ly/326bgSf – Right-wing U.S. groups have put more than $280 million into campaigns against LGBT+ rights and abortion worldwide since 2007, almost $90 million of which focused on Europe, according to a report on Tuesday.

 

Many of the 28 groups – most of which are Christian – have close links with U.S. President Donald Trump, who is campaigning for re-election on Nov. 3, investigative website openDemocracy found, amid the rising popularity of the far-right in Europe.

 

“These findings show how Trump-linked groups have built a frightening global empire,” Mary Fitzgerald, openDemocracy’s editor-in-chief, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in emailed comments.

 

One of the main groups is the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), whose chief counsel Jay Sekulow is Trump’s personal lawyer. It supported a ruling in Poland last week banning abortion in cases of foetal defects, the report said.

 

The ACLJ – shown through its financial records to have spent $18 million globally since 2007, 80% of it in Europe – did not respond to a request for comment.

 

Another major player is the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), whose international arm filed legal briefs against same-sex marriage in Italy and backed a Northern Irish bakery that refused to make a cake with “Support Gay Marriage” on it.

 

It also opposed same-sex adoption in Austria and trans women in France seeking to legally change their gender by submitting arguments in cases at the European Court of Human Rights.

 

“ADF International is a global human rights organisation that protects fundamental freedoms and promotes the inherent dignity of all people,” a spokeswoman for ADF International said in emailed comments.

 

“Rather than engaging with our arguments, OpenDemocracy seeks to shut down debate by launching what is nothing more than a smear campaign.”

 

The openDemocracy investigation highlighted a lack of transparency among U.S. church organisations, which do not have to pay taxes, reveal their funders or how they spend their money overseas.

 

The biggest spender was the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, which poured $96 million into influencing foreign laws and citizens, although its spending is unknown since 2015 when it was reclassified as a church association.

 

Its president Franklin Graham – the son of the U.S. evangelical preacher – has praised the LGBT+ rights record of Russia, where homophobic violence has risen since the adoption in 2013 of a ban on “gay propaganda” towards minors.

 

The association did not respond to a request for comment.

 

Africa was the second most popular destination for anti-LGBT+ efforts. Several of the groups supported the death penalty for gay sex in Uganda, known as the “Kill The Gays” bill, which was overturned by the country’s constitutional court in 2014.

 

“Trump-linked U.S. evangelicals, funded by secret donors, are exporting homophobia around the world,” British LGBT+ activist Peter Tatchell said in emailed comments.

 





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Anti-LGBT persecution in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras

US barriers to asylum block path to safety.

 

HRW (07.10.2020) – https://bit.ly/33Urlfc – The governments of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras have failed to effectively address violence and entrenched discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, leading many to seek asylum in the United States, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Yet policies by the administration of US President Donald Trump have made it almost impossible for them to obtain asylum.

 

The 138-page report, “‘Every Day I Live in Fear’: Violence and Discrimination against LGBT People in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, and Obstacles to Asylum in the United States,” documents violence experienced by LGBT people in the three Northern Central American countries collectively known as the Northern Triangle, including at the hands of gangs, law enforcement officials, and their own families. Human Rights Watch found that Northern Triangle governments fail to adequately protect LGBT people against violence and discrimination, and that they face major obstacles if they attempt to seek asylum in the United States.

 

“LGBT people in the Northern Triangle face high levels of violence that their own governments appear unable or unwilling to address,” said Neela Ghoshal, senior LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “For some LGBT people in the region, seeking asylum in the United States is the only hope of safety, but the Trump administration has blocked them at every turn.”

 

Human Rights Watch interviewed 116 LGBT people from the three countries. Some described violence by family members, leading them to flee home as young as at age 8. Others described bullying and discrimination that drove them out of school. Many said family rejection and discrimination led to economic marginalization, particularly for trans women, and poverty was likely to increase the risk of violence.

 

LGBT people sometimes face violence and discrimination from the very law enforcement agents charged with keeping them safe. Carlos G., a gay refugee who traveled to the United States from Honduras in 2018, said that gang members there shot him, telling him: “Today you’re going to die, faggot.” He was afraid to report the incident to the police, who had previously harassed him for being gay and demanded sexual favors. Carlitos B., a non-binary person from Guatemala, fled after their brother assaulted and threatened to rape them. When Carlitos reported to the police, they laughed at Carlitos’s gender expression.

 

Pricila P., a trans woman from El Salvador, said police forced her off a bus and beat her. “One of the police officers grabbed my testicles and squeezed,” she said. “He said, ‘You’re realizing you’re a man because you feel pain.’ He said that I would become a man by force.” She fled to the United States in 2019, after gang members assaulted her, abducted her gay friend, and warned her that she would be next.

 

Both Honduras and El Salvador have passed hate crimes legislation in the last 10 years, but neither country has convicted anyone on hate crimes charges. In a landmark ruling in July 2020, a court in El Salvador convicted three police officers of murdering Camila Díaz, a trans woman who had been deported in 2018 after attempting to seek protection in the United States, but a judge dismissed hate crimes charges against them.

 

None of the three countries has comprehensive civil law protections against discrimination, Human Rights Watch said. While Honduras outlaws employment discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity, activists said they know of no cases in which the law had been enforced. In Guatemala, a pending Life and Family Protection Bill could be used to justify discriminatory denial of services on “freedom of conscience” grounds.

 

Given the persecution that many LGBT people face in the Northern Triangle, the US government should rigorously protect their ability to safely enter the United States and apply for asylum. Instead, the US government has increasingly closed doors to them with a series of policies that restrict access to asylum and that narrowly interpret the refugee definition in ways that exclude LGBT people from protections they previously enjoyed.

 

In March 2020, the US government entirely closed its land borders to asylum seekers based on the pretext of Covid-19, leaving them to suffer persecution in their home countries or be stranded in Mexico. In June, the US Departments of Justice and Homeland Security proposed a major regulatory change to the US asylum system that would severely restrict LGBT people’s ability to be granted asylum by barring asylum on the basis of “gender.” In September, the Justice Department issued yet another regulation that puts asylum even further beyond their reach, tightening time limits on asylum applications and allowing immigration judges to introduce their own evidence into asylum cases, even if such evidence reflects biases such as anti-LGBT prejudice.

 

These policies followed other severe measures the Trump administration has taken to prevent asylum seekers from ever reaching the United States and to limit their access to asylum if they do, including family separation; prolonged detention; the “Remain in Mexico” program; an expedited asylum review process allowing for little or no contact with lawyers; an attempt to bar asylum seekers who transited through third countries before arriving at the US border; and a policy of transferring Salvadoran and Honduran asylum seekers to Guatemala, where they lack effective protection. Among the asylum seekers affected by all these measures are LGBT people, who may be particularly at risk of violence and discrimination in northern Mexico.

 

“The governments of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras need to stem rampant anti-LGBT violence and ensure that laws and policies protect LGBT people from persecution, including by police,” Ghoshal said. “As long as LGBT people continue to experience threats to their lives and safety based on their identity in their countries of origin, the US should welcome them with open arms, rather than slamming the door on them.”





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CHINA: Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act

U.S. House of Representatives House passes legislation to crack down on business with companies using China’s forced labor. HRWF welcomes the House of Representatives’ passage of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act and calls upon the European Union to take a similar initiative.

 

House passes legislation to crack down on business with companies that utilize China’s forced labor

 

By Juliegrace Brufke

The Hill (22.09.2020) – https://bit.ly/33Vzb6Z – The House on Tuesday overwhelmingly passed legislation aimed at tamping down the exchange of goods made in forced labor camps by Uighur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region.

 

The  Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act — introduced by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and passed in a 406-3 vote — would “prevent certain imports from Xinjiang and imposing sanctions on those responsible for human rights violations” from the region.”

 

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have stressed the need for the U.S. to take action to combat the human rights abuses in China.

 

“It is time for Congress to act. Over the past several years we have watched in horror as the Chinese government first created and then expanded a system of mass internment camps,” McGovern said on the floor ahead of the vote.

 

“As many as 1.8 million Uighurs and members of other predominantly Muslim ethnic minority groups have been arbitrarily detained in the camps and subjected to forced labor, torture, political intimidation, and other severe human rights abuses.”

 

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) likened the abuses to what was seen in concentration camps in Nazi Germany.

 

“In July. U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized a 13-ton shipment of human hair. Madam Speaker, human hair that originated in the forced labor system,” he said on the floor.

 

“We haven’t heard about human hair since the nazis in the concentration camps of the war that my father fought in, World War II. It’s brazen and sickening. We must refuse to be complicit financially or otherwise. And the CCPs crimes against the Uighurs, the Muslim Uighurs, for that reason I support this bill before us today.”

 

The House is also slated to pass legislation that would require publicly traded companies in the United States that do business within the region to disclose information on their supply chains and whether their products are made by forced labor.





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US: More migrant women say they did not consent to surgeries at Ice center

AP review finds no evidence of mass hysterectomies but files show growing allegations of operations women did not fully understand.

 

By Nomaan Merchant

 

The Guardian (18.09.2020) – https://bit.ly/3clezJ8 – Sitting across from her lawyer at an immigration detention center in rural Georgia, Mileidy Cardentey Fernandez unbuttoned her jail jumpsuit to show the scars on her abdomen. There were three small, circular marks.

 

The 39-year-old woman from Cuba was told only that she would undergo an operation to treat her ovarian cysts, but a month later, she’s still not sure what procedure she got. After Cardentey repeatedly requested her medical records to find out, Irwin county detention center gave her more than 100 pages showing a diagnosis of cysts but nothing from the day of the surgery.

 

“The only thing they told me was: ‘You’re going to go to sleep and when you wake up, we will have finished,”’ Cardentey said this week in a phone interview.

 

Cardentey kept her hospital bracelet. It has the date, 14 August, and part of the doctor’s name, Dr Mahendra Amin, a gynecologist linked this week to allegations of unwanted hysterectomies and other procedures done on detained immigrant women that jeopardize their ability to have children.

 

An Associated Press review of medical records for four women and interviews with lawyers revealed growing allegations that Amin performed surgeries and other procedures on detained immigrants that they never sought or didn’t fully understand.

 

Although some procedures could be justified based on problems documented in the records, the women’s lack of consent or knowledge raises severe legal and ethical issues, lawyers and medical experts said.

 

Amin has performed surgery or other gynecological treatment on at least eight women detained at Irwin county detention center since 2017, including one hysterectomy, said Andrew Free, an immigration and civil rights lawyer working with attorneys to investigate medical treatment at the detention center. Doctors on behalf of the attorneys are examining new records and more women are coming forward to report their treatment by Amin, Free said.

 

“The indication is there’s a systemic lack of truly informed and legally valid consent to perform procedures that could ultimately result – intentionally or unintentionally – in sterilization,” he said.

 

The AP’s review did not find evidence of mass hysterectomies as alleged in a widely shared complaint filed by a nurse at the detention center. Dawn Wooten alleged that many detained women were taken to an unnamed gynecologist whom she labeled the “uterus collector” because of how many hysterectomies he performed.

 

The complaint sparked a furious reaction from congressional Democrats and an investigation by the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general. It also evoked comparisons to previous government-sanctioned efforts in the US to sterilize people to supposedly improve society – victims who were disproportionately poor, mentally disabled, American Indian, Black or other people of color. Thirty-three states had forced sterilization programs in the 20th century.

 

But a lawyer who helped file the complaint said she never spoke to any women who had hysterectomies. Priyanka Bhatt, staff attorney at the advocacy group Project South, told the Washington Post that she included the hysterectomy allegations because she wanted to trigger an investigation to determine if they were true. Wooten did not answer questions at a press conference Tuesday, and Project South did not respond to interview requests Thursday on behalf of Bhatt or Wooten.

 

Amin told the Intercept, which first reported Wooten’s complaint, that he has only performed one or two hysterectomies in the past three years. His attorney, Scott Grubman, said in a statement: “We look forward to all of the facts coming out, and are confident that once they do, Dr Amin will be cleared of any wrongdoing.”

 

Grubman did not respond to new questions Thursday.

 

Since 2018, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement says it found records of two referrals for hysterectomies at the jail, which is in Ocilla, Georgia, about 150 miles (240km) from Atlanta.

 

“Detainees are afforded informed consent, and a medical procedure like a hysterectomy would never be performed against a detainee’s will,” Dr Ada Rivera, medical director of the ICE Health Service Corps that oversees healthcare in detention, said in a statement.

 

LaSalle Corrections, which operates the jail, said it “strongly refutes these allegations and any implications of misconduct”.

 

Women housed at Irwin County detention center who needed a gynecologist were typically taken to Amin, according to medical records provided to the AP by Free and lawyer Alexis Ruiz, who represents Cardentey. Interviews with detainees and their lawyers suggest some women came to fear the doctor.

 

Records reviewed by the AP show one woman was given a psychiatric evaluation the same day she refused to undergo a surgical procedure known as dilation and curettage. Commonly known as a D&C, it removes tissue from the uterus and can be used as a treatment for excessive bleeding. A note written on letterhead from Amin’s office said the woman was concerned.

 

According to a written summary of her psychiatric evaluation, the woman said: “I am nervous about my upcoming procedure.“

 

The summary says she denied needing mental health care and added: “I am worried because I saw someone else after they had surgery and what I saw scared me.“

 

The AP also reviewed records for a woman who was given a hysterectomy. She reported irregular bleeding and was taken to see Amin for a D&C. A lab study of the tissue found signs of early cancer, called carcinoma. Amin’s notes indicate the woman agreed 11 days later to the hysterectomy.

 

Free, who spoke to the woman, said she felt pressured by Amin and “didn’t have the opportunity to say no“ or speak to her family before the procedure.

 

Doctors told the AP that a hysterectomy could have been appropriate due to the carcinoma, though there may have been less intrusive options available.

 

Lawyers for both women asked that their names be withheld for fear of retaliation by immigration authorities.

 

In another case, Pauline Binam, a 30-year-old woman who was brought to the US from Cameroon when she was two, saw Amin after experiencing an irregular menstrual cycle and was told to have a D&C, said her attorney, Van Huynh.

 

When she woke up from the surgery, Huynh said, she was told Amin had removed one of her two fallopian tubes, which connect the uterus to the ovaries and are necessary to conceive a child. Binam’s medical records indicate that the doctor discovered the tube was swollen.

 

“She was shocked and sort of confronted him on that – that she hadn’t given her consent for him to proceed with that,” Huynh said. “The reply that he gave was they were in there anyway and found there was this problem.”

 

While women can potentially still conceive with one intact tube and ovary, doctors who spoke to the AP said removal of the tube was likely unnecessary and should never have happened without Binam’s consent.

 

The doctors also questioned how Amin discovered the swollen tube because performing a D&C would not normally involve exploring a woman’s fallopian tubes.

 

Dr Julie Graves, a family medicine and public health physician in Florida, called the process “absolutely abhorrent”.

 

“It’s established US law that you don’t operate on everything that you find,” she said. “If you’re in a teaching hospital and an attending physician does something like that, it’s a scandal and they are fired.”

 

Binam was on the verge of deportation Wednesday, but Ice delayed it after calls from members of Congress and a request for an emergency stay by her lawyer.

 

Grubman, Amin’s lawyer, said in a statement that the doctor “has dedicated his adult life to treating a high-risk, underserved population in rural Georgia”.

 

Amin completed medical school in India in 1978 and his residency in gynecology in New Jersey. He has practiced in rural Georgia for at least three decades, according to court filings. State corporate records also show Amin is the executive of a company that manages Irwin County Hospital.

 

In 2013, state and federal investigators sued Amin, the hospital authority of Irwin county and a group of other doctors over allegations they falsely billed Medicare and Medicaid.


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