This is a joint article by Miriam Niehaus, Securing Civic Rights Manager at the Centre and Matt Beard, Executive Director of All Out. Here, they each write how the fight for greater Civic Rights and LGBT+ Rights are connected to the fight for our Human Rights.
Criminalized and persecuted in many countries, the LGBT+ community and their activists are often on the frontline of the human rights struggle. So today, on Human Rights Day, I ask the Civic Charter Community and all of those believing in Human Rights, to stand in solidarity with the LGBT+ Community.
The Civic Charter Community are those who believe in and are committed to its principles; principles, which are based on human rights. We stand in solidarity with each other when we come under attack, when governments want to take away our rights to our most basic freedoms – freedom of expression, assembly and association. This growing community is rich in diversity as members come from all over the world and work on a range of issues from climate change, to development, to ensuring free media. Our strength derives from being inclusive – and in turn, being united. This means it is imperative to look at shared struggles from different perspectives, so that they remain relatable to others.
Some 6 weeks ago, I participated in an eye-opening meeting. From 22-24 October, we convened the International Civic Forum, usually set up as a meeting of civic freedom experts from different sectors. For the first time, we ran this meeting not as a stand-alone event but within another conference and therefore with another audience: the International Anti-Corruption Conference. Consequently, the topics of the Civic Forum sessions all related civic freedom issues to corruption.
One session stood out in particular. It was run by Matt Beard from All Out, along with Sana Ahmad and Bisi Alimi, on extortion of gay men in Nigeria, among other aspects. By understanding extortion as a method of corruption, the anti-corruption community could readily relate to the struggle that All Out is in. At the same time, the then described method of state actors rang familiar to participants working more generally on civic freedoms, who are aware of a wide range of government methods, usually used to intimidate activists and CSOs.
In this instance, a new sense of connectedness between activists and CSOs of different ‘sub-sectors’ came about. And it is this spirit in which we need to show more solidarity with each other, making a conscious effort of relating our different experiences to each other and being open to that.
The opening line of the Civic Charter boldly declares “We, the people, have the right to participate in shaping our societies”. For LGBT+ communities living in hostile environments around the world, this is a rallying call for our equality, our dignity and our agency as citizens. And with 69 governments around the world continuing to make same-sex love illegal (and nine of these using the death penalty against us), these words are also a call for our very existence as citizens.
LGBT+ people are so often denied the vision for human rights outlined in the Civic Charter. There are far too many examples. In Russia, a so-called anti-gay “propaganda” law prevents freedom of expression – earlier this year, a sixteen-year-old boy, Maxim, was arrested for posting gay-related content on a social network. In Uganda, a Government Minister, Simon Lokodo, has repeatedly denied the LGBT+ community the right to freedom of assembly, using violence to prevent peaceful Pride celebrations. In Tanzania, LGBT+ civil society organizations are obstructed or closed down, in a denial of freedom of association. In deeply hostile environments like Indonesia, LGBT+ people must hide in the shadows, unable to play a role in the community and denied effective participation. In Chechnya, the state’s duty to protect failed massively in 2017 as gay and bi men were rounded up in a state-sponsored purge, taken to illegal detention centers, tortured and, in some cases, murdered. In Nigeria, LGBT+ people are denied public accountability – gay men are regularly arrested for no reason, with their families forced to pay bribes for their release.
At All Out, we believe that human rights are inalienable and indivisible. We believe that the common struggle to achieve human rights for all is a deeply uniting force that makes us stronger. We believe in the vision of Martin Luther King that there cannot be justice anywhere until there is justice everywhere. We therefore support and endorse the Civic Charter enthusiastically and want to use it as a framework to reach out to and collaborate with other groups fighting for human rights, justice and equality.