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South Sudan: Referendum for New Democracy, But Not For Gays?



Over eight million people, greater than the population of New York City, live in Southern Sudan, an English-speaking autonomous region of the African continent known as the “Heart of Africa.”

Yesterday, in the ten states of Southern Sudan an internationally-recognized public referendum — a vote for independence and democracy — began under the watchful eyes of the international community, led principally by the United States. A vote for independence and democracy, but a vote mired in anti-gay rhetoric by its own out-going president, who says Southern Sudan is no place for gays.

Southern Sudan, a region that has lost millions of people in its fifty-plus years of civil war, is populated mostly by Christians, and swarming with British and U.S. Christian missionaries, lies in the middle of Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Central African Republic.

The United States earned this leadership role in 2005 when President George W. Bush sent to Sudan Episcolpalian minister and former U.S. Senator Jack Dansforth, who negotiated a Comprehensive Peace Agreement between Sudan President Omar Hassan Al- Bashir, the Muslim leader of the North, and then-leader, now deceased, Dr. John Garang de Mabior of the Christian-dominated Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement.

The agreement, which called for a voter referendum scheduled for today, ended fifty-five years of war waged along the faultlines of religion between Arab Muslims in the North and Christians and Animists in the South that resulted in the deaths of more than two million people, and creating the phenomenon of the “Lost Boys of Sudan,” just as a new war waged by the Al-Bashir government in Khartoum escalated into a genocide against the pastoral Dafuri peoples in the Western geographical area of Sudan.

Consequently, Al-Bashir was indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court in March, 2009.

Leaders of Southern Sudan, the largest country on the African continent, and the U.S., European capitals, as well as Japan, have hailed this referendum as a major step forward in its democratic development that is likely to result in Southern Sudan’s independence.  Invoking the memory of Dr. Garang de Mabior, the Government of Southern Sudan urged prospective voters to read a compelling statement posted on the government website by Garang just before he died in a tragic helicopter accident in 2005:

“I and those who joined me in the bush and fought for more than twenty years, have brought to you CPA in a golden plate. Our mission is accomplished. It is now your turn, especially those who did not have a chance to experience bush life. When time comes to vote at referendum, it is your golden choice to determine your fate. Would you like to vote to be second class citizens in your own country? It is absolutely your choice”.

But apparently Garang’s words don’t apply if you happen to be a gay person in Southern Sudan, acccording to an interview of President Salvaa Kiir by Radio Netherlands in July 2010.  Kiir said that Southern Sudan was no place for gays and they would never be accepted:

“It is not in our character […] it is not there and if anybody wants to import it to Sudan […] it will always be condemned by everybody.”

Kiir’s comments revealed anti-gay views, as most of South Sudan’s bi-lateral support is from mostly pro-gay rights countries like the U.S. and a number the EU countries, which reflects a lack of political sophistication on Kiir’s part.  Given the immense problems facing his fledgling region, including massive hunger with no food grown in Southern Sudan; a densely illiterate population; lack of infrastructure– only a few finished streets in Juba, the capital of Southern Sudan; little or no housing with indoor plumbing; little or no access to potable water; few trained physicians, teachers and other sorely needed professionals and an overwhelmingly young country with more than half of the population under the age of eighteen years old.  Kiir and Southern Sudan need all the friends they can get.

Kiir’s apparent need to speak out against gays is also symptomatic of a troubling trend among East African governments.  In Kampala, the capital of Uganda to Sudan’s West and Nairobi, the capital of Kenya to Sudan’s South East, Kiir’s nascent government is surrounded by significantly notoriously homophobic leaders who have called for killing gays via legislation introduced by David Bahati, a member of Uganda’s parliament that is currently under deliberation and unopposed by President Yoweri Museveni (whose wife, Janet Museveni, has taken a visible and aggressive role espousing anti-gay views.) Most recently, in November 2010, Prime Minister Raila Odinga of Kenya said that gays had no human rights and if caught in the act of having sex would be arrested.  But a public backlash ensued and his spokesman was compelled to walk back from these statement by indicating  that the prime minister had been misquoted.  Classic right?

Odinga comments were quite incendiary, provoking a strong rebuke from the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya:

In an audio recording of Sunday’s speech, the prime minister says in the Kenyan language of Kiswahili that “if a man is caught having sex with the other we jail them, or if a girl is caught with the other … we will jail them”. In the latter part of his statement he used profanity to explain lesbianism.

“We want a country that is clean, a clean way of doing thing has clean mannerisms … we do not want things to do with sodomy,” Mr.  Odinga said.

Kenya’s laws prohibit “sex against the order of nature.” That charge is punishable by up to fourteen years in prison.

The UN launched a major campaign in September for decriminalization of sodomy laws and the repeal of laws that stipulate gays should be executed because of their sexual orientation. UN Secretary General Ban-ki-moon made unprecedented supportive remarks last fall about the oppression of gays and lesbians calling for the decriminalization of discriminationatory laws arouund the world as a UN priority. He added that  “laws criminalizing people on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity violate the basic principle of non-discrimination.”  He also said that while attitudes take time to change, cultural arguments maintaining discrimination do not trump the human rights of  lesbians and gays.  Ban-ki-moon is the first UN secretary general to forcefully speak out on the of human rights of lesbians and gays.

In December, UN General Assembly members who are supportive of LGBT rights were successful in reinserting “sexual orientation” into a resolution on extra judicial killings to be included as a protected class.  Anti-gay forces had been successful in removing “sexual orientation” in a draft resolution in November. `

That’s the good news. Another piece of good news is that Kiir announced before the referendum that he would be stepping down after the votes were counted and certified.  Let’s hope that the new South Sudanese citizens receive the benefit of good advice from the United States and other Western capitals on extending rights to LGBT people, just as to more than 180 different indigenous tribes in Southern Sudan, to balance out the extreme homophobia in Eastern Africa.  The gay and lesbian Southern Sudanese need a hand up instead a one-way ticket out.

Tanya L. Domi is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, who teaches about human rights in Eurasia and is a Harriman Institute affiliated faculty member. Prior to teaching at Columbia, Domi worked internationally for more than a decade on issues related to democratic transitional development, including political and media development, human rights, gender issues, sex trafficking, and media freedom.

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Bombshell WSJ Report: Trump Pressured DOJ Attorneys to Sue States in the Supreme Court to Overturn Election



President Donald Trump pressured U.S. Department of Justice attorneys, possibly including former Attorney General Bill Barr, to file a lawsuit against four U.S. states in the U.S. Supreme Court, in one of his final attempts to overturn the election before leaving office.

The Wall Street Journal reports late Saturday night that effort “failed due to pushback from his own appointees in the Justice Department, who refused to file what they viewed as a legally baseless lawsuit in the Supreme Court.”

The Journal also confirms Friday night’s New York Times reporting that Trump attempted to remove his own acting Attorney General, Jeffrey Rosen, after Barr left the DOJ just two days before Christmas.

According to the Journal, “senior department officials threatened to resign en masse should Mr. Trump fire then-acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, according to several people familiar with the discussions.”

“Senior department officials, including Mr. Rosen, former Attorney General William Barr and former acting Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall refused to file the Supreme Court case, concluding that there was no basis to challenge the election outcome and that the federal government had no legal interest in whether Mr. Trump or Mr. Biden won the presidency,” the paper adds.

The paper does not specify the exact timeframe of when Trump tried to force DOJ to file the lawsuit, but based on its report it had to have been after December 11, when the Supreme Court dismissed what most election law attorneys considered a frivolous suit filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, along with other Republican state attorneys general.

This is a breaking news and developing story. 

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GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy Says “Everyone” Is to Blame for Capitol Riots



While Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California has previously said that he thinks former President Donald Trump bears some responsibility for the January 6 coup attempt in which his supporters ransacked the Capitol to overturn the election that he and Republicans baselessly claimed was stolen, McCarthy added in a Thursday interview, “I also think everybody across this country has some responsibility [for the coup attempt.]”

McCarthy then said that anti-Trump Democrats, rude social media users, unprepared law enforcement authorities were all responsible too, even though Trump literally told his followers on the morning of January 6 to march to the Capitol and fight to stop legislators from approving the election victory of now-President Joe Biden. 

“I think this is what we have to get to the bottom of, and when you start talking about who has responsibilities,” McCarthy said. “I think there’s going to be a lot more questions, a lot more answers we have to have in the coming future.”

It’s especially telling that his Senate counterpart, now-Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has directly blamed Trump for the riots.

“The mob was fed lies,” McConnell said Wednesday. “They were provoked by the president and other powerful people, and they tried to use fear and violence to stop a specific proceeding of the first branch of the federal government which they did not like.” 

After months of making baseless claims that a national conspiracy of widespread voter fraud stole the election from him, a claim laughed out of courts 60 times over for lack of evidence by judges that Trump himself appointed, Trump held a “Stop the Steal” rally on the morning of January 6 in which he said, that he won the election “by a landslide” and encouraged his followers to “stop the steal” by going to the Capitol. If people don’t “fight like hell,” Trump said, “you’re not going to have a country anymore.”

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Russia Explodes with Protests Against Putin Poisoning and Jailing His Biggest Opponent



Russian citizens in 38 cities are protesting the country’s sham elections in which Russian President Vladimir Putin has felt so threatened by the opposition candidate, anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny, that he has had him imprisoned and poisoned in an attempt to silence his voice and kill his movement.

The Russian presidential elections are a complete sham used to legitimate Putin’s power. In the last election, Putin “won” nearly 77 percent of the vote amid claims of ballot stuffing, the Kremlin choosing which candidates get to run, police arresting any anti-Putin protesters and pro-Putin candidates receiving far more financial backing than his opponents.

Navalny himself, a popular anti-corruption campaigner who is one of Putin’s most outspoken critics, according to The Week, has previously been barred from running due to a trumped-up and controversial fraud conviction allegedly masterminded by Putin. In August 2020, Navalny was poisoned with a nerve agent called Novichok and survived his hospitalization. Navalny has said he got a Russian federal agent to reveal how he was poisoned, though the Kremlin has denied any involvement.

Three days ago, Navalny was jailed once more for allegedly violating his parole. He now inhabits Matrosskaya Tishina or Sailor’s Silence, a jail in Moscow’s north-east region that has housed high-ranking prisoners that authorities have wanted to cut off from the outside world since the Soviet era, according to Reuters. The jail is notoriously deadly.

Russian citizens across the nation have seemingly had enough and have begun protesting his imprisonment, as the videos below attest. Hundreds have been arrested as police fight to maintain control.

The U.S. Embassy in Russia has weighed in by saying, “We’re watching reports of protests in 38 Russian cities, arrests of 350+ peaceful protesters and journalists. The U.S. supports the right of all people to peaceful protest, freedom of expression. Steps being taken by Russian authorities are suppressing those rights.”

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