U.S. Ambassador to Sierra Leone Discusses Human Rights of LGBT People

Freetown, Sierra Leone

U.S. Ambassador Michael Owen with civil society representatives, Freetown, Sierra Leone (State Department Photo)

U.S. Ambassador Michael Owen with civil society representatives, Freetown, Sierra Leone (State Department Photo)

These remarks were delivered to a workshop of civil society groups in Freetown, Sierra Leone. The workshop launched a project implemented by Global Rights to increase the capacity of Sierra Leonean NGOs to monitor, document and address human rights violations in their communities.

Good morning. Thank you for asking me to speak to you today. As many of you know LGBT rights are an important issue for the United States and that has been emphasized by the President and Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. So let me begin by repeating her statement that “LGBT rights are human rights, and human rights are LGBT rights” and that “all people’s rights and dignity must be protected whatever their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

I’d like to illustrate our commitment by talking about some of the U.S.-sponsored efforts that are now underway to address these issues. Ending violence and discrimination against — as well as criminalization of — LGBT individuals worldwide are foreign policy priorities for the Department of State. In March, the U.S. co-sponsored a joint statement in the UN Human Rights Council calling for an end to violence and other human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

This past June, the U.S. worked with sponsor South Africa on a successful resolution in the Human Rights Council requesting that the High Commissioner for Human Rights commission a study, to be finished by this December, regarding the use of international human rights law to end such violations.

We also recognize that the United States has much work to do in consolidating equality for LGBT individuals. However, progress continues to be made. This year saw the repeal of the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” laws prohibiting LGBT men and women from serving openly in the U.S. armed forces. As a nation we are striving to recognize the human dignity and in that the human rights of all of our citizens.

Sierra Leone has been notable in Africa for its progressiveness on LGBT issues. For example, Sierra Leone was one of only five African countries to join the United States in signing the March statement in the Human Rights Council. In May, during Sierra Leone’s Universal Periodic Review in the Council, Minister of Justice Frank Kargbo re-iterated his commitment to protecting all Sierra Leoneans regardless of sexual orientation. In addition, we understand that there has been good cooperation between LGBT rights organizations in Freetown and the National AIDS Secretariat.

And today we can see the results of this progressive attitude. It was because of this open-mindedness that our embassy recommended to the State Department in Washington that Sierra Leone be the staging area for this Global Rights initiative — not only to help Sierra Leone in its own quest for equal rights for all Sierra Leoneans, but also to showcase Sierra Leone as a leader in human rights, and an example for the African continent.

Looking toward the future, we hope that the Government will re-consider adopting the three recommendations by the United Nations Human Rights Council decriminalizing all homosexuality in Sierra Leone and in so doing demonstrate recognition of the human dignity of all Sierra Leonians.

And I also encourage the Government of Sierra Leone to take steps to sensitize the Sierra Leone Police on how to handle violations of the human rights of LGBT individuals in Sierra Leone. That is why this workshop is so critical — as a first step in ensuring that civil society organizations share common knowledge, understanding, and vocabulary. We believe that this and subsequent capacity-building workshops covering monitoring and documenting techniques, as well as strategies for addressing violations, will contribute enormously towards a positive and productive dialogue between civil society and the government on these issues.

Thank you.

Learn More: Fact Sheet: Global Equality Fund

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