LGBTQ Rights in a Global Perspective

LGBTQ Rights in a Global Perspective

On November 12, Pepe Julian Onziema spoke to attendees of an event focusing on “LGBTQ+ Rights in a Global Perspective,” moderated by Professor Katherine Franke of Columbia Law School and the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law. Onziema, who is from Uganda, is currently a Fellow at the Institute for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia. He is an outspoken activist for LGBTQ Rights in Uganda and is the Programs Director of the non-profit organization “Sexual Minorites Uganda” (SMUG). His talk was centered around the history of LGBTQ persecution, as well as activism, in Uganda and the role that SMUG has played in making changes for acceptance and policy change. Giving some initial background on Ugandan LGBTQ history, Onziema explained that Uganda was colonized by the British and since 1894 male same-sex relations have been illegal—for females, it was made illegal more recently, in 2000. Further entrenching the criminalization of LGBTQ identity, the Uganda Constitution was amended in 2005 to...
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When Political Transitions Work: Reconciliation as Interdependence

When Political Transitions Work: Reconciliation as Interdependence

South Africa’s transition from apartheid to multi-racial democracy and subsequent Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) are often held up as a gold standard to be replicated by countries emerging for civil war or dictatorship. While recognizing the importance of elections, forgiveness, and truth, Fanie du Toit, Executive Director of the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation in Cape Town, South Africa, and Virginie Ladisch, head of the Children and Youth program at the International Center for Transitional Justice, sought to challenge audience members to complicate our narrative of the political transition and reconciliation in South Africa and why and how it has and hasn’t worked. In the popular imagination South Africa’s racially segregationist apartheid regime was brought to an end by democratic elections in 1994. Following the seemingly superhuman leadership of Nelson Mandela, South Africans forgave each other for the crimes of the past and agreed to build a future together. Ever since the TRC’s mandate ended in 1998 other countries transitioning...
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The Story of a Young Tunisian Mother’s Struggle for Safety

The Story of a Young Tunisian Mother’s Struggle for Safety

By Izzy Tomico Ellis, a journalist and activist who has been heavily involved in the refugee crisis since 2015. Additional reporting by Niamh Keady-Tabbal. Syrine* is sitting on the edge of a bed inside a tidy room for two, in City Plaza — a squatted hotel in Greece where solidarians from all over the world have flocked to bring respite to its refugee residents. Her little son started walking yesterday. In between our conversation, she holds out her hands to catch him as he falls down. Soothing him, she recalls, "I looked on Facebook to find out what to do when he was crying. I was alone with a baby…I didn’t know anything."  When we asked her if we could write down her story, she smiled, "I’ve thought about telling it a lot." The strength with which she carried herself had compelled me to ask, and at the same time made me worry she’d laugh. For her, a 21-year-old mother, bravery comes so naturally.  When we first met...
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Kagame’s third term bid and the African Union’s silence

Kagame’s third term bid and the African Union’s silence

By Sylvester Uhaa, former Human Rights Advocate at the Institute for the Study of Human Rights, at Columbia University ____________________________________________ I read with concern a report regarding a referendum to amend Article 101 of the Rwandan Constitution to allow President Paul Kagame another seven year term. A few days ago, the Rwandan Senate voted to allow him a third term. Kagame ascended to power in 2003 and was re-elected in 2010. By 2017, he will have spent 14 years in power as President. With the referendum likely to be in his favour, his victory at the polls will allow him to be president for 21 years. It was with great discomfort that I first heard about this on CCTV News last April, at the peak of the political turmoil in Burundi, following President Pierre Nkurunziza’s similar moves for a third term. Nkurunziza succeeded, but not without the bloodshed of thousands of people, with thousands more continuing flee the country for safety. As the crises heightened, the...
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Blood Timber: A Resource Curse

Blood Timber: A Resource Curse

By Rachel Riegelhaupt, graduate student of Human Rights at Columbia University ___________________________________________________________________________ When asked about buying conflict-timber from the Central African Republic during an undercover investigation led by Global Witness, a representative from the French manufacturing company Tropical Bois responded, “It’s Africa. War is so common we don’t really pay attention...it’s not a war where they attack white people. It’s not a war we have to avoid.” The Central African Republic (CAR) has been plagued by violence since November 2012, when predominately Muslim Seleka rebels began to take up arms. In March 2013, they overthrew the president in a bloody coup d’état and pursued a campaign of violence throughout the nation, provoking a violent backlash from the Christian Anti-Balaka militia in September 2013. Although a transitional government is currently in place, with the Seleka’s leader Michel Djotodia serving as interim president, the balance of power is still rocked by clashes between ever-present armed groups. War atrocities such as the use of child soldiers,...
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On Being LGBT in West Africa

On Being LGBT in West Africa

By Philip Rodenbough, doctoral candidate in chemistry at Columbia University.  Twitter: @prodenbough ___________________________________________________________________________ The Virtual Student Foreign Service (VSFS) is a program organized by the US Department of State through which students work part time on a project under the direction of a mentor at State, USAID, embassies abroad, or other government agencies. The e-internship is completed entirely online, so anyone can participate from anywhere. During the previous academic year, VSFS offered over 300+ positions to students, many of which were human rights related projects. Through VSFS, I was fortunate to participate in an independent research project on the LGBT experience in West Africa, with the guidance of a USAID mentor. Throughout the 2013-14 academic year, I researched country conditions, collected media reports, conducted interviews, and authored original detailed descriptions on the LGBT experience in West Africa. This research was developed to to help form baseline data that informs on the needs of the local LGBT communities, in addition to assessing the impact...
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That TIME story that South Africa may outlaw spanking at home

That TIME story that South Africa may outlaw spanking at home

By Maria Hengeveld, graduate student of human rights at Columbia University  ___________________________________________________________________________ On 30 July freelance reporter Melissa Locker reported for TIME Magazine that South Africa’s government, in cooperation with some notable children’s rights NGOs, is drafting a bill that would outlaw spanking at home. If the bill passes, South African parents lose their freedom to corporally punish their children, just like teachers did seven years ago. The article quotes Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini, from the pro-ban camp, who argues for child protection, and an anti-ban spokesperson from the Christian organization Focus On The Family, whose weird notion that for most children “the removal of pleasures or privileges is actually more painful than a spanking” is supposed to represent the anti-ban camp. Right. That’s about all the author chose to cover in the 200-odd word article. But there is a whole lot more to say about ‘spanking’ in South African homes, though. To get an idea of what TIME is talking about, a bit of background and...
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Halfway There: The Nyaka AIDS Orphan Project – “For Our Children’s Sake”

Halfway There: The Nyaka AIDS Orphan Project – “For Our Children’s Sake”

By Morag Neill, graduate student of human rights at Columbia University  ___________________________________________________________________________ The hustle and bustle of the city was not forgiving on my first day in Uganda. I attempted to maneuver through Kampala’s town center searching for the shared taxi headed for Luafu stage, the minibus stop where the Nyaka AIDS Orphan Project offices were located. After an hour of confusion and with the help of both curious and kind strangers, I finally found myself at the black gates in the quiet neighborhood of Makindye. A wide-smiled lady named Barbara greeted me at the reception and handed me the guestbook to sign as I waited for my supervisor, Jennifer Nantale to emerge. As I sat there, proud of myself for finding my way to the cool offices decorated with pictures of graduating students draped in their academic garb, I had no way of knowing that the next few weeks were going to be as impactful and challenging as they turned out to...
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Sex Work in South Africa: Shaming Sex Workers Away From Human Rights

Sex Work in South Africa: Shaming Sex Workers Away From Human Rights

By Maria E. Hengeveld, graduate student of human rights at Columbia University _____________________________________________________________________________ Think about this: If the Netherlands, the country that was one of the first to legalize sex work thirteen years ago, still benefits from its capital’s red light district as one of its main attractions for both national and international tourists, what kinds of questions does this raise about the treatment of sex workers outside the regulated district? For one, it suggests there are very few places on this planet where the shaming and ridiculing of both sex workers and their clients is not socially acceptable. The Dutch red light district remains a site where women who earn their money through sex—some by choice, some by force—is objectified and ridiculed. It’s fun to walk past them, amusing to observe them, and outright hilarious to shame and fool them[1]. We call it stigma. Notwithstanding the violations and harsh realities that many sex workers in the Netherlands continue to endure (especially those who are working against their will),  sex...
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“Not Just a Slogan:” An Interview with Tibi Galis, Executive Director of the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation, on Genocide Prevention

“Not Just a Slogan:” An Interview with Tibi Galis, Executive Director of the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation, on Genocide Prevention

By Michelle Eberhard, graduate student of human rights at Columbia University _____________________________________________________________________________ Established in 2007, the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation is dedicated to the creation of an international genocide prevention network.  To fulfill its mission, the Institute has developed several education programs, most notably its Raphael Lemkin Seminar, as well as a genocide prevention network in Latin America in 2012.  Following the signing of an agreement with the African Union in February 2013, the Institute will soon be developing a similar network amongst African countries.  Below is an interview with Executive Director of the Auschwitz Institute, Tibi Galis.   Michelle Eberhard: How did you become interested in working in genocide prevention? Tibi Galis: I grew up in a transition country, in Romania, so it was very interesting to experience in person the impact political change can have on society, and that is why I started being rather passionate about transition studies.  There was a very easy path from transition studies to transitional justice, which...
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