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UN Adopts Historic First LGBT Human Rights Resolution

by Tanya Domi on June 17, 2011

in Analysis,International,Tanya Domi

Post image for UN Adopts Historic First LGBT Human Rights Resolution

Today, the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva adopted an historic first ever exclusively LGBT affirmative resolution that seeks to apply human rights principles and protections based upon on sexual orientation and gender identity, a first in UN history.

The formal resolution also commissions the first UN official report on the state of LGBT human rights, which is to be directed by Navanethem Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, a supporter of LGBT rights. The report is to be delivered to the Human Rights Council by the end of the year.

The resolution was carried with 23 states supporting, disproportionately represented by the Americas, European states  and a few Asian countries. Voting in the affirmative was leader South Africa, along with Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador, France, Guatemala, Hungary, Japan, Mauritius, Mexico, Norway, Poland, Republic of Korea, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States and Uruguay.

Nineteen states opposed and were dominated by African and Muslim countries, including Angola, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Djibouti, Gabon, Ghana, Jordan, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Senegal, save two exceptions–The Russian Federation and the Republic of Moldova.

Uganda also voted against the resolution which comes as no surprise, as its parliament actively considered legislation in March that called for the execution of known homosexuals. There were three abstentions, that included Burkino Faso,  China and Zambia.

Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State, hailed the resolution calling it a “historic moment to highlight the human rights abuses and violations that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people faces around the world based solely on who they are and whom they love.”  The United States was an official co-sponsor of the historical resolution.

Surprisingly, South Africa, in a series of consultations with other States and non-governmental human rights organizations in South Africa and abroad, had drafted and tabled a resolution for a vote by the Council early in its session that began today at 3:00 a.m. EDT. Among those key NGOs involved in the successful effort includes the Coalition of African Lesbians from South Africa. Dawn Cavanaugh stated on behalf of the Coalition that “the South African government has now offered progressive leadership after years of troubling and inconsistent positions on the issues of sexual orientation and gender identity.”

The South African government, led by President Jacob Zuma, expressed anti-gay sentiments during his campaign for the presidency in 2009 and appointed an anti-gay ambassador to Uganda.

Present at the vote representing the U.S. were Ambassador Eileen Donahoe, the U.S. Ambassador to the  UN Human Rights Council and  Daniel Baer, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.  Baer had been managing the U.S. interests on the proposed resolution inside the State Department and flew to Geneva on Thursday when it was recognized the resolution had a very good chance, according to Mark Bromley, Chair, Council for Global Equality, based in Washington, D.C.

Bromley issued a statement this morning by noting that “the vote today completes an effort launched by Brazil back in 2003 to place LGBT rights formally on the human rights agenda of the United Nations. It has been a long struggle, but we were very pleased to see South Africa’s leadership and strong cross-regional support for this resolution.” He also called the Council’s agreed consensus to support a  “study modality” led by the High Commissioner can be viewed as a genuinely positive development  that creates the first formal opporprtunity to create a record on sexual minorities rights.

Pillay is no stranger to gay rights and has publicly spoken out on behalf of sexual minorities often in the past. In the aftermath of Ugandan David Kato’s murder in January she said, “Decriminalizing homosexuality is an essential first step towards establishing genuine equality before the law. But real, lasting progress cannot be achieved by changing laws alone. We must change minds as well. Like racism and misogyny, homophobia is a prejudice born of ignorance. And like other forms of prejudice, the most effective long-term response is information and education.”

The Human Rights Council historical vote today explicitly embraces concerns about violence and terror carried out against LGBT persons and reflects a decidedly different attunement to these crimes and concerns, in contrast to the vote  carried out by the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee in  November 2010 that initially stripped out “sexual orientation” from a resolution addressing extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions in a vote that was overwhelming represented by a majority of African, Middle East and Caribbean nations–although reversed after a globalized uproar of condemnation led by activists and governments alike, when the vote was held in December 2010 on final passage.

A complete transcript of today’s UN Human Rights Council proceedings are located here. For more information about the application of international human rights instruments to sexual orientation and gender identity please see the Yogyakarta Principles.

Tanya L. Domi is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, who teaches about human rights in Eurasia and is a Harriman Institute affiliated 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.
United Nations 17-6-2011 SOGI Resolution Backgrounder
United Nations 17-6-2011 SOGI Resolution


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