“Adnan” is a gay Iraqi. He’s suffered beatings and humiliation throughout his adult life. But when ISIS swept through his town, he was marked for death.
Today, Adnan (a pseudonym) told his story to the United Nations Security Council, in a first-ever meeting focused solely on violence against LGBTI communities. He gave the following briefing, via mobile phone, from an undisclosed location in the Middle East.
This is tough reading, but worth it.
I am calling in today to share a part of my story, as I am still not safe and in fear for my life. I am also talking today to honor those who got killed for being different in the hope of preventing such things in the future.
In my society, being gay means death and when ISIS kills gays most people are happy because they think we are evil, and ISIS get a good credit for that.
We are hated, and our suffering and death brings joy to people.
I had my share, way before ISIS took control. It started on 2013. I was outed as a gay to a few people, and as a result I went through verbal and physical abuse. Once I was attacked by three people, they beat me, they threw me to the ground and they shaved my head. They told me that this was just a lesson, that I wouldn’t be killed then and there out of respect for my father. Luckily for me he is a well-known religious man. This was not the only incident I went through though! Another time I was kicked half unconscious and was barely able to walk.
For the past few years it’s been really, really hard. There were militiamen or security men who – if they found out someone was gay – would arrest him, rape him, torture him. There were lots of murders supervised by the Iraqi Army. Videos came out of people being burned alive or stoned and you can see soldiers in them. I have seen a video where some gay men had ropes put around their necks and they were dragged around the streets and people were throwing stones at them and when they were half-dead they were set on fire. Some people had their rectums glued up and were then left to die in the desert.
The difference now is that ISIS has only one horrible method of killing people – throwing them off buildings and, if they don’t die, stoning them. I know that if ISIS had captured me, that would have been my fate.
While I was in university, ISIS took control of my city in Iraq. I had already been targeted by one of my classmates, and then he decided to join ISIS. Once they were in charge, he called me and warned me to repent. I hung up the phone. A short time later, ISIS fighters showed up to my house and announced my homosexuality to my family. They told them that they wanted to carry out God’s punishment against me.
My own family turned against me when ISIS was after me, again just for being gay and atheist. I had to leave, or else I would have been killed.
I could never ask for the police protection, nor my family’s protection. I can never complain, simply because I am gay, that means I am a criminal.
My journey wasn’t easy, I was lonely, and it was really difficult to leave my city. I had to go through many routes looking for safety until I made it here. And I’m still not that safe.
If I’d stayed, ISIS would have come for me and killed me the way they’ve killed others. If ISIS didn’t get me, members of my family would have done it.
Although this has been happening in Iraq for awhile now, what’s changed is that the media are focusing on what ISIS is doing, because it’s ISIS. And ISIS films everything and releases the video and says: “We killed these people for being gay and this is their punishment according to our Holy Book.”
ISIS are also professional when it comes to tracking gay people. They hunt them down one by one. When they capture people, they go through the person’s phone and contacts and Facebook friends. They are trying to track down every gay man. And it’s like dominoes. If one goes, the others will be taken down too.
That’s what happened to my friend. I never knew how he was outed, but I know how he got killed. I know that the world lost a great man for one crime: being born different.
And this is not over yet, in the Islamic State, gays are being tracked and killed all the time. And people who were able to flee, like myself, are living in constant fear and waiting for the unknown.
Even here, I received a message telling me that my place of residence is known and that I will get the punishment that I deserve. Yes, that was from my relatives.
In sum, our families disowned us, our government doesn’t protect us, and ISIS is tracking everyone down, mostly to gain support from our society.
Our society encourages ISIS when they release videotaped murders of the LGBT, disgusting pictures that are not easy to see.
ISIS is the worst, but they are not the only one in the field who commits these crimes. Some laws protect the killers of gays, under the name of “honor crime.”
Most of the world will turn a blind eye to what is happening. The rest will feel sad, maybe angry. They will get to their safe homes, they will continue living their lives while we get killed in some places, and suffer silently in others, waiting for the unknown, paused our lives, living in bad conditions, and maybe we are waiting for nothing.
I agreed to participate because I hope the international community will hear our cry and start caring for our lives, to find a solution for people in countries with anti-gay laws.
Personally, I would like to deliver a message to the Iraqi police: respect the LGBT when you arrest them, especially respect transgender people. I am not asking for marriage equality, just respect for our lives and for dignity.
I hope that the international community will soon come up with a solution for those who fled their countries and are stuck somewhere else. We are not living, just passing time, wasting valuable days of our youth.
I think we’ve suffered enough, and we’ve been through a lot fleeing militias and extremists, escaping death, to now be stuck with bureaucracy. We deserve easier and faster resettlements so we can start living with respect.
Andan was joined in this briefing by Subhi Nahas, a gay Syrian refugee who fled his country after Jabaat al Nusra (the Al Qaeda affiliate) took over his neighborhood. After fleeing to Turkey, he continued to receive death threats from ISIS. He’s been resettled in the USA and works for the NGO ORAM – Organization for Refuge, Asylum & Migration. His story is equally harrowing.
While this was a meeting of the Security Council. It was not a formal Security Council meeting. The distinction matters. The USA and Chile called for this meeting, but some members did not give their full consent; and the fact that the witnesses called to brief the council were private citizens and not UN or government officials impeded their ability to formally brief the council. Rather, this meeting was invoked under a special procedure called the Arria Formula in which council members can receive briefings from unconventional witnesses on sometimes controversial topics.
The upshot is that there will be no formal condemnation of violence against LGBT community from the Council. Still, nearly every Council member attended this briefing–including every veto-wielding permanent member. Only two members skipped it: Chad and Angola. This makes this special meeting of the council a landmark event for the United Nations, which has been growing ever more assertive on the cause of LGBT rights.
In her remarks today, Samantha Power acknowledged as much.
The effort to defend the equal rights of LGBT persons must also be waged within every one of our countries, even those where important progress has been made – and that includes in the United States. For just as this year we have made tremendous strides in advancing LGBT rights in the United States, we are under no illusion that the work is finished. Every one of our countries can and must do more to advance these rights domestically.
Let me conclude and hand the floor over to my esteemed co-host, Ambassador Barros-Melet. This year we mark seventy years since the creation of the United Nations. It is fair to say that in writing the charter, the drafters did not consider LGBT rights part of their conception of equal rights. But if we read the Charter today – and in particular its call to “reaffirm faith… in the dignity and worth of the human person” – it is impossible not to see a call for all of us to affirm LGBT rights. It is impossible not to see individuals like Adnan and Subhi as having the same inherent dignity and worth. And it is impossible not to take up the struggle for their rights as our own, as we have other great human rights struggles over the last seven decades. Today, we take a small but important step in assuming that work. It must not be our last step.
The Council may be still divided over a political and diplomatic solution to the Syria crisis. But today’s meeting was an important show of unity around one particularly egregious feature of an already ugly conflict.