Thursday, March 15, 2007

The “sexual cleansing” of Iraq

Being gay or lesbian in Iraq can be like carrying around a death sentence that can be imposed at any time by almost anyone. The rise of religious extremists in a region already known for its intolerance of sexual minorities and the widespread violence of the Iraqi civil war have contributed to the “sexual cleansing” of the country as gay and lesbian people are either murdered or flee for their lives.

Ali Hilli, is a gay refugee from Iraq, and Middle East Affairs spokesperson for the UK-based LGBT human rights group, OutRage! Below are excerpts from a speech he gave on February 17th in London reprinted in the recent issue of Democratiya:
I speak on behalf of Iraqi LGBT – an underground network of LGBT activists that we have established inside Iraq. Our members – and all Iraqi LGBTs - are at daily risk of execution by the Shia death squads of the Badr and Sadr militias. Members of these militias have infiltrated the Iraqi police and are abusing their police authority to pursue a plan to eliminate all homosexuals in Iraq. This is happening with the collusion of key ministers in the Iraqi government.

The Badr and Sadr militias are the armed wings of the two main Shia parties that control the government of Iraq. These governing parties – particularly the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq - are complicit in the widespread execution of Iraqi LGBTs.

What is happening today in Iraq is one of the most organised and systematic sexual cleansings in the history of the world. Attacks have escalated into unprecedented levels of homophobic violence, including targeted assassinations. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) has recently, for the first time, confirmed that there are organised campaigns to kill gays in Iraq. These killings are taking place on the order of Iraq's Shia leaders. The UNAMI Human Rights Office recently reported that it was 'alerted to the existence of religious courts, supervised by clerics, where alleged homosexuals would be 'tried,' 'sentenced' to death, and then executed.'

One of the self-appointed religious judges in Sadr City believes that homosexuality is on the wane in Iraq. 'Most [gays] have been killed and others have fled,' he said, insisting that the religious courts have 'a lot to be proud of. We now represent a society that asked us to protect it not only from thieves but also from these [bad] deeds[same-sex relationships].'


I will give you just one example of the homophobic terror Iraqi LGBTs are facing. Five activists in Baghdad were discovered in a safe house and abducted at gunpoint on 9 November last year. Nothing has been heard of them since then. It is feared that death squads operating within the Iraqi police may have murdered them. The kidnapped men all were members of our group Iraqi LGBT. For the previous few months these activists had been documenting the killing of lesbians and gays, and relaying details of homophobic executions to our office in London. I have no doubt that they were targeted – not just because they were gay – but also to stop them exposing to the outside world the anti-gay pogrom that is happening in Iraq today.

The Iranian Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who is the world leader of Shia Muslims, clearly states that gays and lesbians should be executed. This gives direct religious sanction to the murder of LGBTs by the Badr and Sadr death squads. Sistani is giving the killers divine authority.

The urgency now is to protect LGBT people in Iraq. We need action by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Red Cross and Red Crescent, and by other international aid agencies and human right organisations. The UNHCR is failing to support Iraqi LGBTs who have fled to Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. It should be providing them with shelter and subsistence. It should be giving them travel documents, so they can seek refuge in safe western countries. So far, this is not happening.

The West, which caused much of the current chaos in Iraq, should be giving refuge to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Iraqis. Right now, the US and Britain are turning down asylum claims by Iraqi LGBTs.
You can read the entire speech here. You may also visit the Iraqi LGBT website here.

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