World News Briefs
Published Thursday, 07-May-2009 in issue 1115
Burundi bans gay sex
The president of the Central African nation of Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza, “secretly” signed a bill criminalizing homosexual conduct April 22, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported.
The measure had passed the National Assembly last November but was rejected overwhelmingly by the Senate in February.
“However, under the Burundian constitution, the National Assembly prevails in cases of conflict between the two houses of Parliament,” HRW said.
“Burundi has taken a disappointing step backward by legalizing discrimination,” said Scott Long, director of HRW’s LGBT Rights Division. “The government has fallen back on ‘custom’ and ‘culture’ to justify this repressive step – but there can be no justification for stripping some of Burundi’s people of their fundamental rights.”
HRW and 62 Burundian, African and international human rights organizations issued a joint statement April 24 denouncing the law, Article 567, which punishes consensual gay sex between adults with up to two years in prison.
Gay sex had never been prohibited in Burundi previously.
Speaking on television in January, Nkurunziza called homosexuality a “curse.” According to HRW, his staff also lobbied legislators to support the bill and, in March, his political party, CNDD-FDD, staged a large protest in Bujumbura, the capital, calling for a ban on gay sex.
HRW said CNDD-FDD bused in “schoolchildren and adults from rural provinces, many of whom, according to journalists present at the event, had no understanding of what they were protesting.”
Appointed Icelandic lesbian prime minister now elected
Iceland’s lesbian Prime Minister, Jóhanna Sigur?ardóttir, who was appointed to the job Feb. 1 after the government fell when the nation’s banks collapsed, was elected to continue serving on April 27.
“Our time has come!” said Sigur?ardóttir, 66, a Social Democrat who now leads a left-wing majority coalition with the Left-Green party.
Sigur?ardóttir is the world’s first openly gay or lesbian head of a national government, though openly gay Per-Kristian Foss very briefly served as Norway’s acting prime minister in 2002 when more senior ministers were out of the country.
In the 1960s, Sigur?ardóttir was a flight attendant for what is now Icelandair. She has been in a registered partnership with writer Jónína Leósdóttir since 2002.
Iceland has a population of 304,367, making it smaller than the least-populous U.S. state, Wyoming, which has a population of 532,668.
Austrian court strikes down transsexual surgery law
Austria’s Administrative High Court has struck down a law that blocked recognition of male-to-female transsexuals’ new gender unless an individual’s penis had been removed.
“Mandatory sex-change surgery today is outdated and not scientific state-of-the-art anymore,” the GLBT group Rechtskomitee Lambda said in a statement. “On the contrary, it is understood as a human-rights violation.”
The case involved an individual who had become female via hormone therapy and cosmetic procedures, but was denied issuance of official documents recognizing her new sex.
“Every time she has to show one of her documents – driver’s license, ID card, passport, residential registration form, birth certificate, etc. – she has to expose her transsexuality and is coerced into (an) embarrassing and often degrading outing,” Lambda said.
Romania considers gay adoption ban
The Romanian GLBT group ACCEPT and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission expressed opposition April 22 to a proposed amendment to Romania’s civil code that would prohibit same-sex couples from adopting children.
In a letter to the government and Parliament’s civil-code commission, the groups set forth legal and other arguments against the plan.
“The amendment is discriminatory in light of domestic and international law and runs counter to the interests of the children and to the findings of social research,” the organizations said.
Court: Lambda Istanbul can continue operating
The legal case against the Turkish GLBT group Lambda Istanbul returned to local court April 30 and the organization was granted permission to continue operating.
In May 2008, the same court ordered the group shut down, saying its objectives violate moral and family values.
But in November 2008 the Supreme Court of Appeal overruled the decision and returned the case to the 3rd Civil Court of First Instance for a new ruling.
Activists remain concerned, however, about one sentence in the Supreme Court decision, which says, “Dissolution of the defendant association could still be demanded if it should act counter to its constitution, in the ways of encouraging or provoking gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual and transvestite behavior or acting with the aim of spreading such sexual orientations.”
The European Region of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (aka ILGA-Europe) said it hopes courts won’t use the sentence to again try to ban Lambda.
“This statement imposes clear limitations to the activities of the organization and to the rights of LGBT people in Turkey to free expression, assembly and life with dignity [as guaranteed by] European Court of Human Rights case law,” the association said.
For its part, Lambda says it will only feel truly safe when the Turkish constitution is amended to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, a long-standing goal of activists.
“(The) constitutional safeguard is a must to hinder any homophobic interpretations of those vague concepts in law such as ‘general morals’ or ‘social values’ by barristers, who suffer from the very same social prejudices as many others in society,” the group said.
Assistance: Bill Kelley