Gay and transgender people are singled out for state-sanctioned discrimination or mistreatment in about 80 countries, the United States charged Thursday in the broadest statement yet that Washington considers the treatment of gays a key measure of human rights around the world.
The annual State Department review of global human rights practices released Thursday considers lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights alongside more traditional rubrics, such as free speech, political freedoms and religious liberty.
“From Nigeria to Russia to Iran, indeed in some 80 countries the world over, LGBT communities face discriminatory laws and practices that attack their basic human dignity and undermine their safety,” Secretary of State John F. Kerry said in introducing the country-by-country review.
The report covers 2012, before Uganda’s U.S.-backed president signed a wide-ranging law criminalizing homosexuality, but Kerry criticized that legislation and similar official discrimination as part of a “global trend of rising violence and discrimination against LGBT persons and their supporters.”
“They are an affront to every reasonable conscience,” Kerry said of such legislative measures, “and the United States will continue to stand with our LGBT brothers and sisters as we stand up for freedom, for justice, for equal rights for all people around the world.”
A day earlier, Kerry blasted the anti-gay law in Uganda as akin to state-sponsored discrimination by Hitler’s Nazi Germany or apartheid-era South Africa.
“You could change the focus of this legislation to black or Jewish, and you could be in 1930s Germany, or you could be in 1950s or ’60s apartheid South Africa,” Kerry said during a roundtable interview with reporters Wednesday. “It was wrong there, egregiously, in both places, and it is wrong here.”
Kerry said he would direct U.S. ambassadors to look at “how we deal with this human rights challenge on a global basis.”
Uganda’s new law, which has been debated for years, punishes gay sex with up to life in prison.
The United States has long lobbied President Yoweri Museveni to reject the law. Then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton raised it with Museveni when she visited Uganda in 2012. She also celebrated the African nation’s cooperation with U.S. counterterrorism work and visited a military installation where surveillance drones are based.
The White House called the new measure “abhorrent” and signaled that it could cut aid to Uganda. At least three European countries have moved to withdraw millions of dollars in direct support to Museveni’s government.
The annual human rights report describes the Syrian civil war as a “human rights calamity,” and calls out U.S. diplomatic partners such as Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt for discrimination, repression, mistreatment of prisoners and other alleged abuses catalogued by the State Department.
Much of the criticism is familiar from past reports, which are mandated by Congress and serve as one guideline for U.S. aid. The focus on gay rights, however, is more prominent and pointed than in years past.
The first nation listed in the report, U.S.-backed Afghanistan, is criticized for “societal discrimination based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and HIV/AIDS status.”
For the last nation on the list, heavily sanctioned Zimbabwe, the State Department found “discrimination against persons with disabilities, racial and ethnic minorities, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, and persons with HIV/AIDS.”
The report highlights several themes for 2012, including “the continued marginalization of and violence against members of vulnerable groups,” including religious and ethnic minorities, gays and women.
The report notes “shrinking space for civil society activism,” in nations such as Russia, Egypt, Bangladesh and China, and the ongoing political struggles born of the 2011 Arab Spring revolts.
The report criticized the government of now-ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych for politically motivated and arbitrary prosecutions, detentions and beatings. It takes Yanukovych’s sometime-protector Russia to task for new laws restricting the activities of charitable and pro-democracy groups, electoral abuses and alleged mistreatment of prisoners.
The cases of individual Chinese detainees are held up as part of a pattern of state-directed targeting of activists and political dissidents. By including the names and circumstances of each person’s arrest, disappearance or prosecution, the State Department seeks to show that it is tracking such cases closely and will call China to account for the outcome.
Targeting of political activists and journalists in Egypt, Turkey and elsewhere is detailed, along with new press restrictions in Azerbaijan, the United Arab Emirates and other nations. The report catalogues government efforts to infringe on or silence political groups in Belarus and Venezuela, and police or security abuses in Libya, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Burma’s move away from full control by a brutal military-backed government is held up as a bright spot, although the country comes in for criticism because of continued curbs on news media and political freedoms.