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December 30, 2011

U.N. lists LGBT rights abuses for the first time

New York City--Nine days after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton gave a strong address focusing on the human rights of LGBT people across the globe, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights turned in the agency’s inaugural, overarching examination of violations of rights faced by LGBT people across the globe.

The December 15 report cited dozens of examples of failures and victories in the protection of LGBT human rights, pointing to murders and rapes in Europe and North America as readily as those in Africa and Latin America, but also noting positives in less-developed countries as heartily as it did those in so-called “first world” nations.

“The Secretary-General expressed his concern in a speech on Human Rights Day 2010, when he stated: ‘As men and women of conscience, we reject discrimination in general, and in particular discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” the report notes in its introduction. “Where there is a tension between cultural attitudes and universal human rights, rights must carry the day. 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.’ ”

“While not addressing all violations perpetrated in relation to sexual orientation or gender identity, the present report highlight critical human rights concerns that States have an obligation to address, and highlights emerging responses,” it continues.

The report argues that existing human rights treaties already cover sexual orientation and gender identity.

“The specific grounds of discrimination referred to in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other human rights treaties are not exhaustive. The drafters intentionally left the grounds of discrimination open by using the phrase ‘other status.’ Sexual orientation and gender identity, like disability, age and health status, are not explicitly mentioned among the grounds listed . . .”

However, the report points out that the Human Rights Committee ruled in 1994 that countries must protect on the basis of sexual orientation, and later committee decisions upheld that view.

In compiling the types of violence that LGBT people face, the report notes, “Violence against LGBT persons tends to be especially vicious compared to other bias-motivated crimes . . . Quantifying homophobic and transphobic violence is complicated by the fact that few States have systems in place for monitoring, recording and reporting these incidents. Even where systems exist, incidents may go unreported or are misreported because victims distrust the police, are afraid of reprisals or threats to privacy, are reluctant to identify themselves as LGBT or because those responsible for registering the incidents fail to recognize motives of perpetrators.”

The report cites at least 31 murders of LGBT people in an 18-month period in Honduras, and a Jamaican man who was stabbed and stoned by a mob at the urging of police officers. It also noted reports of anti-lesbian violence, ranging from rape and forced pregnancy to murder, in El Salvador, Kyrgyzstan and South Africa.

It notes the nations that have repealed their laws against consensual same-sex sexual activity since that 1994 committee ruling, including the United States, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cape Verde, Georgia, Fiji, India, the Marshall Islands, Nepal, Nicaragua, Panama, independent territories of the United Kingdom and New Zealand, as well as Mauritius, Nauru, Palau, Sao Tome and Principe and Seychelles.

The report also criticized nations that do not offer asylum to LGBT refugees facing the threat of violence in their home nations, while praising a number of countries that have recently made it easier for transgender people to change their sex on official documents, including the U.K., Australia, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Uruguay and Portugal.

Another note of prohibited governmental behavior comes in the section marked “Denial of recognition of relationships and related access to State and other benefits.” The report notes that, while U.N. human rights treaties do not require recognition of same-sex marriage, they bar uneven recognition between unmarried same-sex and opposite-sex couples.

The 25-page report puts the United Nations hierarchy firmly behind LGBT rights, repeatedly positing that in instances where human rights and local religion conflict, human rights must win out. It also refers to sodomy laws in many parts of the world as a holdover from colonial history, a counter to the argument in some African nations that homosexuality was the result of colonialism.

In addition to Clinton’s speech in favor of global LGBT human rights and directions from the Obama Administration to American agencies working in foreign nations to support LGBT equality and rights organizations, the United Kingdom also said it would pull funding from nations that violated LGBT human rights. That announcement was supported by the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Perth, Australia.

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