Top stories from the Development and Aid Workers News Service–DAWNS Digest.

President Obama Signs Order To Protect Rights of LGBT Communities Around the World

The White House issued a sweeping executive order directing federal agencies to advance initiatives that help strengthen the rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transgendered communities overseas. The timing of this executive order is auspicious given efforts in Nigeria to criminalize same sex relations. At a speech at the UN Palais De Nations in Geneva,  “This morning, back in Washington, President Obama put into place the first U.S. Government strategy dedicated to combating human rights abuses against LGBT persons abroad…The President has directed all U.S. Government agencies engaged overseas to combat the criminalization of LGBT status and conduct, to enhance efforts to protect vulnerable LGBT refugees and asylum seekers, to ensure that our foreign assistance promotes the protection of LGBT rights, to enlist international organizations in the fight against discrimination, and to respond swiftly to abuses against LGBT persons. I am also pleased to announce that we are launching a new Global Equality Fund that will support the work of civil society organizations working on these issues around the world. This fund will help them record facts so they can target their advocacy, learn how to use the law as a tool, manage their budgets, train their staffs, and forge partnerships with women’s organizations and other human rights groups. We have committed more than $3 million to start this fund, and we have hope that others will join us in supporting it.” (Advocate http://bit.ly/rw9dC)

Assad: The Barbara Walters Special

Bashar Al Assad sat down for his first interview with an American journalist today. Naturally, Assad denied. Denied. Denied. But the interview itself is a fairly gripping television:

“People went from house to house. Children were arrested. I saw those pictures,” Walters said to Assad.

“To be frank with you, Barbara, I don’t believe you,” Assad said.

Walters asked Assad about the case of Hamza al-Khateeb, a 13-year-old boy detained by Syrian forces after a protest whose lifeless body was returned to his parents shot, burned and castrated. The boy’s death galvanized protesters, and photos on the internet inflamed world opinion. Assad Tells Barbara Walters Violence Is By Terrorists, Not His Troops Assad denied the boy had been tortured. “No, no, no. It’s not news,” he insisted. “I met with his father, the father of that child and he said that he wasn’t tortured as he appeared in the media.” (ABC News http://abcn.ws/vxK7lG)

Meanwhile…New Reports of Syrian “Death Squads”

At this point, it is hard to be shocked by new revelations describing the lengths to which the Assad regime will do to suppress dissent. Still…“Shadowy death squads are operating in Syria’s flashpoint city of Homs, according to accounts from anti-government activists in the country, from which foreign reporters are officially banned…In the past two days, more people were killed in mysterious circumstances than by the state security forces firing in the streets, activists and residents say. Yet very little is known for certain about who is behind such killings, which appear to have targeted government supporters, as well as opponents…Available reports offer only a partial explanation of who stood behind the kidnapping and murder of over 60 Syrians whose bodies were dumped on Monday in two separate places in Homs.” (AltertNet http://bit.ly/s9UfOI)

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