UN: GENERAL ASSEMBLY TO ADDRESS SEXUAL ORIENTATION

COMMENTARY ARCHIVES, 13 Dec 2008

ILGA Files

Statement affirms promise of Universal Declaration of Human Rights
 
As the world celebrates the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the UN General Assembly will hear a statement in mid-December endorsed by more than 50 countries across the globe calling for an end to rights abuses based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

A coalition of international human rights organizations today urged all the world’s nations to support the statement in affirmation of the UDHR’s basic promise: that human rights apply to everyone.

Nations on four continents are coordinating the statement, including: Argentina, Brazil, Croatia, France, Gabon, Japan, the Netherlands, and Norway. The reading of the statement will be the first time the General Assembly has formally addressed rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

“In 1948 the world’s nations set forth the promise of human rights, but six decades later, the promise is unfulfilled for many,” said Linda Baumann of Namibia, a board member of Pan Africa ILGA, a coalition of over 60 African lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) groups. “The unprecedented African support for this statement sends a message that abuses against LGBT people are unacceptable anywhere, ever.”

The statement is non-binding, and reaffirms existing protections for human rights in international law. It builds on a previous joint statement supported by 54 countries, which Norway delivered at the UN Human Rights Council in 2006.

“Universal means universal, and there are no exceptions,” said Boris Dittrich of the Netherlands, advocacy director of Human Rights Watch’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights program. “The UN must speak forcefully against violence and prejudice, because there is no room for half measures where human rights are concerned.”

The draft statement condemns violence, harassment, discrimination, exclusion, stigmatization, and prejudice based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It also condemns killings and executions, torture, arbitrary arrest, and deprivation of economic, social, and cultural rights on those grounds.

“Today, dozens of countries still criminalize consensual homosexual conduct, laws that are often relics of colonial rule,” said Grace Poore of Malaysia, who works with the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. “This statement shows a growing global consensus that such abusive laws have outlived their time.”

The statement also builds on a long record of UN action to defend the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. In its 1994 decision in Toonen v. Australia, the UN Human Rights Committee – the body that interprets the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), one of the UN’s core human rights treaties – held that human rights law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. Since then, the United Nations’ human rights mechanisms have condemned violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity, including killings, torture, rape, violence, disappearances, and discrimination in many areas of life. UN treaty bodies have called on states to end discrimination in law and policy.

Other international bodies have also opposed violence and discrimination against LGBT people, including the Council of Europe and the European Union. In 2008, all 34 member countries of the Organization of American States unanimously approved a declaration affirming that human rights protections extend to sexual orientation and gender identity.

“Latin American governments are helping lead the way as champions of equality and supporters of this statement,” said Gloria Careaga Perez of Mexico, co-secretary general of ILGA. “Today a global movement supports the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, and those voices will not be denied.”

So far, 55 countries have signed onto the General Assembly statement, including: Andorra, Armenia, Australia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Cape Verde, the Central African Republic, Chile, Ecuador, Georgia, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Liechtenstein, Mexico, Montenegro, New Zealand, San Marino, Serbia, Switzerland, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Uruguay, and Venezuela. All 27 member states of the European Union are also signatories.

“It is a great achievement that this initiative has made it to the level of the General Assembly,” said Louis-Georges Tin of France, president of the International Committee for IDAHO (International Day against Homophobia) , a network of activists and groups campaigning for decriminalization of homosexual conduct. “It shows our common struggles are successful and should be reinforced.”

“This statement has found support from states and civil society in every region of the world,” said Kim Vance of Canada, co-director of ARC International. “In December a simple message will rise from the General Assembly: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is truly universal.”

The coalition of international human rights organizations that issued this statement include:

Amnesty International; ARC International; Center for Women’s Global Leadership; COC Netherlands; Global Rights; Human Rights Watch; IDAHO Committee; International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC); International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Association (ILGA); and Public Services International.

*Amnesty International is a worldwide movement of people who campaign for internationally recognized human rights for all. Amnesty International works to improve human rights through campaigning and international solidarity. It has more than 2.2 million members and subscribers in more than 150 countries and regions and coordinates this support to act for justice on a wide range of issues.

*ARC International is a project-driven organization, based in Canada and Geneva, Switzerland, designed to make a contribution to the development of a strategic international lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender human rights agenda. ARC works cooperatively with existing domestic and international organisations on LGBT and related issues, and seeks to foster positive communications and networks between existing groups on targeted goals.

* The Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) develops and facilitates women’s leadership for women’s human rights and social justice worldwide. CWGL works from a human rights perspective with an emphasis on violence against women, sexual and reproductive health and socio-economic well-being.

*The Dutch Federation for the Integration of Homosexuality, COC Netherlands, is a Dutch federation working on LGBT issues in the Netherlands and abroad. Founded in 1946, COC Netherlands has now 22 local member groups.

*Global Rights is a human rights advocacy group that partners with local activists to challenge injustice and amplify new voices within the global discourse. With offices in countries around the world, Global Rights helps local activists create just societies through proven strategies for effecting change.

*Human Rights Watch is one of the world’s leading independent organization dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, Human Rights Watch gives voice to the oppressed and holds oppressors accountable for their crimes.

*ILGA, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Association is a world-wide federation of national and local groups dedicated to achieving equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people everywhere. Founded in 1978, it now has more than 600 member organizations in over 111 countries in every continent and region of the world.

*The International Committee for IDAHO (the International Day Against Homophobia) represents activists and groups in dozens of countries worldwide who organize annual events to combat homophobia every May 17, and who seek to build global awareness of homophobia and its effects.

*The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) is a leading human rights organization solely devoted to improving the rights of people around the world who are targeted for imprisonment, abuse or death because of their sexuality, gender identity or HIV/AIDS status. A non-profit, nongovernmental organization, IGLHRC is based in New York, with offices in Buenos Aires, and Cape Town.

*The International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) is a service organisation that supports, encourages, and facilitates the work of others with and within the United Nations system and regional human rights systems. ISHR seeks to promote the development, strengthening, effective use and implementation of international and regional law and mechanisms for the protection and promotion of human rights.

*Pan Africa ILGA is the African Region of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Association (ILGA). It gathers over 60 organizations throughout the African continent working for human rights and equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex people.

*Public Services International is a global federation of public sector unions, representing over 20 million members in over 160 countries around the world. PSI is a member of the Council of Global Unions.

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