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19.12.2008

Statement to UN General Assembly condemns discrimination of LGBT people

On 18 December 2008, in New York, the UN General Assembly was presented with a statement endorsed by 66 states from around the world calling for an end to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The statement, read out by the UN Representative for Argentina Jorge Arguello, condemns violence, harassment, discrimination, exclusion, stigmatisation, 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.

The statement to the General Assembly demonstrates a growing awareness that discriminative laws and attitudes are incompatible with the jurisprudence of international and regional treaty bodies as well as legislation and policies in many states of the world.

The Equal Rights Trust (ERT) welcomes the statement as a step forward in the recognition of the universal right to equality and the right to be free from discrimination. This right, applied to people of different sexual orientation and gender identity, is proclaimed in Principle 5 of the Declaration of Principles of Equality* that in defining discrimination explicitly refers to sexual orientation and gender identity as prohibited grounds.

Although the Human Rights Committee in its landmark decision Toonen vs Australia ruled in 1994 that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), one of the core human rights treaties, prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, and subsequently many other UN treaty bodies instructed states to stop discrimination against people of different sexual orientation, this is the first time that the issue has been brought to the General Assembly.

The statement read at the General Assembly 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. The new statement was supported by the following states: Albania, Andorra, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Estonia, Finland, France, Gabon, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guinea-Bissau, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Montenegro, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Sao Tome and Principe, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Timor-Leste, United Kingdom, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

Fifty-seven states signed an alternative text promoted by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). While affirming the "principles of non-discrimination and equality," the OIC statement proclaimed that universal human rights did not include "the attempt to focus on the rights of certain persons." Speaking on behalf of these states, Syria's representative, Abdullah Hallak, stated: "We are seriously concerned at the attempt to introduce to the United Nations some notions that have no legal foundation in any international human rights instrument. We are even more disturbed at the attempt to focus on certain persons, on the grounds of their sexual interests and behaviours."

However, human rights organisations are concerned that some form of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity remains in force in most states of the world. In practice, attitudes that fuel discrimination and intolerance to people of different sexual orientation or gender identity span societies across the globe.

In its most egregious form, discrimination on these grounds remains in force in over 70 states which still criminalise consensual homosexual conduct. “Ten states still have laws making homosexual activity punishable by death,” stated UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanetham Pillay who addressed the General Assembly via a videotaped message. She also stated that: “Ironically many of these laws, like Apartheid laws that criminalised sexual relations between consenting adults of different races, are relics of the colonial and are increasingly recognised as anachronistic and as inconsistent both with international law and with traditional values of dignity, inclusion and respect for all.”

The statement presented to the General Assembly should pave the way for a UN Resolution that would give effect to the Yogyakarta Principles on the Application of International Human Rights Law in relation to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity**, requiring UN member states to ensure that everyone, without any distinction, is protected from discrimination.

*Drafted and originally endorsed by 128 prominent human rights and equality law experts, the Declaration is a unique document which defines the right to equality as a basic human right. To read the text of the Declaration http://www.equalrightstrust.org/endorse/index.htm

**This document was adopted in 2006 by a distinguished group of international human rights experts. To read the Principles http://yogyakartaprinciples.org

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