Can The UN Pass Basic Human Rights for Trans People?
A United Nations committee on Tuesday voted to advance a sexual orientation and gender identity-inclusive resolution against extrajudicial killings. This a historic inclusion of trans rights. Can this strong affirmation of gay and, importantly, trans identity survive?
The Third Committee of the General Assembly voted 108 in favor and only 1 against (Iran) passing the Swedish-backed resolution condemning extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, and calling on member states to ”investigate promptly and thoroughly all killings” including those targeted at people because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, race or other characteristics.
However, the measure advanced amid 65 abstentions and calls for amendments to strip language that included capital punishment and, for the first time, specifically mentioned sexual orientation and gender identity.
The first amendment, sponsored by Singapore, asked to remove a call to end capital punishment. That amendment was defeated by a vote of 78 to 50, with 38 abstentions.
The second amendment, sponsored by the United Arab Emirates on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC), would have removed references to sexual orientation and gender identity. The amendment was defeated by a vote of 86 against to 44 in favor, with 31 abstentions.
Introducing the amendment, the United Arab Emirates representative said he was ”gravely concerned” by the language on sexual orientation and gender identity, saying that this fell outside the framework of human rights.
He contended, as had the United Arab Emirates in past years, that the notion of “sexual identity” was not defined and therefore should not be voted on. He did so while also calling on other member states to vote for the amended resolution, condemning all forms of racial discrimination.
However, a number of member states took an opportunity before the vote to speak in defense of the language.
Sweden’s representative said her country objected to the amendment because it was a sad reality that sexual orientation and gender identity had “often” been a reason for extrajudicial killings. The very purpose of the amendment was to dissuade such killings, she said. Denying the right to life by disregarding this fact was, she went on, unacceptable. She called on member states to reject the amendment.
The representative of the United States also voiced her strong opposition to amending the resolution.
Brazil and South Africa also stood to urge member states to vote down the amendment, with the South African representative saying that South Africa’s constitution specifically includes sexual orientation and gender identity because these are members of the population who are particularly vulnerable.
The vote took place on the International Transgender Day of Remembrance, and this was a fact that Susan Rice, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, noted in a statement on the gender identity-inclusive language:
“It is fitting, on National Transgender Day of Remembrance, that the Third Committee agreed to acknowledge protections from extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions on the basis of gender identity for the very first time.”
The United States will fight to ensure that the remarkable progress the UN has made on LGBT issues in the last four years is not rolled back. Today’s vote on gender identity is evidence that we are, in fact, expanding international support and moving forward.”
This is a departure from two years ago when the committee approved an amendment to jettison references to sexual orientation from the resolution, ending a ten year rolling inclusion.
When, in December of 2010, the United States introduced an amendment to restore the language, there was much protest from North African and Islamic nations who said that this was akin to protecting pedophiles.
The resolution must now go to a vote before the full chamber. It is unclear whether an attempt to remove the sexual orientation and gender identity inclusive language will be made. However, 2010′s vote to reaffirm gay rights wasn’t particularly close, so it would appear that the language will stand.
Interestingly, the United States chose during Tuesday’s vote to abstain from voting in favor of the full resolution. Why? Because the resolution — for the first time — specifically condemns capital punishment. As such, and because the United States in several areas still allows this form of punishment, the U.S. was forced to abstain s0 as not to exceed domestic law.
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