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Public Statements

Letter To The Honorable Hillary Clinton, Secretary Of State

Gillibrand, Baldwin To Sec. Clinton: Save LGBT Refugees

With hundreds of LGBT individuals being beaten, persecuted and even killed in Iraq, Iran and other countries, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), joined by 11 of their Senate colleagues and 31 of their House colleagues, today wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging her to work with U.S. Ambassadors, the United Nations and NGOs across the globe to enforce human rights laws that protect LGBT individuals in the countries where they are under threat. Where safe conditions are not possible, the U.S. and the UN must work with refugee and human rights groups to expedite refugees' flight to safety.

According to Human Rights Watch, there is no official number of deaths since the killing of LGBT individuals began in Iraq, but the U.N. has provided rough estimates range in the hundreds in 2009 alone. Not one murder of an LGBT individual in Iraq has led to an arrest, according to Human Rights Watch.
"It is time for us in Congress to take a strong stand against all hate crimes and persecution -- wherever they occur," Senator Gillibrand said. "People in this world should not have to suffer or fear for their lives because of who they are or what they believe in. It is wrong and it must end. If Iraq, Iran and other countries are not providing the legal protections that members of their LGBT communities are entitled to, it is our duty to join with our partners in the international community, enforce the human rights laws that protect us all, and free LGBT individuals from persecution. While the ultimate goal is safe conditions in these countries, until that happens, the U.S., UN and the international community must ensure that LGBT refugees can reach safety in countries where they won't face persecution"

"The lives of LGBT individuals in Iran and Iraq, as well as those LGBT refugees who have fled persecution, are in grave danger," said Congresswoman Baldwin, Co-Chair of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus. "I know Secretary of State Clinton shares our concerns for human rights and I hope she will use the full force of her office to respond to the plight of Iraqi and Iranian LGBT refugees and urge the UNHRC to do the same," Congresswoman Baldwin said.

"Senator Gillibrand's letter highlights the difficulty that foreign lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) refugees face when their home countries, and their countries of first asylum, permit or condone discrimination and brutal attacks based on sexual orientation or gender identity," said HRC President Joe Solmonese. "Secretary Clinton has said that LGBT rights are human rights and we agree. We look forward to working with the State Department and Senator Gillibrand to ensure that U.S. foreign policy strongly supports protecting the human rights of LGBT individuals abroad."

"Today, these Members of Congress have presented a comprehensive set of recommendations that will help ensure the protection of individuals who flee persecution based on their sexual orientation or gender identity only to face further persecution and violence in the countries they have fled to in search of safe refuge," said Human Rights First's Eleanor Acer. "We praise their leadership on this issue, and urge the administration to implement these measures including a fast-track resettlement process for individuals facing serious protection risks."

Gideon Aronoff, President & CEO of HIAS said, ""Refugees who have fled persecution on the basis of their sexuality are among the most vulnerable in the world, as persecution often follows them across borders from one country to the next. Additionally, in some parts of the world the LGBT population is at special risk because of strong cultural mores that reject and demonize all but traditional male/female relationships. For some, resettlement to the U. S. or another free country is the only life-saving solution, but neither the U.S. Refugee Program nor the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is adequately prepared to give LGBT refugees the access to safety which they so desperately need. The Congressional letter organized by Sen. Gillibrand to Secretary Clinton suggests sensible and concrete steps to save the lives of LGBT refugees, and we urge the Department of State to give these suggestions expeditious consideration."

Senator Gillibrand and Congresswoman Baldwin's letter to Secretary Clinton is below:
Letter To The Honorable Hillary Clinton, Secretary Of State

Gillibrand, Baldwin To Sec. Clinton: Save LGBT Refugees

The Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State of the United States of America
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520-0099

Dear Madam Secretary,

We are writing to share our concerns about the safety of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals in countries where these individuals' health and lives are threatened and governments provide inadequate protection. Our concern was sparked most recently by accounts of LGBT individuals from Iraq and Iran who have had to flee after being severely beaten or worse, or because they face a significant risk of such persecution. Unfortunately, this situation is not unique to Iraq and Iran. LGBT individuals in a number of other countries are also under threat. Moreover, we are troubled by the fact that a number of countries criminalize or are taking steps to increase penalties against the LGBT community.

We know you share our concern. We appreciate the attention that the United States Government has paid to the special circumstances of people fleeing countries where they face persecution due to their sexual orientation or gender identity, particularly Iraq and Iran. The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, for example, has raised the unsolved attacks on gay men with the Ministry of Interior and the Human Rights Ministry. While we value these steps, we remain concerned about people's safety in both these and other countries with reports of persecution of LGBT individuals and/or groups. We are likewise very troubled that LGBT refugees from Iraq and Iran and possibly other countries face risks in first asylum countries where refugees often remain for years, and which are often nearly as hostile to the LGBT community as their home countries.

Therefore we respectfully request you to consider several ways in which your leadership and guidance would improve protection for LGBT individuals in both the countries where they are targeted and the first asylum countries where their safety is in question.

1. United States Ambassadors in countries of concern should strongly and consistently raise the fact that laws targeting homosexual activity and a lack of protection for LGBT individuals or groups violate international human rights law.

2. United Nations and its appropriate agencies, such as the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, should increase their promotion of the human rights of LGBT individuals and ensure that appropriate programs are focused on support of such individuals and groups.

3. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) should increase the training of all of its employees, contractors and implementing partners following its Guidance Note on Refugee Claims Relating to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. UNHCR should maximize its implementation of this important guidance so that LGBT refugees are not disadvantaged by inappropriate conduct or inadequate processing by UNHCR employees or implementing partners. It appears that additional LGBT refugee protection tools would need to be developed. As the largest donor, the U.S. could help foster an appropriate focus on this issue.

4. Ffor LGBT individuals, such as those from Iran and Iraq, who face risks in the countries of first asylum, as well as inside their home countries, resettlement processing should be expedited. This can be done in a number of ways, including:

a. Those LGBT refugees who can articulate a serious protection concern because of their sexual orientation or gender identity in the country of first asylum can be designated "refugees of special humanitarian concern" so they are eligible for Priority 2, or direct processing to the U.S. refugee admissions program. The United States already designated several groups of at-risk U.S.-affiliated Iraqis as P2-eligible in 2007 and 2008, and has used the designation for refugees from other countries in the past. We appreciate that this category of direct-access eligibility is reserved for some of the most at-risk groups and must be carefully crafted to identify a discrete group.

b. Processing of LGBT refugee applications can be expedited by UNHCR or the Department of State entering into agreements with qualified non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to identify or screen refugees who need to be taken immediately out of harm's way. Those LGBT refugees with serious protection concerns who are so identified by NGOs -- or who are otherwise known to UNHCR or the U.S. Government -- should be "fast tracked" by UNHCR or the State Department, as appropriate.

c. In appropriate cases, individuals might be moved by UNHCR to its emergency transit centers (ETCs) in order to ensure their safety during refugee processing. Our understanding is that such transit centers are currently used to house populations whose safety cannot be guaranteed while they are in refugee processing. If such centers are used to temporarily house LGBT refugees, UNHCR would need to take steps to ensure that the centers are sensitive to the protection needs of LGBT individuals. In cases where evacuation to an ETC is not practicable, we urge you to work with the Secretary of Homeland Security to expeditiously parole or conditionally admit particularly vulnerable refugees to the United States for processing, as the United States did with applicants evacuated from northern Iraq in 1996 and Macedonia in 1999.

d. Finally, the U.S. agencies involved in the security clearance procedures required as part of the refugee resettlement process should continue to improve coordination in order to enable these procedures to be completed in a timely manner.

Again, thank you for your attention to this matter. We would be very pleased to work with you and support you in any way we can.

Sincerely,
Kirsten E. Gillibrand
United States Senator

Patrick J. Leahy
United States Senator

Daniel K. Akaka
United States Senator

Jeff Bingaman
United States Senator

Sherrod Brown
United States Senator

Robert P. Casey Jr.
United States Senator

Russell D. Feingold
United States Senator

Frank R. Lautenberg
United States Senator

Joseph L. Lieberman
United States Senator

Jeff Merkley
United States Senator

Charles E. Schumer
United States Senator

Ron Wyden
United States Senator

Tammy Baldwin
United States Representative

Jared Polis
United States Representative

Barney Frank
United States Representative

Jan Schakowsky
United States Representative

Jerrold Nadler
United States Representative

Michael M. Honda
United States Representative

Lois Capps
United States Representative

James P. Moran
United States Representative

Zoe Lofgren
United States Representative

David Wu
United States Representative

Edolphus Towns
United States Representative

Carolyn Maloney
United States Representative

Alcee Hastings
United States Representative

John Conyers
United States Representative

Luis Gutierrez
United States Representative

Bill Delahunt
United States Representative

Eliot Engel
United States Representative

Raúl M. Grijalva
United States Representative

Chellie Pingree
United States Representative

Joseph Crowley
United States Representative

Gary Ackerman
United States Representative

Anthony Weiner
United States Representative

Maurice Hinchey
United States Representative

Steven Rothman
United States Representative

James P. McGovern
United States Representative

Lynn Woolsey
United States Representative

Paul Tonko
United States Representative

Mike Quigley
United States Representative

Steve Israel
United States Representative

Howard Berman
United States Representative

Henry Waxman
United States Representative

Brad Sherman
United States Representative


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