[Congressional Record Volume 144, Number 111 (Friday, August 7, 1998)]
[Extensions of Remarks]
[Pages E1644-E1647]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]



                            HON. TOM LANTOS

                             of california

                    in the house of representatives

                         Friday, August 7, 1998

  Mr. LANTOS. Mr. Speaker, I would like to call the attention of my 
colleagues to the global persecution of individuals based on their 
sexual orientation. Yesterday, I chaired a briefing of the 
Congressional Human Rights Caucus on this alarming situation. Mr. 
Speaker, I am especially grateful for the support and the participation 
of our distinguished colleagues, Congressman Benjamin Gilman, 
Congressman Barney Frank, Congressman William Delahunt, and 
Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi.
  I initiated yesterday's Caucus briefing because of alarming reports 
about the ongoing persecution of individuals based solely on their 
sexual orientation. These unacceptable violations of human rights have 
included arbitrary arrests, rape, torture, imprisonment, extortion and 
even execution.
  Mr. Speaker, yesterday's briefing was not a discussion of our own 
nation's laws relating to homosexuality, transsexuality, or 
bisexuality. I have my own well know views on this issue, which I have 
clearly stated a number of times in the last couple of weeks when the 
domestic legal implications of these issues have been considered by the 
House of Representatives. Other Members clearly have different views, 
and they have clearly stated those.
  Whatever our views on our own domestic laws, Mr. Speaker, the Caucus 
and all Members of Congress should be standing together in decrying the 
persecution of individuals and the denial of human rights for any 
reason, including sexual orientation. The purpose of the Congressional 
Human Rights Caucus briefing was to uphold the human rights that have 
been categorically denied all over the world to this persecuted 
  If a government denies human rights to one group, then it is possible 
for that government to deny rights to any other group or every group. 
Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people in communities all 
around the world have been brutally punished both physically and 
mentally for exercising their fundamental human rights to freedom of 
speech, freedom of association, and freedom of belief. Mr. Speaker, 
these violations fall squarely within the scope of international human 
rights laws.
  Nowhere have basic human rights been more comprehensively defined 
than in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and this year we 
will celebrate the 50th anniversary of this historic document. Mr. 
Speaker, the Declaration guarantees the protection of human rights for 
everyone. This most assuredly does not mean so long as an individual 
shares our political views, our religion, the color of our skin, our 
sexual orientation, or anything else. The 1993 UN Human Rights 
Conference in Vienna stated it unequivocally by demanding: All Human 
Rights for All!
  We heard exceptional testimony yesterday. The individuals who briefed 
the Caucus made statements that were head and shoulders above the usual 
information that we receive at Caucus briefings. These outstanding 
witnesses were Cynthia Rothschild, Co-Chair of Amnesty International's 
Members for Lesbian and Gay Concerns; Scott Long, Advocacy Coordinator 
of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission; Regan E. 
Ralph, Executive Director of the Women's Rights Division, Human Rights 
Watch; and Serkan Altan, a brave young man who was subjected to extreme 
violence in Turkey because of his sexual orientation and who has now 
been granted asylum in the United States based on his homosexuality.
  Mr. Speaker, these witnesses exposed the tragic fact that basic human 
rights are not applied everywhere and that they most certainly are not 
accorded to everyone. I ask, Mr. Speaker, that their statements be 
placed in the Record, and I urge that my colleagues give considerable 
attention to their striking remarks.

Cynthia Rothschild, Co-Chair, Amnesty International Members for Lesbian 
                            and Gay Concerns

       I am pleased to be with you today in this precedent-setting 
     meeting. I'd like to thank Congressman Lantos and his staff 
     for making this briefing possible, and I'd like to thank all 
     of you who took time from your busy schedules to be here. I 
     also want to acknowledge Serkan, who will share with us today 
     his personal history as a survivor of human rights violations 
     targeted because of sexuality.
       I am particularly glad to be able to contribute to a 
     discussion about an urgent and often overlooked facet of 
     international human rights law and activism--that dealing 
     with human rights violations perpetrated because of sexual 
     identity and conduct.
       Documentation from around the world confirms that lesbians, 
     gay men and transgender people are killed, raped, assaulted, 
     subjected to the death penalty, imprisoned, beaten, forced to 
     undergo medical and psychiatric treatment designed to alter 
     our sexuality, brutalized by other forms of torture and 
     arbitrarily deprived of basic liberties because of our real 
     ``or perceived'' sexual identity and behavior.
       These abuses are often sanctioned by the state through 
     legal decree, tacit acceptance (for instance, the refusal to 
     investigate violations or to punish perpetrators) or through 
     promoting violence by official and unofficial state actors 
     (ranging from police to immigration officials to prison 
     guards). Factors such as gender, culture, race, ethnicity, 
     age and geographic location affect the various forms of 
     violations which take place. But no region escapes 
     culpability--sexual behavior and identities are criminalized 
     or vilified, albeit in different ways, all over the globe.
       My argument here is quite simple--these abuses occur every 
     day, they pose very real dangers to many, many people, 
     they're in violation of international law, they disrupt lives 
     and sometimes take them--and they must be stopped.
       In this presentation, I will offer an overview of human 
     rights violations as they pertain to sexual identity and 
     practice and I will delineate some of the more salient and 
     complicated issues implicit in these experiences. This 
     information, as well as that included in Regan, Scott and 
     Serkan's presentations, is designed to be useful to you as 
     lawmakers, as human rights supporters and as concerned 
       Lest I be too vague, let me first set context with a range 
     of specific examples (and please note that because I cite 
     specific countries in these examples it should not be 
     interpreted to mean that these violations don't take place in 
     many other nation-states):
       The following information has been compiled and documented 
     by Amnesty International, the International Gay and Lesbian 
     Human Rights Commission, Human Rights Watch, the 
     International Lesbian and Gay Association, the Magnus 
     Hirschfield Center for Human Rights and countless other local 
       Some of the more flagrant human rights violations, gay, 
     bisexual and transgender people face include abuses in the 
     following three general, and sometimes overlapping, 
     categories: (1) rights to physical and mental integrity, (2) 
     freedom of association and expression, (3) discriminatory 
     laws and discriminatory application of laws.


       A. Execution Codified by Law: Under Islamic ``Sharia'' law, 
     homosexuality is seen as an offense against divine will and 
     is punishable by death. This is true in nine countries, 
     including Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Kuwait, Mauritania, and Iran. 
     In the latter country, death can be administered by stoning 
     or by cleaving bodies in two.
       In Afghanistan, you may recall recent reports (carried in 
     the New York Times) of men convicted of sodomy being placed 
     next to standing walls and buried under rubble as the walls 
     were toppled upon them. While intended as a form of 
     execution, it is of interest to note that some people were 
     not actually killed in this process--so having a wall 
     collapse on a person becomes simply a form of torture instead 
     of execution.
       B. Extrajudicial Execution (deliberate and unlawful 
     killings by, or with the consent of, the state): In Colombia, 
     death squads--often consisting of off-duty police--have been 
     known to target areas where gay men congregate. As part of 
     social cleansing efforts, victims of these death squads are 
     gunned down in streets, or forcibly `disappeared.'
       C. Other Forms of Torture and Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading 
     Treatment: In Saudi Arabia, male same-sex sexual behavior can 
     be punished by flogging.
       On a different but related note, Amnesty has noted that 
     lesbians and gay men in the custody of government officials 
     are particularly vulnerable to torture and ill-treated.
       Consider the following quotation from an anonymous witness 
     from Peru:
       ``In 1994, in Lima a very violent raid was carried out in 
     the capital where about seventy-five lesbian women were 
     beaten up and ill-treated by police. Prostitutes get a very 
     rough time in jail. But the treatment of lesbians was even 
     worse. Lesbians were beaten up because however degrading 
     prostitution can be [perceived to] be, it is still regarded 
     as normal behaviour, whereas lesbianism is seen as too 
     threatening to the status quo.'' [Amnesty International, 
     ``Breaking the Silence: Human Rights Violations Based on 
     Sexual Orientation''--1997]
       And to cite a particularly relevant and recent example in 
     the United States--most of you will remember the case of 
     Abner Louima, a Haitian man who was attacked by

[[Page E1645]]

     New York City policemen while being held in a precinct. 
     During the beating (in which a toilet plunger handle was 
     shoved into Louima's rectum), police allegedly yelled 
     ``faggot'' as they perpetrated the attack.
       Other topics which fit into this category of abuses 
       Forced psychiatric treatment to alter homosexuality;
       Forced medical treatment;
       Rape and other sexual abuse; and
       Arbitrary detention.


       In Uganda: President Yoweri Museveni speaking to the press 
     on July 22nd of this year stated: ``When I was in America 
     some time ago I saw a rally of 300,000 homosexuals! If you 
     have a rally of 20 homosexuals here, I would disperse it.''
       Abuse of ``public decency'' and ``public scandal'' laws: In 
     China, homosexuality per se is not criminalized, yet gay men 
     and lesbians are often arrested under charges of 
       In Romania, Article 200 is used to harass and imprison gay 
     men and lesbians under ``public scandal'' charges. (Scott)
       Other topics which would fit into this category of abuses 
       Persecution of Human Rights Defenders;
       Prohibition of establishment of non-governmental 
     organizations (NGOs) that work on issues of sexual 
       Harassment of NGOs that do that work; and
       Abuse of surveillance laws.


       In the United States, three states (Kansas, Missouri and 
     Arkansas) have sodomy laws which target only same-sex sexual 
     behavior--and in other states, facially neutral sodomy laws 
     are more often enforced for homosexual than heterosexual 
       In Austria and the United Kingdom, age of consent laws are 
     higher for gay men than they are for heterosexual and lesbian 
       Given this broad brushstroke citation of the range of 
     violations we're talking about, I'd like to shift to the next 
     main section of this presentation, in which I seek to name 
     some of the more salient and complicated theoretical points 
     to keep in mind:
       Not everyone we're talking about is ``gay'' per se. Many 
     people are targets because of real or perceived sexual 
     orientation. First, it is important to note that people who 
     engage in same-sex sexual behavior do not necessarily claim 
     the label of ``lesbian'' or ``gay,'' nor can those terms be 
     used to accurately describe same gender sexual conduct across 
     regions and cultures. The sexual identities people claim 
     often have little to do with how they are perceived.
       Distinctions in perceptions, labels and identities open up 
     doors for arbitrary discrimination based on appearance. This 
     discrimination could, and does, elicit harassment and 
     violence by police or immigration officials. This is true 
     both for women who appear ``too masculine'' or men who appear 
     ``too effeminate.'' A related point here is that sometimes it 
     is the behavior itself which is deemed ``deviant'' and not, 
     in fact, the appearance of the person engaging in it.
       Effects here include asylum claims being denied, rape in 
     detention and cases of violence being ignored by police and 
       Gender play a primary role in the enactment of human rights 
     violations. Women often face different and additional 
     obstacles due to sexist proscribed roles within a given 
     society, due to codified government discrimination, and due 
     to the invisibility of women's sexual lives.
       Women and men often have different legal and de facto 
     access to public space, particularly since in many countries 
     women are restricted by family and societal discrimination in 
     ways that affect their mobility. This has particular bearing 
     on lesbians' (and all women's) ability to leave the countries 
     in which they are being persecuted in order to (a) simply 
     escape, and (b) engage in an asylum process.
       Partly because of this difference in access to public 
     space, gay men are more often targeted under sodomy or 
     ``public scandal'' laws--in effect, their sexual expression 
     is more ``public'' and more apt to be scrutinized by the 
     state in particular ways. Sodomy laws in some countries 
     (Armenia, Chile, Ghana and India, among other nations, target 
     only male same-sex sexual behavior).
       While some might argue that this invisibility ``protects'' 
     lesbians from persecution under these laws, in truth, it is 
     clear that this is far from the case. Women are often 
     harassed under these and other laws, are subjected to rape, 
     sexual abuse and forced pregnancy, and ultimately suffer from 
     sexism as well as homophobia in any given society.
       Sodomy laws differ from culture to culture, and within the 
     U.S., from state to state. There are no fixed definitions of 
     sodomy, no standard understandings of what comprises it or 
     who can commit it. ``Sodomy'' can mean two men in a 
     longstanding monogamous relationship having sex in the 
     privacy of their bedroom, or it can mean particular sex acts 
     committed by married heterosexual people.
       The last main point:
       Police, other state agents and government officials often 
     act with impunity--It is too often true that the general 
     public as well as law enforcement institutions/sites 
     (including courts, police precincts, borders) will not come 
     out publicly in favor of the rights of gay, bisexual and 
     transgender people to be free from harassment and violence. 
     These attitudes allow state actors the sense that they can 
     violate the rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexual and 
     transgender people with little chance of accountability. 
     This, in turn, affects the willingness of gay people to 
     report harassment, physical abuse and other violations. Fear 
     of reprisal also inhibits proper reporting. Ultimately, there 
     is the risk of a shroud of silence encircling these 
     violations, and the risk of a cycle of abuse as a direct 
       In this final section, and in conclusion, I wish to 
     delineate a few of our shared primary goals as human rights 
     activists and lawmakers with regard to human rights 
     violations and sexual orientation. (Please note that we've 
     drawn up specific recommendations which are geared much more 
     to practical use by U.S. lawmakers--I encourage you to take 
     copies before you leave today).
       Our work--and by ``our'' work I specifically mean that of 
     the domestic non-profit sector along with concerned actors in 
     the U.S. government--i.e. we on this panel and you in this 
     audience--our work calls on all governments to be aware of 
     and accountable for the violations of human dignity, physical 
     integrity and fundamental liberties targeted at lesbians, gay 
     men, bisexuals and transgender people.
       Our work calls for governments to end cycles of impunity 
     which surround violations connected to homosexuality by 
     punishing perpetrators to the fullest extent allowed by law.
       And our work calls upon us all to consistently include 
     issues of sexuality in all of our conversations and 
     documentation about human rights violations.
       Given the severity of human rights violations perpetrated 
     because of sexual orientation, identity and conduct, the 
     dialogue about this set of issues must become more prominent 
     in human rights and law-making circles. Those working in NGO 
     circles will work alongside you as we all face those who will 
     engage in both vitriolic hyperbole and subtle attacks on 
     dignity and bodily integrity.
       This, after all, and at its core, is a matter of principle. 
     As we seek to create a world in which all people recognize 
     that human rights protections are indivisible and afforded to 
     all people, we must work toward providing protections and 
     recourse for those most vulnerable to sexuality-based human 
     rights violations. We must argue together that human rights 
     violations enacted because of sexual orientation are not 
     acceptable and will not be tolerated.

  Scott Long, Advocacy Coordinator, the International Gay and Lesbian 
                        Human Rights Commission

       Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and members of the Congressional 
     Human Rights Caucus, for inviting us to testify today.
       I want to begin by telling three anecdotes from Romania--
     because I know them, and the people in them, well. In 1997 
     two 18 year old youths--boys--were picked up by the police in 
     Iasi, in Romania for kissing each other at night in a park. 
     They were taken to a local police station and beaten, 
     nonstop, for twenty-four hours. Their teeth were knocked out; 
     they were knocked unconscious, and they were forced to clean 
     out the police toilets and urinals with their bare hands. 
     They are now free, but facing trial and five years in prison, 
     for so-called ``sexual perversion.''
       In 1995 Mariana Cetiner, a woman living in a small Romanian 
     town, was arrested for asking another woman to have sex with 
     her--which is illegal in Romania. The other woman had 
     reported her to the police. Mariana was sentenced to three 
     years in prison for this crime. I interviewed Mariana in 
     prison. She had enormous bruises; she had been physically and 
     sexually abused by the guards. The prison doctor told us, 
     ``After all, she is different from other women. You can 
     hardly expect the guards to treat her as if she were 
       In 1992 a lonely 17-year old placed a personals ad in a 
     Romanian newspaper, looking for a lover. The ad was answered 
     by a 21-year old; they met, and they fell in love. They were 
     both men. They were reported to the police as homosexuals by 
     the 17-year old's sister. They were both arrested and charged 
     with ``sexual relations with persons of the same sex.'' They 
     were held in prison for three months, pending trial. There 
     they were both raped, repeatedly, by inmates with the 
     encouragement of the guards. They were finally freed, partly 
     because of pressure from Amnesty International. But the older 
     of the two, traumatized by what had happened to him, 
     committed suicide.
       I am not telling these stories to single out Romania as a 
     uniquely repressive place. Far from it: these stories could 
     happen in many countries around the world; they could even 
     happen in many localities in the United States. Topeka, 
     Kansas, for instance, has a law which prohibits two people of 
     the same sex from having a conversation about having sexual 
     relations. Quite literally, if an undercover policeman 
     approaches another man, says, ``Do you want to have sex?'' 
     and the other man answers anything at all--short of running 
     away, speechless--that other man has committed a crime.
       My point is that all these arrests, and the laws under 
     which they happen, are wrong wherever they take place. The 
     principle we are collectively here to represent is simple: 
     that treating people differently before the

[[Page E1646]]

     law because of their sexual orientation is wrong. In most 
     countries in the world, two heterosexuals kissing in a park 
     would not be sent to jail; a seventeen-year old boy who fell 
     in love with a girl would not be sentenced to a hell of rape 
     and abuse in prison for it; and one heterosexual who simply 
     asked another to have sex would not serve a three-year 
     penitentiary term for it--even, I believe, in Washington, 
     D.C. To impose these punishments on comparable acts simply 
     because they are committed by people of the same sex is both 
     barbarous and absurd.
       This principle of equality has been affirmed, as Ms. Ralph 
     noted, by the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which is 
     a landmark decision--Toonen v. Australia, in 1994--held that 
     no state can allot discriminatory enjoyment of any right in 
     the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 
     because of someone's sexual orientation. This means that the 
     Romanian legislation which permits the arrests I've just 
     described, and imposes those punishments, stands in violation 
     of international law. And so do similar laws wherever they 
     are in force.
       Yet this decision has a further and important ramification. 
     In gauging the situation of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and 
     transgender people in a country, it is not enough to look at 
     whether that country has so-called ``sodomy laws,'' or 
     whether they are enforced. One must look at how that 
     country's laws, and its policies and practices, affect the 
     other basic rights of gays and lesbians. Do they enjoy the 
     right to speak freely? To move about in the street freely? To 
     gather together, to organize in a group? Can they hold jobs, 
     can they survive economically, while being open and honest 
     about themselves? Will the police and the state defend them 
     if their rights are violated? And here I want to refer back 
     to Mr. Altan's testimony about Turkey: a country in which 
     homosexuality is nominally legal, but in which there is in 
     fact a culture of continual abuse toward sexual difference, 
     enabled and reinforced by a culture of impunity. In many 
     countries around the globe, police and officials harass gays, 
     lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people in constant, 
     intrusive, and degrading ways. In Italy, in Albania, in Cuba, 
     police raid gay bars and discotheques, check the IDS of 
     patrons, and ostentatiously write down their names and 
     addresses. In Thailand, the Ministry of Education tries to 
     ban gay men from becoming teachers; in Bulgaria, the bar 
     association tries to ban them from becoming lawyers. In 
     numerous countries there are laws against certain kinds of 
     stigmatized public behavior, laws which may not even 
     specifically mention homosexuality, but which are used 
     against people whose demeanor or clothes or friends put them 
     under the suspicion of being different. In China and in other 
     countries with Communist-era legal codes, provisions against 
     ``hooliganism'' are used to arrest gay men whenever they 
     gather for any purpose. In Cuba, Romania, and elsewhere, laws 
     punish homosexual acts ``which cause public scandal''--
     meaning that if a private sexual act becomes known to anyone 
     else who disapproves, it can earn a prison term. In many 
     Western countries, laws against so-called ``public lewdness'' 
     are used to impose fines or prison terms on people who simply 
     look gay in public when seen by the discriminating eye of 
     a policeman.
       Moreover, some of the worst abuses against gays, lesbians, 
     bisexuals, and transgender people are not committed directly 
     by the state--but by non-state actors, who inflict them with 
     the indifference or even connivance of the police. In Brazil, 
     as IGLHRC has documented in its report ``Epidemic of Hate,'' 
     gays and transgendered people are murdered daily by gangs and 
     death squads. But similarly, on the streets of American and 
     Western European cities, hate crimes--violence, beatings, and 
     bashings--ensure that people will think twice before they 
     wear a pink triangle in public, or hold hands on the street.
       And in many countries, the attempts of gays, lesbians, 
     bisexuals, and transgender people to organize in response to 
     these abuses are also met with repression. In Argentina, in 
     Hungary, in Lithuania, in Russia, gay and lesbian 
     organizations have been declared illegal on pretexts--because 
     they allegedly ``threaten public morals,'' or ``public 
     health.'' These actions violate rights to assembly and 
     association which are protected in virtually every 
     international human-rights instrument. Gay and lesbian 
     publications have been threatened, punished, or closed down 
     in Greece, in Russia, in Hungary. In Zimbabwe, where there is 
     a tiny and beleaguered organization called Gays and Lesbians 
     of Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe has campaigned for years 
     to eliminate that group and erase all traces of homosexual 
     identity from his society--calling them ``beasts,'' 
     ``perverts,'' ``worse than dogs, and pigs,'' and stating 
     repeatedly that ``homosexuals have no rights whatever.'' What 
     has been the result? Last month, Keith Goddard, one of the 
     leaders of that gay and lesbian group went to the police to 
     report a man who had been blackmailing him with false 
     allegations. In a case that perfectly evidences what Mr. 
     Rahman has said about the denial of protection to gays and 
     lesbians, when Mr. Goddard admitted to the police that he was 
     homosexual, the police immediately arrested him, for sodomy. 
     He now faces up to seven years in prison.
       And why has the President of Zimbabwe devoted years to 
     vilifying gays and lesbians, to blaming them for all his 
     country's economic and social ills? Because he needed a 
     scapegoat. As he flailed for support for his own corrupt and 
     decaying regime, nothing was easier than to incite hatred 
     against people who were, fortuitously, both invisible--unable 
     to speak for themselves--and universally despised. This 
     demonization of the different is familiar to us, or should 
     be, from Nazi Germany. Gays and lesbians worldwide now seem 
     to serve as a new, favorite victim.
       The power of human rights in our century, of a discourse, 
     as a symbol, is that it counters this demonization. Human 
     rights knows no scapegoats, it recognizes no sacrificial 
     lambs, and it accepts no exceptions to the rule. It insists 
     that people cannot be singled out: that no quality basic to a 
     human being, be it her religious belief, the color of her 
     skin, her ethnicity or sex or her sexual orientation, be used 
     as a pretext to deny her the rights which should be enjoyed 
     equally by all.
       Today, Mr. Chairman, members of the Caucus, we ask you to 
     join us. Let us insist together.
       Insist that the United States Government work for an end to 
     discrimination, persecution, and abuse based on sexual 
     orientation, gender identity, or HIV status, around the 
       Insist that the US State Department specifically monitor 
     sexual orientation as a category in its yearly review of 
     countries' human rights records.
       Insist that public officials, in law enforcement and 
     elsewhere, across the United States be trained in human 
     rights and in issues surrounding sexual orientation; and 
     insist that in US programs to promote human rights abroad, 
     sexual orientation be recognized as a category and component.
       Insist that, as one first step toward creating a culture of 
     non-discrimination in this country, states repeal their 
     remaining sodomy laws; and insist that bills before this 
     current Congress which expressly and invidiously target 
     groups based on sexual orientation be defeated, as they 
       Insist that the US ratify human rights covenants it has so 
     far refused to endorse, including the Convention on the Right 
     of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of 
     Discrimination Against Women, and the Convention on Economic, 
     Social and Cultural Rights; for it is sheer hypocrisy for us 
     to hold others to noble promises that we have not even made 
       We ask you to speak out, because silence is deadly. I would 
     like to close by quoting the lines of a Hungarian poet, who 
     was gay--and who suffered from that imposed silence, silence 
     about the self, that I have spoken about here. Mr. Lantos 
     will not mind if I cite him first in Hungarian:
       Akik a termeszettol felnek, termeszetellenesnek neveznek 
     bennunket. De eygedul a hallgastas termeszettellenes.
       ``Those who despise nature call us unnatural. But silence 
     is the only unnatural act.''

  Regan E. Ralph, Executive Director, Women's Rights Division, Human 
                              Rights Watch

       Thank you, Congressman Lantos, your colleagues on the Human 
     Rights Caucus and your staff for inviting us to discuss this 
     important human rights concern.
       It has been fifty years since governments from around the 
     world created the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. The 
     fundamental and very simple idea underlying the declaration 
     and the very notion of human rights is this: all human beings 
     are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
       No one should be denied their fundamental human dignity no 
     matter what their race, their sex, their religion, their 
     politics, their national origin, their birth or other status.
       No one should be denied personal security. No one should be 
     tortured. No one should have his or her private life invaded. 
     No one should be forced to live as a second-class citizen, 
     denied the rights extended to others.
       A very basic guarantee of dignity agreed to fifty years 
     ago. And yet in the past fifty years the world's commitment 
     to really and truly protect everyone's fundamental dignity 
     and human rights has been tested time and again.
       Protecting women's human rights, to give one significant 
     example, until recently simply was not seen as the 
     responsibility of governments. Yet by exposing abuses against 
     women and the role of governments in perpetrating or allowing 
     the abuse, women have claimed the recognition that they too 
     are entitled to enjoy their basic rights.
       At Human Rights Watch, we have documented the violence, 
     coercion and discrimination inflicted on women by governments 
     and individuals around the world. Violence that directly 
     destroys women's right to physical security and that limits 
     women's ability to exercise other basic rights. 
     Discrimination in law and practice that seeks to keep women 
     under the thumb of some other authority.
       Oftentimes, this violence and discrimination directly 
     targets women's sexual and reproductive lives. Women are 
     raped in war, sometimes with the express purpose of making 
     them pregnant with the ``enemy's'' progeny. Women and girls 
     are forced to undergo virginity tests. In many countries, 
     they are forced into marriage at a young age or trafficked 
     into forced prostitution and repeatedly raped. All of these 
     violations grossly abuse women's fundamental rights. All of 
     them are prohibited by international law. And, after years of 
     silence, the international community has strongly condemned 
     such actions.

[[Page E1647]]

       But the rights of women remain under siege, particularly in 
     the area of extending dignity and autonomy to them in their 
     sexual lives. Here we come to another test of the universal 
     nature of human rights because women--and men--also are 
     subject to violence, coercion, and discrimination that is 
     targeted at their real or perceived sexual orientation or 
     identity. In countries throughout the world, lesbians and gay 
     men are subject to discriminatory legislation, violent 
     treatment and persecution by police and other authorities.
       Again the ugly argument that some groups are not actually 
     entitled to enjoy their basic rights rears its head. But this 
     argument is as wrong about sexual orientation as it was about 
       On the contrary, international human rights law prohibits 
     state-sponsored and state-tolerated violence and 
     discrimination against individuals that attacks their sexual 
     identity, sexual orientation or private sexual practices. The 
     most basic human rights guarantees found in the Universal 
     Declaration on Human Rights and the International Covenant on 
     Civil and Political Rights--the right to life, liberty and 
     security of the person, the rights to freedom of expression 
     and association; the right against arbitrary detention; the 
     right to privacy, and the prohibition against 
     discrimination--extend to all individuals regardless of their 
       In fact, international law condemns the denial of 
     fundamental liberties to persons on the basis of qualities 
     inherent to their individuality and humanity. These include 
     race, religion, colour, sex, national origin, birth, 
     political opinion, and other status. Sexual orientation, too, 
     is such a quality, a deeply rooted and profoundly felt 
     element of selfhood.
       You have heard cases of the gross abuses perpetrated 
     against individuals because of their real or perceived sexual 
     orientation. Add to those the fact that many countries, 
     including Nicaragua, Uzbekistan, and Zimbabwe, criminalize 
     consensual sex between same-sex adults. In China, lesbians 
     and gays have been harassed by police, jailed, and fined. In 
     different countries, gay and lesbian organizations and 
     activities are targeted with violence and harassment that has 
     forced them to close their doors or end their perfectly legal 
       At the same time, the principle of universality is being 
     upheld. Flagrant violations of human rights have been 
     denounced at both the national and international levels. 
     South Africa's new constitution, for example, specifically 
     prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. 
     International human rights bodies have also declared 
     discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation or 
     identity to violate human rights.
       The European Court of Justice ruled last summer that 
     employers could not deny the same employment rights to 
     lesbian couples that are extended to unmarried, heterosexual 
     couples. Another European body, the Court on Human Rights, 
     has repeatedly held that laws criminalizing consensual, 
     private sexual acts between adults violate internationally 
     protected right to privacy.
       The United Nations Human Rights Committee, the body charged 
     with monitoring compliance with the Covenant on Civil and 
     Political Rights, considers sexual orientation to be a status 
     protected from discrimination under international law. In 
     Toonen v. Australia, the Committee declared that the rights 
     protected by the Covenant cannot be denied or limited on the 
     basis of sexual orientation or identity.
       In closing, I would like again to underscore the principle 
     of universality; human rights guarantees must extend to all. 
     If it is deemed acceptable to exclude one group from human 
     rights protections, it is that much easier to exclude another 
     group and another and another. The only way we as individuals 
     and members of a democratic society have of preserving our 
     own rights is to ensure that no exceptions are made in 
     respecting the rights of all.

                              Serkan Alton

       Aslan Yuzgun, the writer of Homosexuality In Turkey says 
     ``Without a doubt, homosexuals are the worst treated minority 
     in Turkey.'' The worst thing to be in Turkey is to be a man 
     who is openly homosexual. Not only is it despised, it is seen 
     as an affront to Turkish culture and an insult to Turkish 
       The police use terror and violence against homosexuals by 
     permission of the central government. It is impossible for us 
     to achieve any legal redress. No one--including the 
     government, the police, the media--cares about how 
     homosexuals are treated. Turkey has been a huge prison for 
     all of us, mostly for homosexuals.
       Any boy aged 8 years or older who displays any hint of 
     effeminacy is very likely to be raped. Then the torture 
     starts, especially in school. We homosexuals learn in school, 
     along with other things, that we are going to be raped, 
     beaten, and tortured both by the public and the police.
       When I was 11 years old, I moved to Istanbul, the most 
     modern city in Turkey.
       When I turned 12, I started to go to a private school.
       I soon realized I was an outcast. They started to call me 
     names like ``queer,'' ``boy,'' ``faggot,'' which I was not 
     familiar with because I looked and acted like a girl. Things 
     got worse when Rock Hudson had AIDS. Then my nickname became 
     ``AIDS''. Still I had no idea what it meant to be a 
       Everywhere I went, I was followed, taunted, and insulted. 
     There were many kids who would ty to beat me up. I didn't 
     fight back, instead I kept my distance from them. Even though 
     I sat quietly in the corner, my hair was pulled, my head was 
     kicked, my private parts were pinched. Some threw balls and 
     objects at me. Some pushed me and tried to make me fall.
       There was almost no day for me to live my childhood with 
       As the years passed by, I accepted the abuse. I knew they 
     were going to hit and insult me, but I took it.
       When I was 16, the head of the class forced me to have sex 
     with him. He was known as one of the strongest guys in the 
     school. Then he told every detail to everybody. While he 
     became a hero, I was emotionally and physically abused more. 
     I was called ``a man with no dignity,'' and ``disgusting 
     queer.'' Some spit on my food, and I was left alone in one 
       Every time I tried to pick up something from the floor, I 
     felt pencils, fingers trying to penetrate me.
       Things got worse and worse.
       The school bathrooms were a place for the boys to gather 
     and smoke and I was scared to go there. I had heard that 
     other homosexuals had tied up their penises so that they did 
     not have to go to the bathroom, so I tried to do the same. 
     The walls and the doors of the bathroom were full with my 
     name and telephone number. At night, I would try to wash it 
     off and my hands would hurt.
       Meanwhile, I saw the pictures of gays who were arrested 
     because of their homosexuality on the cover of the nationwide 
     daily newspapers. The headlines were ``The End of a Queer, 
     Homosexual Hunt,'' I still remember the pictures. They were 
     dropped on the floor, beaten by metal covered truncheons and 
     their heads were forcefully shaved. I still remember one 
     particular picture of a transsexual whose breast implants 
     were beaten out, covered all over with blood because of the 
       I knew what would happen to me if I admitted my 
     homosexuality. I put books on my head so I could walk better, 
     I tied my wrists up with wood pieces so I would not look like 
     a sissy. I cried day and night, I prayed day and night so 
     that they would stop abusing me.
       There were so many incidents that caused me a lot of pain. 
     I started to cut my arm with a bread knife in the shower, 
     then used salt. I screamed, I yelled, I hit my head from one 
     wall to another. I tried to kill myself three times. There 
     was nobody I could talk to.
       In the school, many teachers including the president of the 
     school knew exactly what was going on. The president even 
     invited me to her room and asked me if I was mentally ill. 
     She implied I was homosexual. I was kicked, beaten, slapped 
     in the face and insulted by her many times.
       I prayed. I was the only one who openly prayed five times a 
     day like Muslims do. While I was praying, I was kicked and 
     washed by cold water in the winter time. I was told, ``You 
     are a faggot. God will not forgive you, you are wasting your 
       They took my money from my wallet and said, ``You are a 
     faggot, you can find the money from someone.'' They were 
     trying to say that I could make money by selling my body. 
     They even came to my house when I was alone and sexually 
     harassed, then robbed me.
       Just like me, gays in Turkey are raped often by the police 
     and the society. The police arrest gays, beat them up with 
     metal covered truncheons and torture them. The Turkish 
     government approves of the torture and doesn't allow us to 
     speak out. Gays are in fear all the time.
       When I was 18, I came to the United States as a student. I 
     started to realize what happened to me and what is happening 
     to the others was and is not supposed to happen.
       So I came to the point when I said, ``The hell with 
     culture, the hell with tradition.''
       I became an activist. The anti-terror law in Turkey says, 
     ``anyone who speaks against the country in or out of the 
     country can be arrested.'' Knowing that most writers, 
     journalists, and human rights activists are imprisoned in 
     Turkey, I decided to apply for a political asylum in the U.S. 
     based on my homosexuality. Last year I was granted political 
       While seeking asylum, I researched and found a lot of 
     information about the persecution of gay people in Turkey.
       In 1989, during a police raid on the houses of homosexuals, 
     a 17 year-old gay boy committed suicide by jumping from a 
     sixth floor balcony in order not to be tortured by the police 
     chief who had tortured him before.
       A Turkish gay leader, Ibrahim Eren, gave a press conference 
     in 1990 and he said that the same police chief had beaten 
     transsexuals. The police chief then stomped on their chests 
     until their breast implants were forced violently and 
     bloodily through the skin.
       Recently, a gay festival designed to draw attention to gay 
     and AIDS issues was banned by the central government because, 
     ``it is against Turkish culture and public morality.''
       Just like I have, gays in Turkey experience cruel, inhuman 
     attacks from the government. We can't do anything. Gays who 
     report police torture are silenced or tortured more and more. 
     The Turkish government meanwhile does a great job of denying 
     and covering up all this torture.
       We have to tell the Turkish government that it is not OK to 
     attack, torture, and kill anyone just because they are gay.