Historic LGBT Rights Discussion Held at the UN; Much Remains to be Done

Washington, DC – Yesterday, the United Nations Human Rights Council held its first ever intergovernmental debate focused on violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Human Rights First notes that in the wake of this historic moment, the United States and other members of the Council must take steps to address human rights abuses faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people around the world. During the intergovernmental discussion, Member States of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) staged a walkout at the beginning of the discussion. Before the group left the room, Pakistan issued a statement on their behalf, condemning the discussion and stating that “homosexuality can pave the way to pedophilia and incest.” During the dialogue, the OIC’s sentiments were echoed by other participants, including some members of the Africa Group, Arab Group and the Russian Federation. “States may walk out of this room, but they may never walk away from responsibility to protect their own citizens from discrimination and violence,” noted Linda Bauman of International Lesbian and Gay Association in a statement supported by 90 countries and 284 NGOs – including Human Rights First. Fortunately, the controversy did not steal the spotlight and the debate sent a strong signal that the rights of LGBT individuals are not special rights, but part of the basic and universal rights to which every human being is entitled. Human Rights First notes that yesterday’s discussion was a strong foundation for future engagement and action on the protection of LGBT people. During the dialogue, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay outlined that her office’s recent study on the protection of LGBT rights drew on “two decades of jurisprudence and human rights materials” and shows a clear pattern of targeted violence against LGBT people from all regions of the world. This violence includes killings, assaults and sexual violence. She called on states to improve their responses to homophobic violence, as well as to change laws that criminalize homosexuality. Currently, in no less than 76 countries, same-sex relations between consenting adults continue to be prohibited by law. The report also highlighted shortcomings in states’ commitments to ensure the right to asylum due to abuses based on sexual orientation and gender identity. “South Africa’s leadership in hosting this panel was a monumental first step towards implementing the recommendations of the High Commissioner’s report,” noted Human Rights First’s Paul LeGendre. “Now, it is time for U.N. Member States to put these recommendations into action and actively pursue policies that will protect LGBT people in all corners of the world.” As a Human Rights Council Member and global leader on these issues, the United States has an important role to play in pressing States to protect the fundamental rights of all. In the United States own statement during the panel, its representative referenced Secretary Clinton’s historic speech in December 2011 in Geneva on the rights of LGBT persons and reiterated that the “universality of human rights remains a central tenet of U.S. foreign policy.” On that same December day, President Obama issued a Memorandum on advancing the rights of LGBT persons internationally. Among the key steps for the United States to advance human rights for all in bi- and multi-lateral relationships, include:

  • Support the continued inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity into the mandates and reporting of the Special Procedures.
  • Seek to include goals on the rights of LGBT persons in regional forums, such as the OSCE, OAS, AU, and ASEAN.
  • Ensure that regional bureaus at the State Department actively engage host governments – including through inter-agency strategies – to further the rights of LGBT persons by decriminalizing homosexuality and making robust efforts to respond to violence motivated by sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • Task the Department of Justice with working with the State Department to ensure that: 1) Resident Legal Advisors at selected embassies are trained to offer assistance to states in decriminalizing homosexuality and combating all forms of hate crime, 2) police training on combating hate crime violence is made available on a bilateral basis, and 3) training on combating all forms of hate crime is incorporated into trainings at the International Law Enforcement Academy.
  • Enhance the protection available to LGBTI refugees in countries of asylum by actively monitoring their inclusion in State Department-funded assistance and protection programs by UNHCR and NGOs.
  • Strengthen the U.S. expedited resettlement system to further reduce the time LGBTI refugees who face imminent risks of violence remain in danger in their country of asylum.



Published on March 8, 2012


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