International News: World AIDS Day, Hungary, Botswana, Russia

President Biden reaffirmed his commitment to ending the global epidemic of HIV/AIDS for World AIDS Day. Photo: YouTube.

World AIDS Day

President Biden reaffirmed his commitment to ending the global epidemic of HIV/AIDS for World AIDS Day.

“Ending the HIV epidemic is within our reach, and we are committed to finishing this work,” Biden said in a proclamation. “On World AIDS Day, we rededicate ourselves to building on the progress of the last 4 decades; upholding and advancing human rights; supporting research, science, and data-driven solutions; expanding access to housing, education, and economic empowerment; and fighting stigma and discrimination. No one living with HIV should suffer the undeserved guilt and prejudice that too many continue to experience.”

The proclamation continued, stating “The COVID-19 pandemic has added to the challenges our heroic health care and frontline workers face, yet they continue to deliver essential HIV prevention services and provide vital care and treatment to people living with HIV.” 

Biden added, “The pandemic has also interrupted HIV research and highlighted the work that still remains to achieve equitable access to HIV prevention, care, and treatment in every community — particularly for communities of color, adolescent girls and young women, and the LGBTQI+ community.”

State Department Adds LGBTQ People to Human Rights Defenders Protocol

On November 29, the U.S. State Department issued a notice from Spokesperson Ned Price. It was an affirmation of the work of human rights defenders, with a specific reference to LGBTQ people for the first time.

The notice reads, “Today, the United States is releasing revitalized and more robust public-facing guidance on U.S. government policy on human rights defenders, which will be supplemented by similar internal guidance.”

It continues, stating, “The revitalized public-facing guidance highlights the U.S. commitment to protecting human rights defenders of all genders and identities, in all their diversity, and supporting the critical role they have in expanding civic space and strengthening democracy and justice for all. It can be found on the State Department website  and will be posted on U.S. embassy webpages in local languages, where available.”

The State Department’s “Guidelines for U.S. Diplomatic Mission Support to Civil Society and Human Rights Defenders” specifies that “the Biden-Harris Administration is committed to putting human rights and democratic principles at the center of our foreign policy.”

The 17-page document goes on to declare: “An open, inclusive, empowered, and fully functioning civil society is vital to healthy democracies, prosperous economies, and resilient societies.”

In addition, it states that “the United States will continue to play a central role in advancing human rights through the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, ensuing covenants, treaties, and conventions. This public guidance reflects the views of the United States policy position with the aim of supporting civil society and human rights defenders in their invaluable work.”

Noting that “democracy and human rights are under threat around the world,” the State Department reaffirms how critical this work is and how “ultimately, human rights respecting democracies are more peaceful, prosperous, stable, and make stronger bilateral partners.”

Hungarian government allowed to hold LGBT rights referendum

Hungary’s parliament passed a resolution Nov. 30 granting the government power to hold a referendum on LGBT rights. This intensifies right-wing nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s long-running anti-LGBT campaign in advance of the 2022 elections. Orban has been in power since 2010.

Orban, a staunch right wing nationalist PGN has reported on repeatedly, proposed a referendum on ruling party legislation that limits schools’ teaching about homosexuality and transgender issues, putting Hungary in direct conflict with the European Union.

Deputy minister Balazs Orban told parliament, “The Hungarian government proposes that citizens should have a chance to express their stance on the issues of gender propaganda.”

The deputy minister added, “We are committed. We believe that we… have to say no to LGBTQ propaganda in schools carried out with the help of NGOs and media, without parental consent.”

Botswana upholds same-sex relationships ruling

Botswana has upheld a ruling decriminalizing same-sex relationships. The Court of Appeal decision has been hailed as a victory for the LGBT+ community. It is hoped that Botswana’s decision will encourage other African countries to adopt similar policies.

The government had appealed a 2019 ruling that criminalizing homosexuality was unconstitutional. The ruling had been hailed as a major victory for LGBT+ rights campaigners on the African continent, following an unsuccessful attempt in Kenya to repeal colonial-era laws criminalizing gay sex.

On Nov. 29, the five judges of the Court ruled unanimously that criminalising same-sex relationships was a violation of the constitutional rights of LGBT+ individuals to dignity, liberty, privacy and equality.

“Those sections [of the penal code] have outlived their usefulness, and serve only to incentivise law enforcement agents to become keyhole peepers and intruders into the private space of citizens,” said court of appeal president Ian Kirby.

The ruling also stated: “Since the appellant’s grounds of appeal have been unsuccessful there can be only one outcome and that is that the appeal must fail.”

Before the 2019 ruling, gay sex was punishable by up to seven years in jail.

“I feel really happy, I feel relieved, I feel hopeful about our future as the LGBTIQ community in our country,” Caine Youngman, head of policy and legal advocacy for the organisation Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana, told the Guardian newspaper. “I feel protected. I have all sorts of emotions, but the bottom line is I am really happy.”

“This victory is a massive one for the LGBTIQ community and it is an indication that the judiciary in Botswana takes human rights very seriously. It is an indication that the judiciary is willing to play their part for equality before the law.”

Russia names LGBT rights group, lawyers as “foreign agents”

ABC News reports that Russian authorities named a prominent LGBT rights group and several lawyers as “foreign agents.” This action is part of a months-long attack on activists, opposition supporters and independent media.

The Justice Ministry added the Russian LGBT Network, prominent lawyer Ivan Pavlov and four of his former colleagues to its registry of “foreign agents.” The impact of this government designation is similar to being put on a watch list in the U.S. This means those named will face added government scrutiny. It also discredits those named, allowing them to be targets of backlash in their respective communities.

The Russian LGBT Network has advocated for civil rights in Russia since 2006. The advocacy group has 17 branches throughout Russia. The group is best known for its work to rescue gay men and lesbians from Chechnya, a predominantly Muslim region in the Russian south where gay men and lesbians have faced brutal attacks and have been “disappeared.”This coordinated attack on gay men and lesbians in Chechnya has been detailed in the 2020 documentary “Welcome to Chechnya.”

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Victoria A. Brownworth is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, DAME, The Advocate, Bay Area Reporter and Curve among other publications. She was among the OUT 100 and is the author and editor of more than 20 books, including the Lambda Award-winning Coming Out of Cancer: Writings from the Lesbian Cancer Epidemic and Ordinary Mayhem: A Novel, and the award-winning From Where They Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth and Too Queer: Essays from a Radical Life.