Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Breaking Barriers in Sierra Leone

This morning I spoke with Hudson Tucker, who is spearheading our Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered and Intersex (LGBTI) work in Sierra Leone.  He was excited to let me know about the success we had this past week. 

Last Thursday and Friday (November 17-18), Global Rights held its first of six LGBTI workshops with 24 activists from five human rights organization, including Global Rights’ local partners, Dignity Association and Why Can’t We Get Married. 

The workshop focused on the basic definitions of LGBTI rights and an overview of Sierra Leonean laws and policies impacting the LGBTI community, as well as the UN Resolution on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity 

Ambassador Owen with the workshop participants

We had fantastic support from the U.S. Embassy in Freetown and U.S. Ambassador Michael S. Owen.  Ambassador Owen opened the workshop and spoke with civil society leaders on the importance of equal rights for all Sierra Leoneans. 

We agree with Ambassador Owen that “Sierra Leone [can be] a leader in human rights, and an example for the African continent.” However, we strongly urge Sierra Leone to improve its LGBTI record.

During Sierra Leone’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the UN Human Rights Council, fellow Member States raised concerns about Sierra Leone’s legal provisions targeting sexual orientation and consenting adult sexual activity.  The following three recommendations were made to Sierra Leone to:

  • Bring its legislation into conformity with its commitment to equality and non-discrimination for all by prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity;
  • Repeal all provisions which may be applied to criminalize sexual activity between consenting adults; and,
  • Repeal all provisions criminalizing sexual activity between consenting adults.

Despite Minister of Justice Frank Kargbo’s commitment to “protecting all Sierra Leoneans regardless of sexual orientation,” the government of Sierra Leone
formally rejected the UPR recommendations. 

In response, George Freeman, Coordinator of Why Can’t We Get Married, made a statement urging “the government of Sierra Leone to adopt the recommendations made by the UN Human Rights Council to decriminalize homosexuality. Decriminalizing homosexuality is key to attaining full human rights for the LGBTI community.”

LGBTI activists like George need our support more than ever.  I believe that Global Rights’ work with LGBTI activists will continue to provide the needed tools to effectively advocate and campaign for change in their country. 

What do you think?  How can we further support the LGBTI community in Sierra Leone?


Posted by
Susan M. Farnsworth

Friday, November 4, 2011

Why Empower Women?

I just read Wednesday’s testimony of Tamara C. Wittes* to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Women and the Arab Spring. 

A quote that leapt out at me in her testimony was from President Obama who said in May, 2011, “History shows that countries are more prosperous and more peaceful when women are empowered.”

We see that over and over in our work at Global Rights. One of the ways we empower women – specifically in Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria – is to train our local partners to teach women about their human and legal rights, and then work with them on strategies to articulate and demand those rights. 

Bottom line is that we believe empowering women to access justice so that they can assert and protect their rights is a potent tool to overcome power imbalances in society.  

Over the past eight years as one of the few international organizations operating in Tunisia, Global Rights is working in the trenches with local NGOs to strengthen their capacity to conduct grassroots-level rights education and community mobilization on women’s rights.  It’s based on the great model we have developed in Morocco over the last decade.

Ms. Wittes said at the end of her testimony:
“Without a doubt, the final outcome of the region’s democratic transition is uncertain. But because we believe that democratic transformation in the Middle East is profoundly in our interests, we are committed to remaining engaged and to providing the necessary long-term support for women in these countries who are already working as agents of positive change."

Having worked in the Maghreb since 2000, we have seen what long-term support for women can bring.  We work with amazing women day in and day out who are working as agents of positive change in the region.  Just this week, the Global Rights’ Maghreb team is in Geneva with five of our long-term Moroccan partners to make recommendations to combat violence against women at the United Nations Committee Against Torture.  We are all empowered by their efforts.


*Tamara Wittes is the Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs and Deputy Special Coordinator for Middle East Transitions.  She gave testimony before Subcommittees on International Operations and Organizations, Human Rights, Democracy and Global Women’s Issues and Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs.

Posted by Susan M. Farnsworth

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Our Blog, Our Partners, and What Drives Us

Hello! I’m Susan Farnsworth, the Executive Director of Global Rights. And welcome to our blog, Frontline Justice.  I think it’s a fitting name that best describes our mission and our work.  We’re a human rights organization working side by side with local activists across Africa, Latin America, and Asia. 
In Frontline Justice, I’ll be telling you how we’re working with our local partners to defend human rights for future generations. 
So why are we so passionate about our work at Global Rights?  What drives us here is supporting lasting, systematic change. The fight for human rights is a global struggle: our activists face countless challenges, immense discrimination, and hostile threats.  Our goal is to provide our partners with the necessary legal empowerment tools to break these barriers.
And I believe that real, sustainable change can only happen from the bottom up – beginning with the individual and the community.  Our work is designed to support and learn from exceptional local leaders across the globe.  For example:

Access to Justice: In Afghanistan, we’re training the future generation of young lawyers. You can check out Enjilla and Abdullah’s story here.

Women’s Rights: In Morocco, we’re mobilizing women to pass legislation to combat gender-based violence.  A ratified bill would be the first of its kind of the Arab world. See how Zahira became a leader for this movement

Racial and Ethnic Equality:
 In Peru, we’re mobilizing the Afro-Peruvian community to use regional and international bodies like the Organization of American States to combat discrimination.  Click here for photos. 

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) Rights:
In Sierra Leone, we are training partners in the LGBTI community and network to monitor and document human rights violations.  

Natural Resources and Human Rights: With our Congo-Brazzaville partners, we are taking documented human rights violations resulting from natural resource exploitation and advocating with the government to implement change.  

I invite you to follow us and listen to the stories and insights of our partners on the frontlines. I welcome your comments and feedback. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter to keep in touch daily with all the frontline justice that is going on around the world.  

Welcome again to Frontline Justice,


Posted by Susan M. Farnsworth