Culture is invoked more frequently in UN debates on sexuality than on any other issue. Yet in many countries, the laws prohibiting and punishing homosexuality were introduced by colonizing countries and not part of the indigenous culture.
Message submitted by Chung To / Chi Heng Foundation / China
To: Foreign Minister, People’s Republic of China
CC: Chief Representative of the PRC to the United Nations
Date: March 14, 2004
RE: The Brazilian Resolution on Human Rights and Sexual Orientation
We are a group of individuals and organizations who care about social harmony and equality. We support equal treatment of all citizens in China, including lesbian women, gay men, bisexuals and transgender men and women (LGBT).
The United Nations Commission on Human Rights, of which China is a member, will hold its 60th session in Geneva from 15 March to 23 April, 2004. We would like to draw your attention to the debate on sexual orientation generated from a resolution proposed by the Brazilian Government during the 59th session (the "Brazilian Resolution"). This resolution is a confirmation that human rights violations based on sexual orientation or gender identity are of concern to the international community and belong firmly on the international human rights agenda.
There are still countries where homosexuality is punishable by heavy prison sentences and in some instances death. In some countries, lesbians, gays and transgender people face an unbelievable amount of violence, both physical and psychological imprisonment, torture and cruel and ill-treatment (including rape and forced medical treatment), and humiliation. Often the police and other authorities are complicit in this violence.
“Culture” is invoked more frequently in UN debates on sexuality than on any other issue. Yet in many countries, the laws prohibiting and punishing homosexuality were introduced by colonizing countries and not part of the indigenous culture. Behaviors and practices that would today be categorized as homosexual were often part of a pre-colonial culture that was tolerant and even accepting of such behaviors. Countries such as Singapore, Malaysia and India, criminalize same sex relations as a legacy of their colonial past. Hong Kong, during the British colonial era, also had laws criminalizing male homosexual acts which were introduced by the British. Homosexuality was decriminalized in 1991 in Hong Kong.
Although it does not create new norms or mechanisms, the Brazilian Resolution is a necessary reaffirmation by governments of a principle already recognized for more than a decade by the UN treaty bodies and the Special Procedures of the Commission: that discrimination and other human rights abuses based on sexual orientation are violations of international human rights standards. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of which China is a signatory, states that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”
China has a tradition of tolerance of sexual diversities. Currently there are no laws which criminalize homosexuality. Transgender people are recognized legally in their new gender. In addition, we are very encouraged by the de-listing of homosexuality from the list of mental disorders by the Chinese Psychiatric Society in 2001.
Supporting the Brazilian Resolution does not necessarily mean supporting homosexuality. Supporting this Resolution means the government recognizes that no one should subject to imprisonment, torture, violence and discrimination, regardless of sexual orientation. Since Brazil proposed the resolution, many countries around the world have expressed support either by co-sponsoring the resolution, or agreeing to vote yes.
We believe the Chinese Government cares about human rights issues and is committed to providing equality to its citizens. We urge our government to join these countries by supporting the Brazilian Resolution to ensure human rights for everyone regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and to lobby other governments to do the same.