Five weeks ago today, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people were subjected to homophobia and religious and cultural extremism, thanks to a United Nations vote that removed “sexual orientation” from an ongoing resolution that protects people from arbitrary executions. Yes, the UN General Assembly on November 16 had in fact voted to allow LGBT people to be executed without cause.
Today, after a reported gas-leak forced evacuation of the building, a vote to restore the term “sexual orientation” to the UN General Assembly resolution on extra judicial executions is taking place, with U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice leading the effort.
Today, the UN voted in favor of restoring “sexual orientation” to the UN General Assembly resolution on extra judicial executions, by a margin of 109-41, with 35 abstentions.
The UN General Assembly’s Third Committee vote to remove the term “sexual orientation” from a draft resolution on extrajudicial killings last month won by a slim seven vote margin, 79 to 70, (17 abstentions and 26 absent,) but support for the final version of the resolution won with a lopsided victory at 165 votes in support and 10 absentions, one of which included the United States.
South African political leaders wielding religious fundamentalism, aided by Mormon and Christian Fundamentalists, including “The Family,” were behind the UN Vote allowing gays to be executed without cause.
“We are going to fight to restore the reference to sexual orientation,” Ambassador Rice said. “We’re going to stand firm on this basic principle. And we intend to win.”
Rice delivered a passionate statement about the UN General Assembly (UNGA) vote that stripped out “sexual orientation” for the first time in 10 years, to a UN LGBT group on Dec. 10, commemorating International Human Rights Day.
“Here at the United Nations, like many of you, I was incensed by the recent vote in the General Assembly’s Third Committee, which eliminated any mention of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals from a resolution condemning extrajudicial killing of vulnerable people around the world. We fought hard for that reference when it came to the Committee vote, and we lost. But we’re not done yet. The resolution now goes to the full General Assembly. For countries that voted in the Commitee to keep the reference to sexual orientation, we thank you. For countries that haven’t yet done so, we urge you to join us. And for countries that have supported this reference in the past but charged course this year, we urge you to stand again with us and with all vulnerable people around the world at risk of violence.”
Last month, U.K. gay rights and human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell called it “a shameful day in United Nations history.”
A winning outcome was not assured, according to Mark Bromley, chair of the Council for Global Equality. Bromley also had said the “vote count is looking better, but it is going to be very, very, very close.”
During today’s vote, Belgium, representing the European Union said the restoration “significantly improves” the text of the resolution. The Nordic countries representative said they were “deeply disappointed” by the removal of the term “sexual orientation,” and added, “No one should be killed because of their sexual orientation.” Canada added a request to include “gender identity” to the text. Argentina and Mexico spoke in support of adding the term back into the resolution also, saying, “We’re not demanding that this group enjoy greater protections,” but, “every year there are people executed for reasons of their sexual orientation.”
Suggesting LGBT peoples are weak and invited discrimination, the United Arab Emirates spoke at length, and said it “rejects firmly” the “controversial” statement that has “no legal foundation.”
The African Group representative said they were “gravely alarmed” with the “undefined notion of sexual orientation,” and called the attempt to restore the term a “systematic attempt to create new rights,” and said it would “jeopardize the entire human rights framework… to achieve narrow political gain.”
In a major switch, South Africa voted for the resolution, after having voted to remove sexual orientation from the resolution last month. Rowanda also spoke very eloquently. But Zimbabwe, calling the text “adventurism,” also likened homosexuality to bestiality and said “individual proclivities should be just that.”
A significant effort had been launched by the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office LGBT Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity project, who hosted its second UN consultation meeting on Dec. 13, in concert with the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation and the Union Theological Seminary and 40 leaders of faith, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and LGBT activists to discuss the UNGA vote and the increasingly hostile environment for LGBT people in Eastern Africa.
According to Ryan Ubuntu Olson, the Unitarian’s LGBT-SOGI (sexual orientation and gender identity) director, there has been a lot of concern at the UN about how a negative vote by the UNGA that would not restore “sexual orientation” to the resolution would affect other efforts to advance LGBT rights at the UN.
“Many people are worried and it is not clear how the votes are going to go,” Olson said.
In response and support of Ambassador Rice’s efforts, the UN Faith Coalition for LGBT Human Rights issued a resolution on Dec. 18th which “fully affirms and supports the proposed actions of Ambassador Rice … to restore the prohibition of the violent targeting and extrajudicial killing of people who are vulnerable because of their sexual orientation.” The resolution also urges UN member states to abstain from the vote to restore “sexual orientation” if they can not support it.
ARC International and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission have also been organizing NGO activists who have been working the vote to restore “sexual orientation” to the UNGA resolution. For more information on the UN vote and to learn more about organizing for UN LGBT related issues go to the ARC website.
Editor’s note: Tomorrow we will post the audio of the vote. Stay tuned!
Tanya L. Domi is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of International and Public Affairs atColumbia University, who teaches about human rights in Eurasia and is a Harriman Instituteaffiliated faculty member. Prior to teaching at Columbia, Domi worked internationally for more than a decade on issues related to democratic transitional development, including political and media development, human rights, gender issues, sex trafficking, and media freedom.
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