The Full Story

Welcome to the first of our new-format news features. “The Full Story” replaces the two long-running features, World Watch and News Watch with a single more widely ranging look at items of news from all over the world. We hope to help join up the dots on the picture of world news and give our readers the full story.

Shameful prime ministers and shameless popes. Two-faced politicians and bigoted religionists. Dean Braithwaite and George Broadhead piece together the full story.

To Britain’s shame, Gordon Brown (as Prime Minister) invited Pope Benedict XVI on a State visit to the UK later this year. Since that invitation was made public, there’s been growing unease among many people about playing host to this man. A man who: has probably contributed to the suicides of many gay people; colluded in protecting priests who have abused children; been responsible for the deaths of many in Africa and elsewhere who might have benefited from the use of condoms to stave off disease; and who wants to dictate to the UK how it should frame its equality laws! People and groups campaigning against his visit are growing day by day, and, in April, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens gave their support to an attempt to have the leader of the Roman Catholic Church arrested once he arrives on British soil.

In this video, Hitchens is speaking to MSNBC, the US news channel, about what he sees as the legal case against Pope Benedict XVI.

Also in April, the UK government felt it necessary to apologise to the Pope after it emerged that someone from its Papal Visit Team had sent out a memo suggesting that, during his visit, he could open an abortion clinic, launch a range of “Benedict condoms” and bless a gay marriage.

Apparently, according to the Daily Telegraph, the ideas had emerged during a brainstorming session among officials. The memo is headed “The ideal visit would see . . .”, and includes other items, such as: “Reverse policy on women bishops/ordain woman”; “Review of Vatican attitude on condom use”; “Training course for all bishops on child abuse allegations”; and “Apologise for . . .”

The British Foreign Office was quick to issue a public apology to Pope Benedict, and the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, said he was “appalled” at the memo. Miliband, of course, is an atheist who sees nothing wrong in sending his son to a faith school. In our view, the only thing we should be apologising for (to all those victims of Catholic-instigated child abuse) is for inviting the evil bigot to the UK in the first place!

The Daily Telegraph quoted Malcolm McMahon, Roman Catholic Bishop of Nottingham, who said he was astonished and angered by the proposals. “This is appalling. You don’t invite someone to your country and then disrespect them in this way. It’s outlandish and outrageous to assume that any of the ideas are in any way suitable for the Pope.”

Yes, we couldn’t agree more. Pope Benedict cannot be expected to take seriously the issue of priestly-led child abuse, care for the disadvantaged, stand up for equality or respect human rights. Afterall, he’s the leader of one of the most evil institutions the human race has ever devised.

If we’d been in on the brainstorming session, we’d have added: “Turn around, get back on the plane and bugger off back to the Vatican.”

Tory faith schools

The Tory leader, David Cameron, is very good at trying to look both ways at once. Unfortunately for him, he’s not very good at actually pulling it off. See “Vote seXuality”, elsewhere in this issue, for his performance during a recent interview he gave to Gay Times. Here is another example:

UK gay Humanists condemn Conservative support for faith-school teaching on homosexuality

The UK gay Humanist charity the Pink Triangle Trust (PTT) has condemned the Conservative Party’s successful blocking of Labour’s plans to introduce compulsory sex education in schools. It has also condemned Conservative support for faith schools teaching it “in a way that’s consistent with their beliefs”.

In an interview with The Catholic Herald, the Conservative Party’s leader David Cameron said: “I do think that sex and relationship education is an important part of learning about responsibility,” he said. “But schools should be allowed to teach it in a way that’s consistent with their beliefs, and parents should be free to decide whether or not their children should take part in these lessons.”

Commenting on this revelation the PTT’s secretary George Broadhead said: “Mr Cameron has claimed to be supportive of gay and lesbian rights, but doesn’t he realise that if faith schools are permitted to teach that same sex sexual practices are morally wrong, it will do irreparable harm to their lesbian and gay pupils and cause an increase in bullying?

“Faith schools now make up one third of the total number and all three main political parties intend to expand them further. Unsurprisingly, a Stonewall survey revealed that a higher proportion of anti-gay bullying occurs in these schools than in others. How is this going to be tackled if such schools are permitted to teach pupils that lesbian and gay sexual relationships are sinful?

“Faith issues dominate American election campaigns and this is the latest indication of the growing use of this style of campaigning by the Conservatives.”

As a Humanist charity, the PTT is also against David Cameron’s opposition to assisted suicide, which he expressed in the same interview.

Well hung?

At the time of writing, it seemed a hung parliament was a real possibility for the first time in 30 or 40 years. Of course, by the time you read this, the UK general election should be over. And not before time. We’ve lived long enough and seen enough to realise that, whoever ends up running the country, nothing really changes. And that surely will be the case even if the government ends up being a coalition one. Although most political pundits were anticipating the possibility of a Lib Dem–Labour or a Lib Dem–Conservative coalition, that didn’t stop the nutters crawling out of the woodwork.

Before the election, the Guardian spoke to the Reverend George Hargreaves, he of the Christian Party. He told the paper that they couldn’t possibly do a deal with the Labour Party – as if that would ever be in the offing this side of Pope Benedict declaring to the world that he’s gay, however desperate Gordon Brown was.

Psalms Scroll
Psalms Scroll

Apparently, the reason why Hargreaves’s Christian Party couldn’t do a deal to keep Brown at Number 10 is theological. He told the paper:

Psalm 94, verse 20 warns that there will be a “throne of iniquity”, and that’s the Labour government, with its equalities act forcing Christians to make nice with gays; its education rules hampering them from running faith schools as they wish; its hostility to creationism.

Hargreaves, who was contesting the Barking constituency, the seat held by Margaret Hodge, says that, in terms of morality, she’s the worst: “Abortion, gambling. She has no Christian credentials at all.” Good enough for us!

Iran and the UNHRC

In April, Sonja Eggerickx, President of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), launched an international appeal to keep Iran out of the United Nations Human Rights Council. As part of its campaign, IHEU has started a petition on its website, and is seeking signatures  from other organisations.

Petition to Keep Iran out of the UN Human Rights Council

More than six decades after the United Nations proclaimed a set of universal human rights, respect for these fundamental freedoms remain “the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”. [1] Yet, even within the organs of the United Nations, it has required constant vigilance and striving for these global standards to survive and strengthen. In 2005, then UN secretary general Kofi Annan called for the replacement of the UN Commission for Human Rights before it brought “the entire UN system into disrepute”. In establishing the Human Rights Council to replace the discredited Commission, the UN General Assembly decided “that members elected to the Council shall uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights” [2] Now, just four years later, the UN is being asked to elect one of the world’s worst human rights abusers to that very Human Rights Council.

Iran: a world-record of human rights abuse

The Islamic Republic of Iran is one of the world’s most blatant violators of human rights. This alone should disqualify it from membership of the Human Rights Council, because the UN General Assembly required that “when electing members of the Council, Member States shall take into account the contribution of candidates to the promotion and protection of human rights and their voluntary pledges and commitments made thereto” [3]. Iran has a record of persecuting religious minorities, denying freedom of conscience and freedom of speech, and violently suppressing democratic voices. No other country executes as many of its young people as Iran. No other member state of the UN has called for another sovereign state to be wiped off the map, in blatant contravention of the UN Charter. In all of these well-documented abuses [4], Iran flouts the values and work of the Human Rights Council.

Legal and diplomatic condemnations of Iran by UN Member States

In March 2010, the Federal Court of Switzerland, the country’s highest judiciary body, refused any further cooperation with the Islamic Republic of Iran because of its grave human rights violations. The Swiss Federal Court noted that Iran was denounced in a UN resolution adopted by the General Assembly in December 2009 and does not believe that it will comply with its human rights obligations even if it explicitly guaranteed to do so [5]. The Swiss condemnation of Iran was echoed by other States including the Czech [6] and German [7] governments, which called upon the UN to reject Iran’s application to join the Council.

Voting against Iran: defending the Council’s credibility

The late Commission for Human Rights failed because, in the words of UN secretary general Kofi Annan, its work had become irremediably compromised by its politicking and selectivity, and by its failure to address human rights abuses by its member states. Repeating this mistake by electing Iran would lead the Council down the same suicidal path taken by the Commission. The future of the Human Rights Council, and the credibility of the entire UN system, are at stake.

We the undersigned non-governmental organizations therefore call upon all member states of the United Nations not to vote for Iran to become a member of the Human Rights Council.

The Pink Triangle Trust (PTT) showed its support for the IHEU initiative, signing the petition and calling on others to do so.

Gay Humanists support opposition to Iran’s membership of
the UN Human Rights Council

The UK gay Humanist charity, the Pink Triangle Trust (PTT), has supported a move by the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) to keep Iran out of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

IHEU President Sonja Eggerickx said: “Iran has one of the worst human rights records on earth. Yet it has had the audacity to announce its candidacy for membership of the UN Human Rights Council. The international community must not let this happen. We are calling upon the world’s non-governmental organisations to join us in our appeal to keep Iran out.” IHEU has started a petition on its website and is seeking signatures from other organizations.

The PTT’s secretary and veteran gay activist George Broadhead said: “When the Human Rights Council was established, the UN General Assembly decided ‘that members elected to the Council shall uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights’. Now, just four years later, the UN is being asked to elect one of the world’s worst human rights abusers to that very Council.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran is one of the world’s most blatant violators of human rights. This alone should disqualify it from membership of the Human Rights Council, because the UN General Assembly required that ‘when electing members of the Council, member states shall take into account the contribution of candidates to the promotion and protection of human rights and their voluntary pledges and commitments made thereto’.

“Iran has an appalling record of persecuting LGBT people, denying freedom of conscience and freedom of speech, and violently suppressing democratic voices.

“The punishment meted out to gays by this Islamic theocracy, which includes floggings and executions, are reminiscent of the Middle Ages. In 2005, Iran sparked international outrage when it publicly hanged two gay teenage boys Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni.

Iran Stop Killing Gays
Iran Stop Killing Gays

“It is quite intolerable that such a murderous homophobic state should be considered for membership of the UN’s Human Rights Council”, concluded Broadhead.

The IHEU petition, which Broadhead has signed on behalf of the PTT, can be found at here.

Gay Belarus

Just time to highlight Gay Belarus, the Belarusian LGBT-rights project set up in 2008 by Sergey Androsenko.

The group is not recognised by the authorities in Belarus. Androsenko says: “In our country, it is impossible to register a gay organisation. Actually, it is impossible to register any type of organisation. The process has been made especially complex to discourage anyone. And the authorities sometimes take criminal charges against non-registered organisations on the basis that it compromises the ‘happy future of Belarusian people’. So, the majority of activists, whether gay or not, are potential criminals.”

A statement, sent in March 2008 by the President of Belarus, shows how difficult life is for gay people in that country. According to Androsenko, it accused the Initiative of Young Gays of “homosexual propaganda in Belarus, of summons to the unendorsed meetings, of insulting the government and the President of Belarus and of disinformation of the international society about the social and political life in the country”.

The organisation has launched its own magazine, GAY: Good As You. Published on a bi-monthly basis, the periodical will be available in Belarusian and Russian. The first issue was distributed in Minsk in March this year, but, according to its chief editor, Sergey Praded, “The authorities have denied to register our magazine, making it unofficial, and preventing us to print more than 299 copies according to the law; but we hope to be able to circulate a few in other cities by April.”