Antigay Hate Crimes Are Rising, Says U.N. High Commissioner

“Homophobia and transphobia are no different to sexism, misogyny, racism, or xenophobia,” says U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay in a video on violence and discrimination targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons. This statement was prompted by a rise in attacks targeting LGBT individuals across the world—in the United States, South Africa, Turkey, and Brazil—and the unwillingness of many governments to recognize gay rights as human rights. The High Commissioner addressed both phenomena, appealing to those most hostile to LGBT persons to “think again” and calling on States to take steps to ensure equal rights for everyone, “whoever they are, whomever they love.”  Over the years, Human Rights First has documented numerous cases of violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity bias. These crimes represent a significant portion of violent hate crimes overall and are characterized by levels of serious physical violence. Our monitoring of government response to antigay hate crimes shows how States are failing to fulfill their international commitments: only 12 governments in the OSCE have included sexual orientation and gender identity in the list of protected categories (the U.S. joined the list in 2009 with the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act) and less than 10 countries collect data on such incidents. Outside of Europe and North America, the situation is even direr, as more than 80 countries still criminalize homosexuality. People like the Ugandan Parliamentarian David Bahati continue to advance the notion that gay rights are not human rights. Antigay activists are increasingly turning to the international arena to spread the messages of hatred and intolerance. High Commissioner Pillay’s focus on anti-LGBT hate crimes and discrimination is a welcome sign, since gay rights remains a hyper-divisive issue at the United Nations. Even the term “hate crime” is still absent from the United Nations “vocabulary.” However, Ms. Pillay’s work on the issue is supported by more than 85 countries that have endorsed a recent statement on sexual orientation and gender identity.

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Published on May 6, 2011

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