BY NATASHA BARSOTTI – Reports coming out of Iraq say that close to 40 people have been kidnapped, brutally tortured and murdered because of their perceived sexual orientation, according to the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC).
So far, Iraqi authorities have not responded to, or denounced, the violence, which is believed to be the work of a group of the Shiite militia, the IGLHRC says in a release.
"We particularly demand the Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights denounce the anti-gay violence in Iraq and launch an official investigation into these heinous crimes," IGLHRC's Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, Hossein Alizadeh, says.
"We have seen these atrocities before," IGLHRC executive director Cary Alan Johnson says, noting the 2009 vigilante murders of Iraqis because they were perceived to be gay or lesbian. "There are no excuses for such heinous human rights violations."
The IGLHRC says the latest targeting began in early February with the posting of death threats against so-called "adulterous individuals" in predominantly Shiite neighbourhoods of Baghdad and Basra. "The threats gave the individuals, whose names and ages were listed, four days to stop their behaviour or else face the wrath of God," the organization reports.
"Iraq observers say attackers are targeting men who are seen as 'too feminine' and women who are perceived as 'masculine' rather than focusing solely on people's sexuality," according to a Gay Star News report.
IGLHRC spokesperson Roberta Sklar told Xtra that the organization is doing "deep research" to get further confirmation on what it's been hearing.
News of the latest atrocities comes on the eve of a United Nations panel on queer rights to be held in Geneva, Switzerland, on March 7, marking the first time the UN's Human Rights Council focuses on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The panel is also taking place in the midst of opposition by 56 Islamic states in the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which refuse to acknowledge gay rights as human rights.
On behalf of the 56, the permanent representative of Pakistan to the UN, Zamir Akram, says in a letter that the OIC "are concerned that the panel will discuss issues that relate to personal behavior and preferences, and have nothing to do with fundamental human rights."
Akram says the 56 also "note with concern the attempts to create controversial 'new notions' or 'new standards' by misinterpreting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international treaties to include such notions that were never articulated or agreed to by the UN membership."
UK gay rights advocate Peter Tatchell has called on the Pakistani president and prime minister to reject the "intolerant, ignorant letter, saying Akram's rejection of universal human rights is "deplorable" and casts the government of Pakistan in a bad light.
Tatchell points out that Pakistan is a member of the Commonwealth, whose secretary general, Kamalesh Sharma, has repeatedly come out in support of queer rights and "declared homophobic discrimination and violence incompatible with Commonwealth values."
Click here to follow the UN's live panel discussion March 7.
Check back later for an update on Iraq.