Saturday, December 20, 2008

When It Comes To Human Rights We Are All Connected

Iraqi execution victims: Were they gay, Christian, or maybe both?

The United States, along with the Vatican have refused to sign the UN Declaration calling for the worldwide end to the criminalization of homosexuality. In both cases their official statements called for an end to the practice of criminalizing homosexual acts, but both felt that the language used in the declaration was open to legal issues. Here is the US reasoning:

According to some of the declaration's backers, U.S. officials expressed concern in private talks that some parts of the declaration might be problematic in committing the federal government on matters that fall under state jurisdiction. In numerous states, landlords and private employers are allowed to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation; on the federal level, gays are not allowed to serve openly in the military.
Carolyn Vadino, a spokeswoman for the U.S. mission to the U.N., stressed that the United States _ despite its unwillingness to sign _ condemned any human rights violations related to sexual orientation.

Here is the corresponding Vatican reasoning:

A Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the Roman Catholic Church opposed the death penalty and other harsh repression of gays and lesbians, but he expressed concern that the declaration would be used as pressure against those who believe marriage rights should not be extended to gays.
A new Vatican statement, issued Thursday, endorsed the call to end criminal penalties against gays, but said that overall the declaration "gives rise to uncertainty in the law and challenges existing human norms."

Both the US and the Vatican seem to be saying, it's not right to kill or imprison gays for being gay, but we reserve our right to discriminate against gays for being gays. A sort of "We're better than you Islamic types because we don't criminalize gays and execute them, we just marginalize them and refuse to grant them equal status. We aren't going to sign any document which we think might threaten our legal notions of justice for gays."

And the Islamic response:

Members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, issued a joint statement Thursday criticizing the initiative as an unwarranted attempt to give special prominence to gays and lesbians. The statement suggested that protecting sexual orientation could lead to "the social normalization and possibly the legalization of deplorable acts" such as pedophilia and incest.

I guess a special class of sexual law which calls for the criminalization of GLBT behavior and their execution in some eight Islamic nations, isn't seen as giving gays 'special prominence'. Oh, and where have I heard the gay = pedophile argument? Then there is the slightly overlooked fact that by far the most incest and pedophilia happen in traditional heterosexual marriages. I wonder where the Islamic Conference got their arguments?

The US and the Vatican were the only Western nations which refused to sign this declaration. Why doesn't that surprise me. I bet it also doesn't surprise Tom Monaghan, Bill Donahue, Deal Hudson, Fr. Neuhas, George Weigel, or Fr. McCloskey.

Those men, who undoubtedly strongly approve of our refusal to sign this declaration, even though it meant aligning ourselves with the Islamic Conference, are also the same men who would think nothing of nuking the crap out of Iran for being a 'potential' threat to US interests.

In doing some research for this article, I looked at the current situation in Iraq, which I guess we invaded in order to spread our version of democracy. Here's what I found. Under Sadaam Hussein homosexuality was not a crime until 2001, but the active persecution of gays started shortly after Hussein's loss in the first gulf war. Insiders feel this was an attempt to appeal to the religious conservatives in both the Shiite and Sunni camps. At this time family honor killings were also recognized to be legal as they applied to gays and women suspected of adultery.

When Paul Bremer took over the management of Iraq after our invasion, he instituted that Iraqi law would revert to the 1969 penal code, and the civil code to it's 1972 edition. Bremer did not deal with the Iraqi religious courts of personal status. This was a major loop hole in which family honor killings still happen with impunity.

In the current Iraqi criminal code Paragraph 41 (1) creates a legal right of a husband to "punish" his wife as the law and custom dictate. In the same paragraph, (2), their is a legal right to commit acts of violence against persons who have committed a felony or a misdemeanor, if it is a part of a plan to apprehend them. There are numerous sections of the criminal code which could be used to justify the 'acts of violence against persons who have committed a felony or misdemeanor' which would give license to the beatings and killings of both gays and women in the 'effort to apprehend them'.

In 2005 Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani issued a fatwa, published on the Arabic portion of his homepage, stating that homosexuality and lesbianism are both 'forbidden' and that they should be "Punished, in fact, killed. The people involved should be killed in the worst, most severe way of killing." The fatwa for males was removed in 2006, although not revoked, the fatwa against lesbians is still on the site.

Human rights observers in Iraq point to this message of Al-Sistani's as precipitating the spike in gay killings from Shiite militias from that point to the present. Why does this matter? Because gay rights, women's rights, and the rights of non Muslim religions are all at risk in Iraq, and all from the same source--the Iraqi religious courts of personal status. A fatwa against one group justifies fatwa against all infidels and heretics, and we've seen this play out in the recent organized attacks on Iraqi Christians.

In Iraq we have a solid case for the intersection of the human rights of gays, women and Iraqi Christians. Islamic Sharia law does not make much of a distinction. If I was an Iraqi Christian I would not be pleased that both the Vatican and the United States refused to sign off on this declaration on Gay rights. It sends a hell of a message about just where our commitment to human rights extends, and what our version of democracy really means.

Like in Iraq, apparently our commitment to human rights end where national law begins. Both the US and the Vatican have forfeited any right to complain about the human rights violations against Christians in 'democratic' Iraq. In this case 'protecting traditional marriage' gives the green light to Iraq's notion of who deserves full rights and who doesn't, and like gays, that does not include Christians.

When it comes to human rights, we are all connected. To think otherwise is not just sheer folly, it's immoral.

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