Born Free and Equal

SEXUALITIES, 24 Sep 2012

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights – TRANSCEND Media Service

14 September 2012 – The UN Human Rights Office has released a new publication on sexual orientation and gender identity in international human rights law. It sets out the source and scope of some of the core legal obligations that States have to protect the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. The 60-page booklet is designed as a tool for States, to help them better understand the nature of their obligations and the steps required to meet them, as well as for civil society activists, human rights defenders and others seeking to hold Governments to account for breaches of international human rights law.

In her foreword to the publication, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay writes: “The case for extending the same rights to LGBT persons as those enjoyed by everyone else is neither radical nor complicated. It rests on two fundamental principles that underpin international human rights law: equality and non-discrimination. The opening words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are unequivocal: ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights’.”

For almost two decades, human rights treaty bodies and the special rapporteurs and other experts appointed by the Human Rights Council and its predecessor have documented widespread violations of the human rights of LGBT people. Reported violations include killings, rape and physical attacks, torture, arbitrary detention, the denial of rights to assembly, expression and information, and discrimination in employment, health and education and access to goods and services. In each case, the victims involved are targeted either because they are, or are assumed to be, lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Oftentimes, the mere perception of homosexuality or transgender identity is enough to put people at risk.

The booklet focuses on five core obligations where national action is most urgently needed – from protecting people from homophobic violence, to preventing torture, decriminalizing homosexuality, prohibiting discrimination, and safeguarding freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly for all LGBT people. For each, the basis of the State obligation in international human rights law is explained with reference to the substantial body of decisions, recommendations and guidance issued by United Nations human rights mechanisms. The booklet also includes examples of actions that can be taken at a national level to bring laws, policies and practices into line with applicable international human rights standards.

In recent years, many States have made a determined effort to strengthen human rights protection in each of these areas. An array of new laws has been adopted – including laws banning discrimination, penalizing homophobic hate crimes, granting recognition of same-sex relationships, and making it easier for transgender individuals to obtain official documents that reflect their preferred gender. Training programmes have been developed for police, prison staff, teachers, social workers and other personnel, and anti-bullying initiatives have been implemented in many schools.

In the coming years, much more needs to be done to confront prejudice and protect LGBT people in all countries from violence and discrimination. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights hopes that this publication can help contribute to this end, by providing a practical resource for all those working for change – whether from the perspective of the United Nations, regional organizations, Governments, national human rights institutions or civil society.

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2 Responses to “Born Free and Equal”

  1. satoshi says:

    – “Live and let love.”

    – “Love is a fundamental human right.”

    LGBT issues are as old as the human history. These issues have existed since the ancient times. If king, solider and prostitute are three main oldest occupations, the LGBT discrimination is probably one of the oldest discriminations. But this discrimination was not well discussed, especially officially by governments and/or by international organizations, until a few decades ago, while other types of discriminations were well discussed. In general, human societies are conservative. People are taught that discussions on politics and religions should be avoided in public places and social occasions. Nevertheless, politics and religions have been openly discussed; on the other hand, sexuality and gender identification issues such as LGBT issues have been apt to be avoided. In fact, none of major international human rights treaties have clearly referred to LGBT issues. But, like any other discrimination issues, LGBT issues are also serious human rights issues. It is, therefore, highly appreciated that this time UNHCHR published a booklet on LGBT issues. At last, a UN agency began to discuss that issue openly in front of Governments and civil societies, — a previously avoided issue. It can be said like this: “It is late, but not too late, never too late.”

    One of the main struggles in the human society has been the struggle against “unfair and/or unreasonable discriminations”. Let me clarify this: To prioritize serious patients and/or handicapped people in medical treatment, for instance, is also considered as a kind of discrimination, but such discrimination is not considered as an unfair or unreasonable one. Know what discrimination is unfair and/or unreasonable. Discriminations against one’s freedom and equality in dignity and rights are unfair and/or unreasonable discriminations. Discriminations based on sexual orientations and gender identity, are considered as unfair and/or unreasonable ones. In fact, these discriminations are serious and very often lead to violence.

    In that regard, let’s recall, as the UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay also referred to in the booklet, the Article One of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reasons and conscience and should act toward one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”


    The booklet presents five core appeals as follows:

    1. Protect people from homophobic and transphobic violence. Include sexual
    orientation and gender identity as protected characteristics in hate crime laws.

    2. Prevent the torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of LGBT
    persons in detention by prohibiting and punishing such acts and ensuring that
    victims are provided with redress.

    3. Repeal laws criminalizing homosexuality, including all laws that prohibit
    private sexual conduct between consenting adults of the same sex.

    4. Repeal laws criminalizing homosexuality, including all laws that prohibit
    private sexual conduct between consenting adults of the same sex.

    5. Safeguard freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly for
    LGBT and intersex people.

    The booklet mentioned above can be downloaded from the following website (PDF):

    Finally, let me ask you a simple and very fundamental question: “If your loved one says from the bottom of his or her heart, ‘I love you,’ what would you respond to him or her?” Love as a human right begins here, from you, by you and with you. And gradually transform your love into a universal one – “love of the whole humanity” (and ultimately, into “love of the whole existence”).

  2. satoshi says:

    PS: Correction

    The above 4. should be “4. Prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.” Sorry for inconvenience.