The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) and MADRE, the global women’s rights group, condemn the recent killing of at least five individuals by the Islamic State, two of whom were allegedly murdered for homosexual conduct. While the story has been widely reported since January 17th as the execution of two gay men for homosexuality, no information available to date can independently verify the facts of their sexual orientation or shed light on the conduct for which they were executed. IGLHRC and MADRE emphasize the need for accuracy in understanding the executions and the urgent need to avoid inciting panic and risking further harm. In spite of the uncertainties surrounding the recent killings, however, the organizations point to the need for the international community to recognize the heightened risks facing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) Iraqis living under the Islamic State’s control.
Summary of What is Known
On January 17, the Islamic State’s local branch, the Neinava Province's Media Center, published on its website four labeled photos of its execution of two men who were thrown off a high building in Mosul, Iraq.
The ISIS photos show crowds, including children, gathered to watch this horrific scene.
The men’s names have not been made public.
One of the photos in the series is captioned, “The execution is punishment for the person who committed the act of the people of Lot by throwing him off a tall building.” The term “people of Lot” is a euphemism for sodomy.
According to the captions, the men were charged with sodomy, convicted by the Sharia court in the Neinava Province, and their punishment was in accordance with Sharia law.
At the same time, the Islamic State posted captioned photos online of their execution of a woman they allegedly stoned to death for adultery and their crucifixion of two other men for "spreading corruption on earth" through "assaulting the Muslims with arms," "terrorizing the public," and "armed robbery."
Summary of IGLHRC’s and MADRE’s Concerns
IGLHRC and MADRE caution concerned members of the media, representatives of foreign governments and people of conscience generally in the strongest possible terms against assuming that the men identified as ‘gay’ and against assuming the men engaged in homosexual acts. Other than the photos themselves, very little is known about these executions. IGLHRC has tried to independently verify the events that occurred with little success to date. Without credible evidence, it is crucial to exercise extreme caution in how the event is reported and how the men are described.
At this time, to publicly call Iraqi men “gay” can only do harm. If the men did not identify as gay, the allegation is inaccurate and obscures the Islamic State’s motivation for publicly labeling them as such. If the men indeed identified as gay, extreme caution should be exercised and consultation held with those they loved. If the men identified as gay, widespread publicity potentially exposes their families, loved ones and intimate partners to harm. Honor killings are pervasive in Iraq, so the safety of those most affected must be a paramount concern.
Furthermore, to assume that the executions were for sodomy solely on the basis of information from the Islamic State is dangerous. Without evidentiary basis or independent confirmation, this sweeping allegation could be applied to anyone the Islamic State seeks to discredit—including human rights activists and anyone opposed to the Islamic State. Accusing opponents of homosexuality is a tried and true tool used to discredit political adversaries throughout the world.
Accuracy is absolutely needed to moderate the level of fear of LGBTI Iraqis living in areas controlled by the Islamic State. During the anti-emo killings in 2012, rumors circulated alleging that upwards of a thousand people had been killed for perceived gender and sexual non-conformity, while the documented number was nearer ten. In response, IGLHRC interviewed LGBTI Iraqis and found that some fled the country, were shunned, isolated themselves at home too afraid to venture into the streets, and experienced high levels of suicidal ideation. The stakes today are high enough; allies in the media, foreign governments, and among concerned friends globally must understand accurately what occurred and avoid risky inflations of the threat level.
ISIS Actions Underscore Fears Raised in 2014 by IGLHRC and MADRE
Regardless of how any of the men or the woman executed identified or what they were executed for, the violence of the Islamic State and its tactics of intimidation are unacceptable in all instances. It is important to note that what the Islamic State describes as its “court system” is outside the bounds of international recognition, without adherence to due process and other established legal procedures.
While the facts are unclear, the Islamic State’s very public execution of these men and very public assertion that they were executed for homosexuality underscores the fears IGLHRC, MADRE, and another co-author raised in a briefing paper issued in November, “When Coming Out is a Death Sentence.” In addition to documenting ongoing persecution of LGBTI Iraqis, the briefing paper raised concerns that LGBTI people (or anyone perceived as such) in Iraq were at imminent risk of death due to the stated intention of the Islamic State to kill anyone believed to be gay or engaged in same-sex activities. Its companion piece, “We’re Here: Iraqi LGBT People’s Accounts of Violence and Rights Abuses,” a collection of personal stories from LGBT Iraqis, describes the human costs to a community that has been largely rejected by family, community, militias and the state.
Now that we have the Islamic State’s own boastful declaration of responsibility for these tragic deaths, it is clear that our fears of heightened risk for LGBTI Iraqis at the hands of the Islamic State continue to be well-founded. Despite cautions at this time, IGLHRC and MADRE urge the international community to focus on the specific dangers LGBTI Iraqis face within the context of the broader national crisis, including by expediting support for internal and external resettlement of people fleeing due to persecution.