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France has chosen to leave persecuted gays to their fate

07 - 29 - 2002 dans Action 81

France does not grant the right of asylum to homosexuals who are prosecuted in their own countries, nor does it condemn such persecutions.

In November 2001 gay and human rights organizations demonstrated to the streets to protest against the arrest of 52 Egyptians who were prosecuted for homosexuality and contempt of religion.

Last January, Act Up-Paris splashed blood on the front of the Saudi Arabian embassy after three Saudi Arabians, who were accused of sodomy, intermarriage and corruption of minors, were beheaded. France said nothing about these two cases, at least not until Act Up activists harassed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Elysée Palace for days on end to wring vague declarations from them. The fate of a homosexual is apparently not worth straining trade relations for. Yet, to remain silent when confronted with homophobia is to sentence homosexuals to death both directly and indirectly, as homophobia paves the way for AIDS.

The right of asylum is endangered

At the same time the right of asylum is less and less respected by the members of the European Union and, in particular in France, by the agency for the protection of refugees and stateless persons (OFPRA). The appeal commission for refugees (CRR), wrote to Act Up-Paris on February 22 that « homosexuality and lesbianism (just as transsexualism) are not as such considered as grounds for persecution coming under the Geneva Convention. Therefore there is necessarily a variety of individual cases within specific national contexts ». « Specific national contexts » is exactly what we would like OFPRA and CRR to take into account more often. Homosexuality is still illegal or penalized in many countries : Turkey, which, however, is applying for membership in the European Union, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Iran etc... Yet all the appeals to the Council of state and CRR by citizens of these countries have been rejected.

Today for OFPRA and CRR, to be a homosexual or a transsexual in a country where one is liable for prosecution for homosexuality or transsexualism is not sufficient ground to claim the right of asylum in France. Officials require that homosexuals produce concrete evidence that their lives are in danger. The 1951 Geneva Convention on the status of refugees is however very clear : article 1-A-2 is quite explicit, the term « refugee » does not only apply to persons who have been persecuted, but to any person who is afraid of being persecuted. But such a notion of fear is systematically brushed aside by OFPRA and CRR requiring concrete proof of persecution, obsessed as they are with the idea of waves of immigrants passing themselves off as homosexuals or lesbians. Thus, according to the French administration, to be a homosexual or a lesbian in a country that condemns homosexuality or lesbianism in its penal code( as in Algeria,article 333 or in Cameroon, article 347a) is not enough to prove your life is in danger. You must first endanger your life to be able then to seek asylum.

An outdated notion

Moreover, OFPRA and CRR have such an outdated idea of homosexuality that it is practically impossible to examine the application of a gay man or a lesbian in an objective and coherent way. Both agencies have decided to take only some applications for asylum into account. The applicant’s homosexuality must be visible. Thus, if the applicant who turns up for the interview does not unfortunately behave like a homosexual, he will be told he can hide his sexual orientation and therefore go on living in his own country. One example of a particularly ironic answer : « the investigation does not reveal more clearly that Mr E. (an Algerian) who did not publicly claim he was a homosexual and did not flaunt his homosexuality [...]. Appeal rejected ».

To implement the Geneva Convention is not enough ; it must equally be amended. Article 1-A-2, which defines the word « refugee », uses the phrase « social group » for « sexual orientation » and « sexual identity ». This is too vague a term and in 50 years only a few scattered explanations have clarified it. This gives too much leeway to critics of the right to asylum.

To fight against homophobia, it should at least be possible to speak about homosexuality.

There can be no dispute about the right of minorities to safety. You must put pressure on your government and the European Union. Let’s work together.

Act Up-Paris demands :
- that all OFPRA and CRR employees be fully trained to deal with asylum cases involving homosexuality and/or transsexualism.
- that article 1-A-2 of the 1951 Geneva Convention on the status of refugees be amended to include the terms "sexual orientation" and "sexual identity".
- that Europe and developed countries in general stop having one policy for some people and another for others ; that they forcefully condemn those criminal governments that scorn homosexuals’, lesbians’, transsexuals’ and women’s rights.

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