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State Dept. Defends Vote on Gay Groups
Saturday February 4, 2006 2:01 AM
BY ANNE GEARAN
AP Diplomatic Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) - The State Department said Friday that concern over potential support for pedophilia was behind the U.S. vote to exclude two gay rights groups from membership on a United Nations panel.
``We did not vote against the group because they are a gay rights group,'' State Department spokesman Edgar Vasquez. ``The United States remains a champion of human rights for all in the world and committed to the right of individual freedom of expression.''
The department was responding to criticism that the U.S. had sided with Iran, Zimbabwe and other repressive regimes in excluding two gay rights groups the U.N. Economic and Social Council.
``I had hopes for better from you,'' Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., said in a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice this week.
Frank told Rice he was ``deeply troubled to learn that the U.S. government, presumably at your direction, sided with some of the most undemocratic, anti-human rights regimes in the world'' in voting against the two gay groups.
``To refuse them status, what else is it except an act of bigotry?'' Frank said. Frank is openly homosexual.
Human Rights Watch, the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign and other gay rights organizations also complained in a letter to Rice shortly after the Jan. 23 membership vote for the Economic and Social Council.
The U.N. panel is a think tank of nongovernmental agencies from around the world. The Brussels, Belgium-based International Lesbian and Gay Association sought inclusion in May, along with the Danish National Association of Gays and Lesbians. Nearly 3,000 organizations hold ``consultative status'' with the body, meaning they can participate from within in discussions among United Nations member states.
According to Human Rights Watch, states that joined the United States in voting against the applications were Cameroon, China, Cuba, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Senegal, Sudan and Zimbabwe. Chile, France, Germany, Peru and Romania voted for inclusion. Colombia, India and Turkey abstained and the Ivory Coast was absent.
Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Zimbabwe are among nations regularly criticized by the State Department for repression and human rights abuses. The United States has also criticized China's human rights record, and made milder recent statements about the continuation of military rule in Pakistan and increasingly undemocratic moves by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In 2002 the United States voted to support the International Lesbian and Gay Association's request to have its status reviewed. U.S. officials have not explained the change.
``We hope you will provide the reasons for this reversal,'' Human Rights Watch and about 40 other groups wrote to Rice. The letter asked whether it is now U.S. policy to oppose panel membership for any gay rights group.
Vasquez said Friday: ``The United States continues to implement a law requiring certification by the United Nations to prohibit funding of NGOs that condone pedophilia. The United States as a policy matter remains concerned about support for pedophilia, and we believe that ILGA must establish a verifiable process'' to ensure that neither it nor its member organizations promote or condone pedophilia.
U.S. officials thought there was enough ambiguity about the situation that they were uncomfortable voting for the groups.
The State Department documents abuses based on sexual orientation in annual country-by-country reports on human rights practices.
A report on Iran two years ago noted that Iranian law punishes homosexual conduct between men with the death penalty. Human Rights Watch said it has documented four cases of arrests, flogging or execution of gay men in Iran since 2003.
``We find it incomprehensible that the U.S. government would recognize these human rights abuses while denying the people subject to them the right to make their case, alongside other respected human rights organizations, before the U.N.,'' the Jan. 25 Human Rights Watch letter said.
The groups noted that three other international gay rights organizations have pending applications before the Economic and Social Council.
On the Net:
State Department: http://www.state.gov
Human Rights Watch: http://www.hrw.org/
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