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It’s not just St. Petersburg

Human rights concerns in other Sister Cities and their countries

Friday, Aug. 2 — As city officials and local advocates have focused recently on Lansing’s Sister Cities relationship — or lack thereof — with St. Petersburg, Russia over human rights concerns there, it’s not the only Lansing Sister City where such problems exist.

According to U.S. State Department reports and Human Rights Watch, an independent organization that calls attention to various human rights issues around the world, there are documented human rights abuses in all of the Sister Cities’ countries.

At a City Council meeting on Monday, the Bernero Administration suggested that Lansing’s Sister City relationship with St. Petersburg is nonexistent, having been dormant for several years. This came after two weeks of discussions over whether the city should sever its ties with St. Petersburg over anti-gay laws and crackdowns on pro-LGBT demonstrations in the city.

A resolution was tabled that would have put pressure on the St. Petersburg Sister City Commission to condemn the LGBT discrimination going on, or Lansing would sever its relationship. The resolution was taken off the agenda

One of the uncertainties with the tabled resolution is whether the Council will ask the Human Relations and Community Service Advisory Board to “prepare a report summarizing current human rights issues and challenges in each of Lansing’s sister cities” — a request that was included in the resolution.

Mayor Virg Bernero’s chief of staff, Randy Hannan, told the Council that while the administration realizes other countries might have policy differences with the U.S., the Sister Cities program is meant to build a dialog with those places for improvement. Bernero doesn’t support severing ties with St. Petersburg based on the latest human rights reports.

“Mayor Bernero believes we need to pursue a policy of constructive engagement,” Hannan said Monday. “If we sever relations with every city in every country that have political policies we disagree with, we would likely have no Sister Cities at all.” He cited “pernicious trade practices” and “flagrant abuse of the environment” in China as an example. Sanming, China is a Lansing Sister City.

The U.S. State Department releases annual human rights reports on countries around the world. One thing is very obvious from looking at the reports: No country has perfect human rights record.

Here you’ll find a sampling of some of the human rights abuses, including issues related to LGBT rights, in Lansing’s seven other Sister Cities and the respective countries:

Guadalajara and Saltillo, Mexico
The State Department’s report on Mexico lists numerous human rights abuses, including unlawful killings by security forces, poor and overcrowded prisons, arbitrary arrests and detention, confessions coerced through torture and censorship of journalists through violence and intimidation.

In July 2004, Human Rights Watch released a statement condemning the Guadalajara Police Department for “arbitrary detention, inhumane treatment, and cases of torture” against protesters who were arrested at the European Union-Latin America Summit.

As for LGBT rights, although there is still some discrimination, the State Department report says that in March 2010, Mexico City — the country’s largest city — officially legalized gay marriage and adoption. In August 2010, Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled that all of the country’s states were required to recognize gay marriages conducted in other states.

Otsu, Japan
Sexual harassment and employment discrimination; exploitation of foreign trainees; and discrimination against children born out of wedlock, minority groups and foreigners were all human rights issues in Japan, according to the State Department.

Japan has no national laws that protect against LGBT discrimination, according to the State Department. However, some local governments have passed laws prohibiting employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, the report states.  

Akuapem South District and Nsawam, Ghana
The State Department reports excessive force by police; ethnic killings and vigilante violence; corruption in all branches of the government and prolonged pretrial detention periods. In one instance, a person was held in pretrial detention for 17 years in Nsawam Prison, the report states.

In October, 2012, Human Rights Watch reported that each year thousands of people with mental illnesses in Ghana are moved to psychiatric institutions and spiritual healing centers, also known as “prayer camps,” where they don’t receive the proper treatment they need.

In some of the prayer camps, patients are chained to trees, forced to fast and are denied helpful medication, Human Rights Watch reported.

There is no registered LGBT organization in all of Ghana, according to the State Department, and the LGBT community faces “widespread discrimination” across the country.

Asan, South Korea
South Korea has problems with hazing in the military, imprisonment of conscientious objectors and issues regarding laws regulating the Internet, according to the State Department.

The department also reports that while there is a law in place in South Korea that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, there are no laws punishing or providing remedy to victims of LGBT discrimination.

Sanming, China
In China, the State Department reported extrajudicial killings and harsh restrictions on freedom of speech, the press, travel and religion.

“I can’t think of a single province of China that would necessarily be immune to the kinds of abuses we’ve documented across the country,” said Sophie Richardson, China director for Human Rights Watch. “The Chinese government has a very poor record on human rights.”

Arbitrary detention, forced disappearances, use of the death penalty and denial of education to kids with disabilities are some of the issues that Human Rights Watch is looking at in China, Richardson said.

Sanming is a “fairly heavy industrial area,” Richardson said. There are likely to be problems with labor rights and pollution, as with the rest of the country, she said.

As for LGBT rights, homosexuality was decriminalized in 1997, according to the State Department, and it was removed from the official list of mental disorders in 2001. There are no laws criminalizing sexual orientation or LGBT organizations, the report stated. 


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