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Report on gay and trans people in the asylum process September 8, 2011

Posted by Tomboktu in Gender Issues, Human Rights, Iran, Ireland, Justice.

Earlier this week, researchers at the Free University of Amsterdam and COC, a Dutch NGO, published a report (PDF here) on the handling in Europe of asylum claims that are related to sexual orientation or gender identity. The Irish refugess process features in that report, but I have not seen any reports in the mainstream media or Irish blogs that deal with human rights issues of what the researchers had to say about how our officials dela with lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or intersex people in the asylum system. Below are some extracts from the study.

The limits of soft humanitarian interventions… October 6, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in International Politics, Iran, US Politics.

An odd piece in Slate last week from conservative historian Anne Applebaum, who writing about Iran argues for a form of soft humanitarian intervention. She suggests, and I think there is something in the idea that there are two Iran’s. The one of the ‘nuclear issue, the Iran analyzed by security experts, the Iran covered by the White House press corps. This is the Iran that made the news last week when President Barack Obama revealed the existence of yet another hidden Iranian nuclear reactor.’

And then she suggests that ‘there is another Iran—a completely different country, as it were. This is the Iran of the democracy movement, the Iran analyzed by human rights activists, the Iran covered by the sort of journalist who takes covert photographs with a cell phone. This is the Iran that made the news last week when protesters turned a government-controlled anti-Israel march into a spontaneous anti-government demonstration.’

She notes, and again I think there’s something in this as well, that:

The people who care about this second Iran are rarely much interested in the first one—and vice versa. The two groups sometimes seem almost antagonistic.

But the example she gives is:

When demonstrations exploded across Iran after the June 12 elections, for example, there were many well-meaning people who urged the U.S. president to distance himself from both the riots and the rioters, at least partly on the grounds that any involvement might affect his ability to deal with the nuclear issue.

And this, of course, from her perspective is not an unalloyed good…

Indeed, that choice seemed to suit President Obama, a highly rational man who clearly dislikes fuss, mess, and emotional upheaval. At that time, the White House made a choice: It would deal with the Iran described by security experts and leave the other Iran to sort itself out. Iranian human rights issues, Iranian democracy—these were domestic matters, the president’s men concluded. And they repeated their offer to meet Iran’s leaders.


Nothing came of that offer, of course, because Iran is not two countries. It is one country.

Which I think is a lot closer to the truth than the ‘two countries’ hypothesis. She continues:

And the people who make decisions about Iran’s nuclear program are the same people who order the arrest, torture, and murder of dissidents. Indeed, one can learn quite a lot about how these Iranian decision-makers will behave abroad by observing their behavior at home. For example, it is unlikely that a regime that publicly and repeatedly describes its opponents as American stooges and British spies is going to change its tune and cooperate with America or Britain. At the same time, a regime under immense political pressure that is losing its legitimacy is not in a good position to break any new diplomatic ground and is therefore unlikely to end its nuclear program any time soon.

For the observation that Iran is one country also suggests that the West has some foreign-policy tools in Iran that it has not yet seriously tried to use. Many, many security experts over the last several days have again pointed out that we don’t have many good options once we officially declare that Iran plans to build a nuclear bomb. There are sanctions, which probably won’t work; there are bombing raids, which might not hit all of Iran’s nuclear facilities, given how many appear to be secretly hidden inside mountains; and there is war, which would be a catastrophe.

Agreed. So, what alternatives exist?

Very few security experts point out that there is another option. What do Iran’s rulers truly fear, after all? I’ll wager it’s not sanctions, and it might not be a bombing raid. An economic boycott can be circumvented, after all, with the help of Venezuela or maybe the Russian mafia, and an attack on Iranian soil might help the regime once again consolidate power. By contrast, a sustained and well-funded human rights campaign must be a truly terrifying prospect.

Since Iran labours under sanctions so severe that military and civilian aircraft occasionally fall out of the sky for lack of serviceable parts the idea of further sanctions seems bizarre (although clearly not so bizarre that some will not contemplate them). Note too the modish right of centre lash at Venezuela which really has been given an overly exaggerated significance in various circles, particularly – but not exclusively – conservative ones. And this would manifest itself as…

What if we therefore told the Iranian regime that its insistence on pursuing nuclear weapons leaves us with no choice other than to increase funding for dissident exile groups, to smuggle money into the country, to bombard the airwaves with anti-regime television programming, and above all to publicize widely the myriad crimes of the Islamic Republic of Iran?

Who though is ‘we’, and is that ‘we’ part of the problem? And…

What if President Obama held up a photograph of Neda, the young girl murdered by Iranian authorities, at his next press conference? What if he did that at every press conference? I bet that would unnerve President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and even the supreme leader far more than the loss of some German machine tool imports or Dutch tomatoes.

She notes:

I do realize that many will roll their eyes at these suggestions and argue, as the Obama administration did this summer, that an aggressive focus on Iran’s mass human rights violations would allow the regime to cry “foreign meddling” and attack its opponents as foreign spies. But so what? They do that already. Given the potential for disaster that lurks behind almost every other policy option, we certainly have nothing to lose by trying.

Well, it’s a theory. The use of force is certainly pointless and counterproductive but to the issue is what is meant to be achieved here? From a US perspective preventing or delaying Iran becoming another nuclear power – whatever one’s thoughts about the actuality or the power relationships – is paramount. No wonder Obama focuses on that rather than on the more diffuse issue of human rights. And that points right back to a truth that the US is not two nations, but one nation as well. That its self-perceived security needs will largely outweigh other considerations and therefore the idea of Obama holding up a photograph of the victims of state repression isn’t isolated from a web of relationships that already exist and drag down even the best of intentions. And that in mind Obama, whatever hopes one projects onto him, does not – as it stand and despite some encouraging noises and even acts on various issues – have the capacity to act as an entirely honest broker in such matters.

The history of US/Iranian relations makes his interventions, however measured, however conciliatory or otherwise, too freighted with meaning. He is as much a prisoner of past actions and that shared history as anyone else.

But beyond that can one suggest seriously that the Iranian state would be bowed by such acts? The events that took place earlier in the year and subsequently were played out in the global media. The actions may have receded but their import remains and doesn’t vanish entirely. If we ascribe emotional responses such as fear, or indeed implicitly shame, this leads to clear problematics. Self-justification in the political sphere, or the religious sphere, is usually quite sufficient to allow for a rationalisation of even the most egregious actions and one could argue that the split between those who will countenance such acts and those who won’t, or not precisely – and who can be sure given that this is in some part an elite spilt, has already occurred. Those who won’t are currently beleaguered by those who will. The former beat the latter of the street and close down the societal and political space for them.

And that said, for what it’s worth, it seems to me that the Iranian regime has done a remarkably good job of destabilising and undermining its own legitimacy itself with no need for an assist from the outside world. The distance between the rhetoric of the Republic and the actuality has been shown up, the manner in which the state turns on not merely those who are identifiably dissident in every degree but those who were (and in some instances remain) a part of it has been demonstrated more than adequately for most.

Which is not to say that there is no need from pressure on the human rights front, quite the opposite, nor that the US, as with any state, does not have the right to make pronouncements on various matters or indeed that states acting alone or in concert can bring pressure to bear at many different levels including the moral. But the source of such pressure should be as clearly distinct from those with – or perceived to hold – vested interests as is possible.

Look, I know in pieces such as this one that concern themselves with events half a world away there’s a tendency towards vicarious hand-wringing from a safely detached and distanced perspective. It’s not for me to tell the Iranian people how to organise their lives, or indeed those in the US. And this hand-wringing can transmute into, say, in this instance a sort of generalised sense of ‘she should know better’

But feck it, I don’t have to be half a world, or even a quarter of a world, away to know that holding up photographs at press conferences is not the way to go on this. Or to be precise the US President holding up photographs at press conferences is not the way forward. And if that’s the best she can come up with.. she really should know better.

Saint George April 3, 2008

Posted by smiffy in Iran.


 A recent piece on Comment is Free by Peter Tatchell should be required reading for any leftists who still think George Galloway has anything to offer progressive politics.

The article itself needs little comment.  Tatchell exposes the ludicrous nature of Galloway’s claims that people aren’t oppressed in Iran on the basis of their sexuality and strongly takes issue with Galloway’s attempt to smear Mehdi Kazemi‘s boyfriend, executed by the Iranian authorities, as some kind of sex offender.  Unlike Galloway, though, Tatchell is able to back up his arguments with objective, reliable sources.

A couple of brief points are, however, worth making.  Firstly, strictly speaking, Galloway is correct in saying that gay people aren’t executed for being gay.  That’s the old Catholic coming out in him.  Just as it’s claimed that it isn’t a sin to be gay (just ‘intrinsically disordered’), one isn’t executed in Iran for same-sex attraction.  It’s the act of having a sexual relationship with the person you’re attracted to.  Of course, this kind of distinction is utterly meaningless unless you actually believe cling to a worldview that actually believes that there is something somehow inferior about a same-sex relationship.  It’s the same approach as the old argument trotted out in opposition to the demand for same-sex marriage – that gay people aren’t discriminated when it comes to marriage as they have exactly the same right as everyone else: the right to marry someone of the opposite sex.

Such argument are only ever employed by bigots, and by employing this line of reasoning, Galloway clearly indicates where his sympathies lie.

Secondly, Galloway’s semi-retraction in the second Matthew Wright Show appearance simply serves to make his contempt for the situation of gay people in Iran all the more repulsive.  While he concedes that gay people are oppressed in Tehran, he suggests that they’re also oppressed in Texas and in Tunbridge Wells.  That may very well be the case, but it’s utterly contemptible to even suggest that the situations are the same.  Gay people aren’t, as a matter of course, executed for being gay in Texas.  To the best of my knowledge Mrs. Barbara Cobbold, the Mayor of Tunbridge Wells, hasn’t yet appeared in Columbia University and announced that there are no gay people in Kent.  Yet Galloway seems to think that the situation of gay people in all three are comparable.

One of the posters who responded to Tatchell’s piece linked to a couple of clips of Galloway talking about homophobia on YouTube.  It’s interesting to note, however, the line he takes.  Don’t you know, he tells a Muslim (or someone he assumes is a Muslim from the sound of his name) who rings in complaining about homosexuality, that those who attack and denounce gay people are the same people who also attack other minority groups, including Muslims?  Again true, up to a point, but it does rather assume that the only bigots in the world are white, middle-class, heterosexual men (people like George Galloway, for example).   It’s demonstrably the case that there are certain Muslims who hold the most reactionary views about gay people just as, no doubt, there are gay people who sympathise with the BNP position on Muslims. 

I’m in two minds about whether Galloway is genuinely homophobic, or whether this is another example of his kneejerk and unthinking support for any regime in the world, no matter how repressive, provided it’s one of which the United States does not approve.  In this case, it just happens to be couched in a rather unpleasant, faux-macho view of sexuality.  However we see the same dynamic at work in this article of Galloway’s on the Beijing olympics.  No indication that one might genuinely support a boycott in opposition to China’s domestic and foreign policies.  No, people who make that argument are simply the useful idiots of the running dog yankee imperialists.

It is entirely possible to condemn the approach taken by US and at the same time oppose the theocratic regime in Iran.  However, Galloway isn’t in this case choosing between Washington and Tehran (the question doesn’t arise) – he’s choosing between the mullahs and teenage boys at the end of a rope, siding with the oppressor against the oppressed.  And with Galloway, that’s par for the course.  Whether it’s mullahs against gay people in Iran, the Chinese government against pro-democracy activists, or Pete Burns against Michael Barrymore, Galloway can always be found taking the side of the bully and the thug against the powerless.

Deja Vu: Fox News and the invasion of Iraq…..or is that Iran? January 19, 2008

Posted by franklittle in Iran, media, Media and Journalism, US Media, US Politics.
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Punchy little video from MoveOn.org showing the staggering similarity in languages and message on Fox News ahead of the invasion of Iraq and current coverage of Iran.

Might be of interest to those of you commenting on the Iranian situation.

Iran still stoning women to death January 15, 2008

Posted by franklittle in Crime, Iran, Judiciary, Middle East.

Stunned to hear people being interviewed on Matt Cooper’s Last Word this evening about the practice of stoning, which it turns out is still alive and well in Iran. Amnesty International has just published a report highlighting the cases of nine women and two men who are under sentence of death by stoning at the moment and as grotesque as the notion is to my mind, it’s the little things about the process that are the most horrifying.

Article 104 of the Iranian Penal Code specifies the kind of stones that should be used. They should, “not be large enough to kill the person by one or two strikes; nor should they be so small that they could not be defined as stones.” In other words, we need stones big enough to really hurt someone, but not big enough that they die or lose conciousness. And we’re going to write that into the law. As Amnesty put it, “In Iran stoning is not against the law. Using the wrong stone is.”

Under Article 102 of the Iranian Penal Code, the process begins by digging a pit for the victim. The pit is then filled in to waist height for a man, and to chest height for a woman. I wasn’t sure of the reason for the difference, but perhaps it is to be found in one of the defences used by the Iranians to explain stoning.

In September 2007, the Secretary General of Iran’s Human Rights Headquarters and Deputy Head of the Judiciary defended the use of stoning by arguing, among other points, that in stoning, “the defendant has the chance to survive.” So a man is buried to his waist and a woman to her breasts and if, under a hail of stones, either one of them manages to climb out (Let’s pause for a moment to consider how unlikely this is) they’re free to go. Hence, perhaps, why the woman is buried to her chest.

According to Amnesty one of the most recent stonings was in 2006:


“Abbas H and Mahboubeh M were said to have been executed in Beheshteh Reza cemetery, part of which was cordoned off before more than 100 members of the Revolutionary Guards and Bassij Forces carried out the stoning. Abbas H and Mahboubeh M were reportedly washed and dressed in shrouds, as if they were already dead, and then put in holes that had been dug in the ground. Following a reading from the Qur’an, those present began to stone Abbas H and Mahboubeh M, who reportedly took over 20 minutes to die. They were said to have been convicted of murdering Mahboubeh M’s husband, and of adultery.”

Speaking of convictions, the sentences for some of those awaiting this punishment are an interesting insight into Iranian judicial priorities. One woman, whose name is Iran, was sentenced to five years imprisonment for being an accomplice in the murder of her husband, and to death by stoning for adultery. Another, Kobra N, sentenced to eight years imprisonment for being an accomplice in the murder of her husband and for sleeping with someone outside of her marriage, death at the hands of stones ‘not large enough to kill the person by one or two strikes.’ So for being involved in killing your husband, you face less of a sentence than having slept with a man other than your husband.


There’s some more information in the report about Iran’s less than perfect judicial process and the work of women activists and journalists within Iran to end this atrocity, which can only be applauded considering that country’s approach to political activism.

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