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Is There An Obama International Gay Rights Doctrine?

by Tanya Domi on March 30, 2011

in Analysis,Discrimination,History,International,Legal Issues,Politics,Tanya Domi

Post image for Is There An Obama International Gay Rights Doctrine?

The team of President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have done more for international LGBT rights in two years than any U.S. administration before them — ever. Is what we’re seeing the beginning of an Obama international gay rights doctrine?

The U.S. State Department sent out a press release this morning highlighting its policy achievements during the recent 16th UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, touting among its accomplishments U.S. leadership in obtaining “a ground-breaking effort to get 85 UN member-states to join a statement supporting the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.”

The Obama administration deserves to share at least partial credit for the recent shelving of Uganda’s proposed “Kill The Gays” bill.

Read: “UN Condemns Violence Against LGBT Persons Ahead Of Ugandan Anti-Gay Bill” and “Analysis: What Killed Uganda’s Kill The Gays Bill And Is It Really Dead?

What a difference an election makes on the issue of gay rights and human rights, that has produced a new and evolved U.S. foreign policy that includes LGBT rights at its core from Barack Obama’s White House to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Department of State.

While the Obama Administration continues to point out the shortcomings of the United Nations’ Human Rights Council — and its decided anti-Israel tilt — included in the press release today it chose to re-engage and rejoin the Council with the intent to influence outcomes to advance human rights arguments and applications.

It announced also today that it would seek another term on the Human Rights Council next year.

But the biggest change in U.S. foreign policy in the human rights domain has been its championship of LGBT rights in all major multilateral fora. The State Department has formalized human rights reporting on LGBT rights for inclusion in the annual human rights country reports.

Clinton, echoed at times by the president, has said repeatedly, “gay rights are human rights.”

The shocking backstory on U.S. relations with the UN and specifically with the Human Rights Council is that in 2006 the Bush Administration declined to participate as a voting member, and instead assumed a permanent observer status on the Human Rights Council after the UN General Assembly restructured it in response to criticisms, asserting that the reforms did not correct the problems that existed in the Human Rights Commission, the Council’s predecessor.  The Commission had come under harsh criticism in recent years by its nearly exclusive focus on Israeli human rights abuses, to the exclusion of other countries engaged in egregious practices and inclusion of member states with negative human rights records, for example, Libya, which currently participates in the 47-member Council.

Read:  “UN Inaugural Review of U.S. Human Rights Record Begins in Geneva

When Obama took office, the U.S. notified the UN that it would seek election to the Council once again. President Barack Obama strongly supports multi-lateral engagement and the international bodies that advance such cooperation, most evident in his decision-making on the Libyan intervention — first seeking multi-lateral support with key partners, Great Britain, France, Canada,  the Arab League and NATO allies.

This policy shift was elaborated upon in great detail by Samantha Power, Special Assistant to President Obama and Senior Director of Multilateral Affairs at National Security Council, who delivered a speech titled “Obama, Human Rights, and the Lessons of New Diplomacy” at Columbia University on Monday evening.

Thanks to her advocacy for armed intervention for humanitarian reasons, Power has emerged as one of Obama’s key advisers on the Libyan intervention, resulting in a spate of profiles about her on the pages The Boston Globe, The New York Times and The Nation in recent days.

Power, a Pulitzer Prize winning author of A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, made the strong case that the Obama Administration, across a spectrum of agencies, but repeatedly mentioning the leadership of Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State’s initiatives, for examples, starting a legal fund for human rights defenders who have been unjustly imprisoned, just to name one of many initiatives by the Obama Administration.


Samantha Power at Columbia University–comments on the Human Rights Council statement condemning violence against LGBT persons are at 49:30-:53

During her lecture, Power specifically referred to the U.S. government’s work within the Human Rights Council, approaching it in partnership with Indonesia, South Africa and Brazil on non-country specific initiatives, for example establishing a Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Assembly and Association.

Establishing a working group mechanism to prohibit discrimination against women across all conventions and on LGBT human rights she said:

“In our work together, in a groundbreaking cross-regional statement, calling for the end of violence against LGBT persons just last week…It shouldn’t be radical to get a statement like that, but to get 85 countries in the international system to sign onto a LGBT statement is significant and I think again, a move in the right direction.”

The State Department issued a fact sheet today on U.S. initiatives within the UN Human Rights Council.

Tanya L. Domi is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, who teaches about human rights in Eurasia and is a Harriman Institute affiliated faculty member. Prior to teaching at Columbia, Domi worked internationally for more than a decade on issues related to democratic transitional development, including political and media development, human rights, gender issues, sex trafficking, and media freedom.

(image: Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on Spirit Day, which honored teens who succumbed to suicide because of anti-LGBT bullying.)

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