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from The Human Impact:

“They told me to have a sex change” – Iranian lesbian

Sara, a bright young woman studying for a masters at Tehran University, is a lesbian – but if the Iranian authorities had their way, she would change her sex and become a man.

Homosexuality is considered sinful in predominantly Muslim Iran, and homosexual acts are illegal. Sex changes, however, are legal and appear to be positively encouraged by doctors and psychologists as “treatment” for people who prefer their own sex.

When Sara came out to her family nine years ago at the age of 20, she was sent to a psychologist who declared after one 40-minute consultation that she should have a sex change.

“She said I was really a man in a woman’s body and I had to change my body to suit my personality. My sister had brought a photo along, (taken when) I was maybe 5 years old. I was wearing boy’s clothes and had a toy gun in my hand and the psychologist emphasised that this photo showed that I was a man,” Sara told Thomson Reuters Foundation.

from The Human Impact:

Catch 22: Steven’s story of statelessness in Britain

Three years ago Steven walked into a police station in the British city of Cardiff and asked to be arrested even though he hadn’t committed any crime. When the police refused, he asked if it would help if he insulted an officer. They refused again.

Steven had hit rock bottom after a series of events had left him destitute, and he believed a police cell would be preferable to another night sleeping rough.

from Global Investing:

Discovering Pyongyang’s view with a North Korean diplomat

Last week I went to a very unique session on North Korea which featured a rare appearance of a North Korean diplomat, at London-based policy institute Chatham House.

A wide range of topics -- from North-South relations, human rights, a potential nuclear test to a new generation of young diplomats -- were discussed, but  under the so-called Chatham House rules (meaning I cannot reveal who said what).

from The Human Impact:

Where does human trafficking happen? Right in front of you

Human trafficking has many faces and forms. There’s the pimp enslaving and exploiting young girls in cities across the United States – where an estimated 100,000 girls are trafficked at present. There are the men who buy young boys in Ghana, forcing them into lives of servitude and hard labour, spending long days in flimsy boats in the Lake Volta region, hunched over their fishing lines under a scorching sun.

Not My Life, a powerful documentary by Academy Award-nominated director Robert Bilheimer, tells the stories of survivors of human trafficking around the world, painting a picture of this horrific crime that many people still think of as a phenomenon confined to remote corners of the developing world.

from Felix Salmon:

Davos pusillanimity watch, LGBT rights edition

For an organization which loves to talk about the importance of social responsibility and civil society, it's notable that the WEF has never had a panel on LGBT rights. This year, however, the issue has finally become impossible to avoid. Russia is in the midst of a poisonous campaign against its LGBT citizens; once the Winter Olympics are over, that crackdown is only going to get worse. And in Nigeria, where homosexuality has always been illegal and dangerous, president Goodluck Jonathan -- who is here in Davos -- recently signed into law a brutal new piece of legislation which makes even supporting gay rights punishable by ten years in prison; a round of arrests under the new law has already begun.

At the same time, the community of LGBT supporters is larger and more powerful than ever, and their message has finally made its way into Davos, if not into the formal WEF program. This morning, there was a classic Davos power breakfast under the title "The Global Fight for LGBT Equality", which drew some very boldface names, including two US senators (Patrick Leahy and Claire McCaskill) as well as Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights. The breakfast was sponsored by a broad cross-section of WEF partners: corporate support came from Credit Suisse, the Huffington Post, Microsoft, and Time Warner, while the main people making the breakfast happen were two big-name hedge-fund managers, Paul Singer and Dan Loeb.

from Expert Zone:

Slow change comes to India a year after Delhi gang rape

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

One year ago, a 23-year-old physiotherapy student was raped and murdered. Her story showed the world that women across India are viewed as dispensable, undeserving of full human rights.

One year later, what has changed?

It is heartening that the case of Nirbhaya, as she is known, led to the setting up of the Justice Verma commission that recommended strengthening outdated laws to protect women and their rights. Although change has been slow, more cases of sexual violence are being reported rather than silenced, scuttled or quietly settled. However, crime statistics and prosecution rates show that most of these crimes go unnoticed, unreported and absorbed into the culture of “that’s the way things are."

from The Great Debate:

Human Rights Day: Still pursuing religious freedom

December 10 marks Human Rights Day, the 65th anniversary of the landmark Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), signed by 48 nations -- with just eight abstentions.

Sixty-five years ago, naysayers insisted it was nobody else’s business how governments behaved within their borders. The declaration confronted this cynical view -- and continues to do so today. Human rights abuses and their consequences spill beyond national borders, darkening prospects for harmony and stability across the globe. Freedom of religion or belief, as well as other human rights, are essential to peace and security. They are everyone’s business.

from Nicholas Wapshott:

It’s time for Obama to defy Putin

Russian president Vladimir Putin’s decision to grant asylum to the NSA leaker Edward Snowden leaves President Obama looking weak. Putin meant it that way. His political base likes him thumbing his nose at the American president and he took a gamble that Obama  would not retaliate over a freelance spy.

It might be argued that this is just another Russian mosquito bite, an embarrassing irritation but not a major incident. It makes little difference where Snowden lives under what amounts to house arrest. In Russia, civil rights will be almost as severely curtailed as if he were locked up here. Like the WikiLeaks leaker Julian Assange, self-exiled to one room in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, Snowden is going nowhere and is no longer free to do his worst. The Russians have already accessed his most damaging information, as did the Chinese before they sent him packing. Even the Guardian, the most ardent conduit of his erudite revelations, must have a data dump to keep it occupied for years.

from The Great Debate:

Europe’s leaders should boycott Putin’s Olympic ceremony

In February 2014 the Russian elite will gather in the gleaming super stadiums of Sochi -- governors and oligarchs, police chiefs and “political technologists” -- to thunderously applaud as Vladimir Putin opens his Winter Olympics.

He has been dreaming of this for years.

But this is not a ceremony European leaders should attend.

In Sochi the Russian elite wants to dumbfound the EU -- not only with synchronized ice skating and Kremlin-coordinated firework displays -- but with a ceremony underscoring the absolute power of their leader.

from The Great Debate:

A fragile peace with Taliban if school attacks escalate

In the week in which America opened the door for negotiations with the Taliban, three bloody massacres of school children -- shot down simply because they wanted to go to school -- raise grave questions about what kind of peace the Taliban offer.

Within days of the initiative for talks, the Taliban shot to death nine foreign tourists encamped on the peak of Nanga Parbat in northern Pakistan, saying the murders were in retaliation for a drone attack that killed one of their leaders. But what kind of justification can possibly be offered for the firebombing of a college bus carrying forty girls from their Quetta campus in Pakistan? Fourteen defenseless girls died in the bombing; eight more people died when the terrorists ambushed the hospital.

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