The United Nations Human Rights Council has just voted on a resolution that, analysts believe, could be used to undermine LGBT rights. Is an emerging anti-gay presence in the UN something we should be concerned about?
The resolution sounds innocuous enough. It commits the United Nations to recognizing “the family” as “the natural and fundamental group unit of society” which is “entitled to protection by society and the State” as well as discussing each member states obligations to those protections.
The kicker here is who supported the resolution and how they framed it. Authored by Egypt and Sierra Leone and supported by nations like,Uganda and, most prominently, Russia, the resolution has been welcomed by religious conservatives across the globe as a measure that commits the UN to fighting for the “traditional family.”
The resolution also calls on the UN to make “concerted actions” to include strengthening the family as part of its human rights approach. The resolution goes on to make the highly dubious claim (based on its lax definitions) that the family is “the natural environment for the growth and well-being of all its members and particularly children.” We’ve seen that kind of language all to often in the United States where anti-gay groups offer that only the heterosexual married unit is the right or “optimum” place in which to raise a child, which is of course fictitious. While the language here doesn’t specifically preclude LGBTs, it was made clear during the vote that the framers of this resolution had only heterosexuals in mind.
In this case, this hostility was manifest by resisting all attempts to open the definition of “family” to include LGBT couples as well as recognizing single parent families. Uruguay, Chile, Ireland and France wanted an amendment to recognize that “various forms of family exist” but Russia was able to block that amendment via an obscure “no action” motion which prevented the amendment from even being debated.
The nations that voted for the noninclusive amendment largely aren’t a surprise, including China, India, and Pakistan. However, among them is South Africa, a nation whose constitution expressly prohibits anti-LGBT discrimination. That vote is, therefore, a disappointment.
The resolution may not just be toxic to LGBT rights, however. Religious conservative pro-life groups have also cheered its passing, with the so-called Society for the Protection of the Unborn of the UK saying in a statement that this resolution is “truly historic.” There is cause, then, to think that this resolution might be a foundation for furthering the anti-choice movement at the UN too.
To illustrate how the resolution could be misused, analysts believe that the UN’s recognition of “the family” as quasi-entity may in the future allow member states to begin denying individual rights, to say gay people or women seeking autonomy when it comes to their own health, so as to “protect” the rights of the “family” as defined — or more aptly, not defined — under the resolution. Seen in this way, the danger becomes more apparent.
“It is a travesty for the UN to ignore reality,” Julie de Rivero, director of advocacy for Human Rights Watch, is quoted as saying. “Insinuating that different type of families don’t exist can do nothing but harm the children and adults around the world who live in those families.”
Yet there were some bright spots to the aforementioned vote and they deserving of a mention. Saudi Arabia wanted a measure to define marriage as “one man and one woman.” That failed to gain traction. Secondly, Latin America as a body is now consistently voting on the pro-inclusive side, as is South Korea. That is important because with Latin America voting for LGBT rights, the pro-equality side is a formidable body in the UN which can, as it stands, still resist Russia and company’s attempts at cajoling an anti-equality movement.
On its own, we might shrug off the resolution as a misstep. Unfortunately, it is not the only troubling move the UN has made recently when it comes to gay rights. Earlier this month the United Nations General Assembly voted to install Uganda’s foreign minister Sam Kutesa as president of the chamber for the 69th session which will begin in September. Mr Kutesa is an ardent supporter of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill and believes that any move to recognize LGBT rights condones sinful behavior.
While the role of president is largely ceremonial, and rotates between nations, there is a certain amount of prestige that comes with the title. This is not to mention that Kutesa has a troubled political history that, unsurprising of someone with close ties to Yoweri Museveni’s presidency, includes charges of corruption and misuse of power. Should the UN really be allowing this kind of official to be a president, however ceremonial?
So should we be concerned about what is going on in the United Nations? The vote in itself doesn’t appear to be that injurious yet. There are other safeguards on which to draw and the United Nations previous strong statements for LGBT rights can be invoked in instances where clarity is needed. Yet this is an attempt to erode, and even change, the definition of “family” to suit a narrow agenda. While of itself it may not threaten the human rights of women and LGBTs, it does set a worrying precedent that, yes, we should be concerned about.