On Wednesday the United Nations Human Rights Council held a first-of-its-kind discussion on the global rights of LGBT world-citizens. Though several Arab and African states staged a walkout in protest, the importance of this historic meeting remained key.
The March 7 UN council meeting saw the 47-member panel gather for its first-ever session on sexual orientation-based discrimination and violence.
In a video message to the council UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon called persecution of people based on their sexual orientation an “attack on the universal values that the United Nations and I have sworn to defend and uphold.”
Ban also said, ”We see a pattern of violence and discrimination directed at people just because they are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender,” and went on to stress that the imprisonment, torture, and killing of persons based on their sexual orientation is “a monumental tragedy for those affected and a stain on our collective conscience. It is also a violation of international law. You, as members of the Human Rights Council, must respond.”
The ground breaking UN gathering also discussed details of a UN report presented by the UN’s high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay. The report identified “a clear pattern of targeted violence and discrimination” against LGBT world citizens. The report also detailed the killings, torture, physical attacks, arbitrary detentions and denial of rights that LGBT people suffer in some member states.
In an important show of strength Pillay warned memberstates that while the UN had respect for culture and tradition it would not allow such abuses to continue.
“I know some will resist what we are saying,” said Pillay, who earlier this week was accused by Egypt of promoting homosexuality by pressing on with the report despite the objections of Islamic countries.
In a clear reference to Islamic and African countries, she said some states would argue that homosexuality or bisexuality “conflict with local cultural or traditional values, or with religious teachings, or run counter to public opinion”.
She said that they were free to hold their opinions, but: “That is as far as it goes. The balance between tradition and culture, on the one hand, and universal human rights on the other, must be struck in favour of rights.”
The council had, in June 2011, already narrowly approved a resolution expressing “grave concern at acts of violence and discrimination in all regions of the world, committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identity,” but did so with staunch opposition from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and several other nations.
It is estimated that 76 of the UN’s 192 member countries criminalize homosexuality, while at least 5 countries, including Iran, impose the death penalty.
The walkout staged during this historic meeting was preceded by a warning from Saeed Sarwar of the Pakistani mission who argued against promoting “licentious behavior.”
“Licentious behavior promoted under the so-called concept of sexual orientation is against the fundamental teachings of various religions, including Islam,” he said. “From this perspective, legitimizing homosexuality and other personal sexual behaviors in the name of sexual orientation is unacceptable.”
Speaking on behalf of the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Sarwar urged the council not take up the subject of gay rights again.
Later, most Arab and African nations walked out of the debate.
Representatives from Nigeria joined the walkout, saying that violence against citizens based on their sexual orientation or gender identity simply didn’t occur in the state, while Mauritania, of another Arab group, all of whose members are also in the OIC, warned that any so-called attempt to impose “the controversial topic of sexual orientation” would threaten to undermine progress on other human rights issues.
However, while the walkout of several nations did marr proceedings somewhat, those nations that remained were praised for their participation by human rights groups, and the meeting itself was hailed as a historic step forward that should now lead to further action.