Gay Syrians, Iraqis recount ISIS persecution at UN meet

UNITED NATIONS • Members of the United Nations Security Council heard gay people from Syria and Iraq tell of their terror-filled lives under the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the first council meeting on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights.

Mr Subhi Nahas told the meeting that gay people in his Syrian home town of Idlib were being hurled from rooftops and stoned by cheering townspeople. "In the Islamic State, gays are being tracked and killed all the time," said Mr Nahas, who escaped and now works for a refugee organisation in the United States. Gay people in Idlib were targeted by the Syrian government, then by Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front after it took over the city in 2012, and finally by ISIS militants, who seized control last year.

"At the executions, hundreds of townspeople, including children, cheered jubilantly as (if) at a wedding," Mr Nahas recounted.

ISIS has claimed responsibility for at least 30 executions for "sodomy", Ms Jessica Stern, director of the International Gay and Lesbian Rights Commission, told the closed-door meeting. ISIS has also put at least seven videos or photos online as a form of advertisement for the killings, she said, in remarks released after the meeting.

An Iraqi, who used the false name "Adnan" out of fear for his safety, said he had suffered brutality at the hands of Iraqi security forces before ISIS fighters showed up, and feared his family could have turned him in to ISIS militants.

Speaking by phone from an undisclosed location in the Middle East, Mr Adnan said ISIS fighters "are professional" when it comes to tracking down 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," said Mr Adnan.

"They are trying to track down every gay man. And it's like dominoes. If one goes, the others will be taken down too."

ISIS has claimed responsibility for at least 30 executions for "sodomy", Ms Jessica Stern, director of the International Gay and Lesbian Rights Commission, told the closed-door meeting. ISIS has also put at least seven videos or photos online as a form of advertisement for the killings, she said, in remarks released after the meeting.

Mr Adnan told the council that ISIS taps widespread homophobia in the Middle East. "In my society, being gay means death and when ISIS kills gays, most people are happy because they think we are evil, and ISIS gets a good credit for that."

Addressing the council, Mr Nahas appealed to governments to grant safe haven to sexual minorities so that "they can again know security" and called for action to end the war in Syria, now in its fifth year.

Mr Nahas told reporters after the meeting that LGBT was not "just a terminology invented by the West" and that sexual minorities in the Middle East "want their rights too".

The meeting was organised by the United States and Chile in what US Ambassador Samantha Power said was a sign that LGBT rights are "being injected into the mainstream at the United Nations". She called the meeting "historic" and "long overdue" at the UN.

The event was open to all UN member-states, but Security Council members Angola and Chad stayed away. China, Malaysia, Nigeria and Russia sent representatives, but made no statement.

More than 75 of the UN's 193 member-states have laws criminalising homosexuality.

The US is leading an international coalition that has vowed to defeat ISIS, which declared a caliphate in June last year.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 26, 2015, with the headline 'Gay Syrians, Iraqis recount ISIS persecution at UN meet'. Print Edition | Subscribe