The United Sates on Tuesday led an effort to restore specific sexual orientation-inclusive language to the UN resolution condemning extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.
The resolution affirms member states’ obligation to human rights and highlights groups that have historically been subject to extrajudicial executions, including ethnic, religious and other minority communities, therein asking that member nations make a commitment to thoroughly investigate such killings. The resolution has included sexual orientation for the past 10 years.
Last month, Morocco and Mali introduced an amendment on behalf of African and Islamic nations that deleted specific wording relating to “sexual orientation”, replacing it with “discriminatory reasons on any basis.”
That amendment passed by a narrow 79–70 vote. The resolution was then approved by the committee, which includes all 192 member states. (For a full list of how the member nations voted, please click here.) This vote then required ratification.
Human rights groups condemned the move, with Philippe Bolopion of Human Rights Watch saying: “It’s a step backwards and it’s extremely disappointing that some countries felt the need to remove the reference to sexual orientation, when sexual orientation is the very reason why so many people around the world have been subjected to violence.”
On Tuesday however, the United Sates introduced an amendment to reintroduce the language. The General Assembly approved the sexual orientation-inclusive language with 93 votes in favor, 55 against and 27 abstentions. The resolution was then adopted with 122 affirmative votes, no votes against and 59 abstentions.
The resolution now again states: “To ensure the effective protection of the right to life of all persons under their jurisdiction and to investigate promptly and thoroughly all killings, including those targeted at specific groups of persons, such as…killings of persons belonging to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities, or because of their sexual orientation….”
Reuters reports that the amendment produced negative reactions from certain UN member states, with Zimbabwe’s UN Ambassador Chitsaka Chipaziwa comparing the move to codifying acceptance of bestiality and pedophilia, saying: “We will not have it foisted on us. We cannot accept this, especially if it entails accepting such practices as bestiality, pedophilia and those other practices many societies would find abhorrent in their value systems.”
He continued, “In our view, what adult people do in their private capacity by mutual consent does not need agreement or rejection by governments, save where such practices are legally proscribed.”
Mr. Chipaziwa overlooks the fact that the resolution merely maintains what has been a decade-long inclusion of sexual orientation, and does nothing to change the resolution nor enforce anything that was not there before. His comparison of homosexuality to crimes like bestiality and pedophilia perhaps speaks volumes as to why this resolution is needed in the first place.
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice welcomed the adoption of the amended resolution, saying, “Today, the United Nations General Assembly has sent a clear and resounding message that justice and human rights apply to all individuals regardless of their sexual orientation.”
The International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission also applauded the vote, while noting, however, that there still exists no mention of gender identity, an omission that they urge member states to remedy.
Excerpts from the IGLHRC press release appear below (emphasis added):
“This, of course, could not have happened without the concerted and passionate efforts of several governments. But what this victory also demonstrates is the power of civil society at the UN and working across countries and regions to demand that their own governments vote to protect LGBT lives.” said Cary Alan Johnson, Executive Director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC). “The outpouring of support from the international community sent the strong message to our representatives at the UN that it is unacceptable to make invisible the deadly violence LGBT people face because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation.”
Following the November vote, civil society from around the world – including strong coalitions from the Global South – were vocal in pressuring their governments to support critical human rights protections for LGBT people. As the ad hoc civil society coalition from South Africa noted:
“The November amendment … aggravates an already difficult environment for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people and their defenders, who live in continual fear of violent attack and experience discrimination throughout Africa and many other parts of the world. …and ignores the overwhelming evidence that people are routinely killed around the world because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation.”
This marks a return to previous inclusive language that governments in the UN have supported for close to a decade. These abuses have also been consistently documented by UN Special Rapporteurs in reports to the UN Human Rights Council and its predecessor, the Commission on Human Rights, a point noted in today’s statement by Belgium on behalf of the European Union.
Regrettably, governments have so far failed to include in the resolution mention of, or specific protection around, killings committed on the basis of gender identity. This is despite the fact that transgender people around the world are among those most vulnerable to violence and killings.
Several swing states indicated a change from their votes in November. South Africa, a key vote from the African region, stated that in today’s vote they were “guided by our Constitution that guarantees the right to life” and that “no killing of human beings can be justified whatsoever.” Colombia, which abstained on the earlier vote, also offered its unequivocal support during the new vote.
Although several countries claimed a supposed lack of a definition of sexual orientation in international law as a reason for their opposition, countries such as Rwanda firmly rejected this saying: “Take my word, a human group need not be legally defined to be the victim of executions and massacres as those that target their members have [already] previously defined [them]. Rwanda has also had this bitter experience sixteen years ago. It is for this that the Delegation of Rwanda will vote for this amendment and calls on other delegations to do likewise.”
Today’s vote affirms the message of UN Secretary Ban Ki Moon, who on International Human Rights Day, delivered an unequivocal statement – much quoted by States supporting the amendment – on the obligation of the UN and its member states to end violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
He declared, “Together, we seek the repeal of laws that criminalize homosexuality, that permit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, that encourage violence. People were not put on this planet to live in fear of their fellow human beings.”
You can read the full press release and also view a full list of how member states voted by going to the IGLHRC website here.
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