Tag Archives: LGBTI Rights

It’s been five years since Haiti’s earthquake. And the ‘redevelopment’ hasn’t been about helping Haitians.

Originally published in The Washington Post.

Anti-government protesters in Port-au-Prince last month called for President Michel Martelly’s resignation. (HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)

Anti-government protesters in Port-au-Prince last month called for President Michel Martelly’s resignation. (HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)

Five years ago this month, a terrible earthquake struck my country. I was in the capital city, Port-au-Prince, when suddenly the earth shook and buildings around me and across the city collapsed—taking with them hundreds of thousands of lives and the hopes of my nation. The world stood with us that day and in the weeks and months that followed. Donations poured in; the United States and many other governments pledged to help us rebuild Haiti. But five years into the reconstruction, as a Haitian, I must ask: For whom are we rebuilding our country?

Haitians are not benefiting as fully as they should from this global aid. Despite billions of dollars earmarked for Haiti, nearly 100,000 people still live under plastic tarps in displacement camps. Poverty has worsened all around the capital: more beggars on the streets, an increase in teen pregnancy, and more people turning to sex work. A cholera epidemic has wrought further devastation, killing thousands; the CDC and others have suggested the strong possibility that cholera was brought to Haiti by United Nations peacekeepers, the very force tasked with stabilizing the country. In truth, a great deal of the “redevelopment” has gone to help the rich and powerful, not the impoverished and displaced people who need it the most.

The Haitian government is using its scarce resources to invest furiously in tourism, the mining of gold and other natural resources, massive industrial construction projects and the exportation of our agricultural products. There are reasonable arguments for each of these strategies—after all, stimulating Haiti’s economy could increase the quality of life for people at all economic levels. But it takes little digging into recent investments to find stories of criminal abuses of power that have provoked outrage from Haitian citizens, whose land is being taken to make room for these projects without their consent.

Haiti’s building boom often appears to serve the purposes of Haiti’s elite and of outsiders, who stand to benefit from the land, resources and untapped potential of our country. Take, for example, Île-à-Vache, a tiny, pristine island off Haiti’s southern coast that remains unknown to most of the world. The island holds Haiti’s sole remaining untouched forest, a green oasis in a country where all but 1.5 percent of the land has been stripped bare by logging. Île-à-Vache is home to tens of thousands of villagers who have lived there sustainably and peacefully for generations.

All that changed in 2013, when the government declared the island a public utility and launched plans to build an international airport, 1,500 hotel rooms, a golf course and night clubs—a plan completely out of scale in a place formerly without cars, technology or government infrastructure.

The government promotes the project as a shining example of land, community and development existing in harmony, with equitable distribution of benefits for all. But villagers tell a very different story. The government forged ahead without assessing how the project will affect the land and its people. The islanders have not been compensated for their land and will likely be forced to migrate to the cities in search of jobs. And contractors have brazenly razed a virgin old-growth forest, dredged the untouched Madame Bernard Bay and cut down fruit trees that families depended on for their livelihoods.

When the community protested peacefully, requested information about the plans and asked to be included in decision-making about the project, the government sent heavily armed law enforcement teams to the island to suppress dissent. Local police officer and community leader Jean Mathelnus Lamy was arrested after organizing peaceful protests.

Elsewhere in Haiti, citizens are concerned that officials will not be able to properly regulate the burgeoning mining industry, which has the potentialto displace farmers from their land and negatively affect the environment; already, mining contracts have been awarded to foreign companies without public or parliamentary scrutiny. Meanwhile, the government is building industrial parks, including one for a South Korean clothing manufacturer on a tract of fertile farmland, instead of housing for earthquake survivors, even as the displacement camps that house them are closing. With no long-term plan to house them elsewhere, many of these displaced people may find themselves homeless again soon.

Fortunately, there are Haitian activists seeking to redress these wrongs. As a consultant to American Jewish World Service (AJWS), I work with 29 Haitian grassroots organizations that are using AJWS’s support to advocate for accountability in how relief funds are spent. These groups are working to rebuild Haiti for the benefit of all of its people, including those living in poverty and other groups that have been traditionally excluded, including rural communities, women and LGBT people.

One such organization, Collective for Île-à-Vache (Konbit Peyizan Île-à-Vache, or KOPI), is behind the peaceful protest movement on the island. It is demanding that construction stop and that the government consult the community and conduct an environmental assessment (which is required by Haitian law) before the project resumes. If the government continues to threaten this community and the land, KOPI plans to bring the case to international courts.

The world’s attitude toward Haiti and my own government’s attitude toward its people must radically shift. The U.S. government has taken steps in the right direction with last summer’s passage of the Assessing Progress in Haiti Act, which insists that the State Department be more transparent and accountable in the use of reconstruction funds. If Haiti fails to ensure that development benefits its people—something the government might be likelier to do with international oversight that the act promises to provide—then the earthquake will have meant not only a natural disaster, but also a radical redistribution of assets from the poor and vulnerable to the rich and powerful.

 

NixonBoumbaNixon Boumba, born in Haiti, works as an in-country consultant there to American Jewish World Service, an international aid and human rights organization.

Posted in Human Rights | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Celebrating LGBT Pride Month

What a month! Throughout the country, AJWS was buzzing with LGBT Pride to shine a spotlight on our work to fight for the human rights of LGBT communities in the developing world. One of our grantees, a leading LGBT rights activist from Kenya, traveled to the U.S. to speak about the struggles that LGBT communities face in Kenya and throughout Africa. We also organized screenings of Call Me Kuchu, an award-winning documentary about the efforts of Ugandan LGBT activists to stop the passage of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which was tragically signed into law in February, followed by a discussion with our Kenyan grantee.

Hundreds of activists and leaders marched with AJWS in exciting and colorful LGBT Pride Parades in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Chicago to demonstrate support for AJWS as the Jewish voice for LGBT rights worldwide. Here are a few visual highlights:

Photo Credit: Jeff Zorabedian

Read More »

Posted in Human Rights, Jewish Justice, LGBTI Rights | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Activists prepare to take action on Uganda’s anti-gay bill

Photo credit: The Guardian

Photo credit: The Guardian

Ugandan lawmakers have threatened to pass a so-called “Kill the Gays” bill for years. In December, they finally succeeded—and the bill now awaits approval or rejection from Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

Calling for life imprisonment for homosexual acts, the bill is poised to create serious penalties for LGBT people and anyone who advocates for their rights. If the bill becomes law, simply discussing homosexuality in Uganda—without simultaneously condemning it—could lead to a prison term.

Contrary to many international media reports, a recent letter Museveni wrote about the bill does not amount to a legal rejection of it. In the letter, Museveni described LGBT people as “abnormal” and lesbians in particular as suffering from “sexual starvation,” but he also said they should not be jailed or killed for their “deviant” behavior.

“The letter was offensive no matter what side you are coming from,” Caroline,* AJWS’s Ugandan country consultant, explained. Museveni still has weeks to sign the bill or reject it.

Photo credit: The New York Times

Photo credit: The New York Times

Some LGBT activists in Uganda are reconsidering whether they feel safe mobilizing opposition to the bill. A few human rights organizations in Uganda have “backed off,” Caroline said. “If we’re all out there [advocating] now, it could come back to haunt us,” she explained. “[Human rights NGOs] already have so many challenges in dealing with the government.”

But many Ugandan LGBT activists —including several AJWS grantees in the country—continue to bear the potential risks of speaking out. On Monday, Feb. 10, Ugandan activists are launching a “Global Day of Action,” working with advocates inside the country and throughout the world to oppose the anti-homosexuality bill and the hatred it represents. AJWS is joining with our partners to take action at this critical time.

After years of brainstorming ways to halt the bill’s progress, Ugandan LGBT rights advocates are also coming up with legal strategies for challenging its constitutionality, should it become law. Caroline said the bill has not created the anti-LGBT movement in Uganda that its masterminds intended.

“It’s been positive in a strange way,” Caroline said. She cited the way human rights groups and activists from Uganda and across the globe have consistently worked together to fight the bill. “I think the discussions that have happened never would have happened otherwise.”

UgandaLGBT_square_v2 (2)

TAKE ACTION: Speak out against Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill and join the Global Day of Action on Feb. 10. 

*Last name excluded to protect Ugandan staff from any potential government retribution.

Elizabeth Daube is a communications officer for American Jewish World Service.

Posted in Human Rights, LGBTI Rights, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

A New Year of Promise

It’s hard to believe fall is here, and Rosh Hashanah has already come and gone.

Ruth Messinger in Kenya with an AJWS grantee staff member

Ruth Messinger in Kenya with an AJWS grantee staff member

As my thoughts turn to the Jewish New Year, I begin to think about all the exciting ways American Jewish World Service will continue to deepen its work in developing world. Here’s what we’re working toward this year: Read More »

Posted in Giving, Human Rights, Jewish Justice | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Win for LGBTI Rights in Uganda and Around the World

Eight months ago, I stood shivering with my Ugandan colleagues on the steps of the Massachusetts federal court house. We had just witnessed the first hearing in the case Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) v. Lively—a suit filed by a group of Ugandan LGBTI rights organizations against American evangelist Scott Lively for his role in inciting the persecution of LGBTI Ugandans. Lively is well-known for advocating that homosexuality should be criminalized around the world.

At the time, we were cautiously optimistic that the case would move forward. Today, we are celebrating. Read More »

Posted in Human Rights, LGBTI Rights | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

AJWS Shows Its Pride in NYC

AJWS staff and friends marching in the 2013 NYC Pride parade.

Staff and friends of American Jewish World Service marching in the 2013 NYC Pride March.

Staff and supporters of American Jewish World Service hit the streets of New York City last week, joining the NYC Pride March and serving as the Jewish voice for LGBTI rights worldwide.

My colleagues and I were so excited to show our pride, celebrate the latest victory in the struggle for marriage equality in the U.S. (the Supreme Court decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8) and make it clear that our work will not be done until the human rights of people of all sexual orientations are respected worldwide.

Read More »

Posted in Human Rights, Jewish Justice | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

LA’s Pride Parade, with Ugandan LGBTI partner Julius Kaggwa

Julius Kaggwa and a group of AJWS LA staff and supporters ready to march!

Julius Kaggwa and a group of AJWS LA staff and supporters ready to march!

Los Angeles celebrated LGBT Pride the first weekend in June with its  spectacular annual pride parade through West Hollywood. AJWS supporters marched with a banner proudly declaring that we are the leading Jewish voice for LGBTI rights around the world. Surrounded by volunteers decked out in feather boas, beads, and rainbow flags, we were privileged to march with Julius Kaggwa, a prominent LGBTI leader from Uganda, whose work AJWS supports. Perched on the back of a white convertible, Julius held up his arms in a victorious salute and crowds of jubilant supporters reacted with joy and admiration when they saw him. To say the least, this warm reception in LA is quite a contrast to what Julius experiences in Uganda, where the LGBTI community lives in fear and secrecy, persecuted by the state and right-wing religious activists. Read More »

Posted in LGBTI Rights | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Alarming Statistics About Attitudes Toward LGBTI People

A Ugandan activist holds up a popular tabloid 'Red Pepper,' one of several newspapers inciting prejudice and violence against LGBTI people in Uganda, where homosexuality is illegal and LGBTI people are routinely denied their rights. Photo: Evan Abramson

A Ugandan activist holds up a popular tabloid ‘Red Pepper,’ one of several newspapers inciting prejudice and violence against LGBTI people in Uganda, where homosexuality is illegal and LGBTI people are routinely denied their rights. Photo: Evan Abramson

A new report released last week by the Pew Research Center reveals alarming data about attitudes toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) communities around the world. Here are a few statistics that shine a spotlight on the countries in which AJWS works:

  • In El Salvador, 35 percent of survey respondents believe the LGBTI community should be accepted, whereas 62 percent do not;
  • In Kenya, 8 percent of survey respondents believe the LGBTI community should be accepted, whereas 90 percent do not;
  • In Uganda, 4 percent of survey respondents believe the LGBTI community should be accepted, whereas 96 percent do not.

These attitudes are symptomatic of the oppression LGBTI people face on a regular basis—the loss of their jobs, unequal access to healthcare and limited opportunities for education. LGBTI people are ostracized, rejected, threatened and assaulted just for living their lives.

It gets worse.

Read More »

Posted in Human Rights | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill Is Delayed Once Again

Good news: A vote on Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill has been delayed once again. Despite a promise by the Ugandan speaker of parliament to deliver the bill as a “Christmas gift to the nation,” it was repeatedly downgraded on parliament’s agenda.

Last Friday, parliament adjourned without taking action on the proposed legislation. It’s unclear whether the bill will resurface when the parliament reconvenes in February.

Local LGBTI activists are relieved but wary about what may come next. At a public event on Monday, Uganda’s President Museveni sent mixed messages about the bill, saying “If there are some homosexuals, we shall not kill or persecute them but there should be no promotion of homosexuality.”

Gitta Zomorodi is an AJWS program officer for Africa.

Posted in Human Rights, LGBTI Rights | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Gender and Justice in the Torah and Around the World

This week’s Torah portion, Parashat Ki Tetze, contains 74 interesting and illuminating commandments—including one that, at first glance, gets my hackles up: “A man’s apparel should not be on a woman, and a man should not wear a woman’s clothing, for whoever does these things is an abomination before Adonai your God.” For many of us—and especially for those of us who identify as transgender or gender non-conforming—this apparent prohibition against cross-dressing feels problematic. Why should wearing clothes that are not “gender-appropriate” earn the harsh title of abomination? Read More »

Posted in Human Rights, Jewish Justice | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment