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Barney
Frank demands answers from Rice over exclusion of gay
groups from U.N. panel

Barney
Frank demands answers from Rice over exclusion of gay
groups from U.N. panel

Gay Massachusetts congressman Barney Frank and rights activists have asked Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to explain why the United States sided with Iran, Zimbabwe, and other repressive governments to exclude two gay rights groups from membership on a United Nations panel. "I had hopes for better from you," Frank said in a letter to 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. Rice has not yet responded, Frank said in an interview. "To refuse them status--what else is it except an act of bigotry?" Frank said. Human Rights Watch, gay rights group Human Rights Campaign, and other organizations also complained in a letter to Rice shortly after the January 23 membership vote for the U.N. Economic and Social Council. The U.N. panel is a think tank of nongovernmental agencies from around the world. The Brussels-based International Lesbian and Gay Association sought inclusion in May along with the Danish national gay and lesbian organization Landsforeningen for Bosser og Lesbiske. 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 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 also has criticized China's human rights record and recently made milder statements about the continuation of military rule in Pakistan and increasingly undemocratic moves by Russian president Vladimir Putin. State Department spokesman Edgar Vasquez confirmed receipt of Frank's letter. "We're working on providing a response in the near future," he said. "You can be sure that we're looking into this issue very carefully." He would not comment further on the reason for the U.S. vote or whether it represents a change in policy. U.S. officials thought there was enough ambiguity about the situation that they were uncomfortable voting for the groups. 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. The State Department documents human rights 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 January 25 Human Rights Watch letter said. (AP)

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