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The German Foreign Office
ILGA and German Diplomacy

in GERMANY, 10/09/2004

Kursad Kahramanoglu Speaks to meeting of German Ambassadors In Berlin

On September 6th, ILGA Secretary General, Kursad Kahramanoglu, was invited by the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to participate in a panel discussion entitled "New Challenges in international human rights policy: Countering the discrimination of societal minorities". The discussion was moderated by Human Rights Commissioner Claudia Roth. The following speech was part of a workshop given in the framework of this year's Conference of German Heads of Mission in Berlin.

The workshop focused on new developments in the field of minority rights, on the one hand, and current discussions regarding anti-discrimination policy, on the other. In the latter context, special emphasis was given on discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation."

The Lesbian and Gay Liberation Front kindly offered a German translation of Mr Kahramanoglu's speech.

There is no hierarchy of oppression. We cannot talk about “human rights” if a core component of human identity is left unprotected.

Commissioner Roth, Commissioner Beck,
Honorable Ambassadors, Distinguished Guests

Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to address you.

I also would like to thank the German Foreign Office for inviting me to this important gathering and including the issue of sexuality as an important human right to its program.

My name is Kursad Kahramanoglu, and I am the Secretary General of the International Lesbian and Gay Association, better known as ILGA.

ILGA is the only worldwide non-profit federation of local and national groups dedicated to achieving equal rights for lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgendered people (LGBT). Founded in 1978, ILGA now has more than 400 member organisations, representing 90 countries on all continents. Its aims are to work for the equality of LGBT people, to liberate them from all forms of discrimination and to promote universal respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

When we talk about “New Challenges in International Human Rights”, I want to make it clear from the beginning that we are not talking about according any sort of new rights. Instead, we are simply reaffirming the principles that lie at the core of international human rights treaties, and supporting numerous decisions and reports by treaty bodies, UN Special Rapporteurs and the UN Commission on Human Rights itself.

“Human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated”. The Vienna Declaration provides that “human rights and fundamental freedoms are the birthright of all human beings; their protection and promotion is the first responsibility of Governments” and that “the universal nature of these rights and freedoms is beyond question.”

The principles of universality and non-discrimination are intrinsically intertwined. The integrity of the whole body of human rights is undermined if human rights can be denied to any marginalised group. The drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stated explicitly that they considered the non-discrimination principle to be the basis of the Declaration.

LGBT people come from all races, cultures and religions. They are entitled to protection against discrimination on the ground of their sexual orientation to the same extent as on the grounds of their race, gender or religion. Like human rights, human identity is indivisible, so we cannot talk about “human rights” if a core component of human identity is left unprotected.

ILGA argues that all are entitled to live in a society that includes (rather than excludes) their experiences, to see themselves as part of (rather than as an outcast) culture, knowledge, and society, to live free from discrimination and abuse based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Regrettably, not all States accept the universal application of human rights principles to LGBT people. This lack of recognition creates a climate in which such intolerance and abuse can thrive unchecked. It is essential for those who understand and respect human rights principles to affirm that human rights cannot be denied on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. This is precisely why it is important that the Ambassadors to those countries stand against the violations that are often concealed in stigma and silence — but also to uphold the basic principle that human rights must be enjoyed equally by all people.

Despite substantial progress towards recognition of equal rights both internationally and in countries around the world, LGBT people are subject to persistent human rights violations because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. Throughout the world, LGBT people experience harassment, humiliation, verbal and physical abuse. More than 80 countries still maintain laws that make same-sex consensual sexual relationships between adults a criminal offence, and in at least 7 countries the maximum penalty is death. In other countries, vaguely-worded and sweeping laws against “public scandals” or “indecent behaviour” are used to penalise people whose only crime is looking, dressing, or behaving differently from rigidly enforced social norms.

In many countries, people detained on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity are tortured and ill-treated in police custody. Many people face violence in their own communities and families because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Additionally, some countries treat homosexuality as a medical or psychological disorder; and lesbians and gay men have been targeted for medical experimentation and forced psychiatric treatment designed to 'cure' their homosexuality.

These persistent human rights violations have been well documented by UN Special Rapporteurs. The report on torture by Special Rapporteur Sir Nigel Rodley for example details specific allegations of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment perpetrated against LGBT people; including rape by police or prison authorities, state indifference to mistreatment by members of the general prison population; forcible confinement in medical institutions; “aversion therapy”, including electroshock treatment; and threats by authorities to disclose sexual orientation or gender identity as a means to intimidate LGBT people and deter them from pursuing their legal or constitutional rights.

The findings of these and other rapports like that of Amnesty International are consistent with human rights abuses in every region and country in the world… in muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Egypt, in Latin American countries like Peru, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Chili and Ecuador, in countries as Nepal, Russia and Zimbabwe… But also in so called civilised countries as the UK, the USA and recently France.

What is an ambassador? – and what good is he or she in a foreign country where prejudice and homophobia are rife? I had to ask this question to myself and think about it before I came to this meeting. After all a diplomat is just a guest in another country; and he or she does not have the power to change things, especially prejudice which is deeply rooted in many societies? Indeed, you know the answer to this rhetorical question much better than I. An ambassador, especially a German Ambassador, can be a formidable force for good on human rights in many countries in the world.

Take my home country – Turkey. For historical, political and economical reasons the German Ambassador in Turkey is high in influence and in this respect may make a big difference. On January 29 2004 Turkey's Parliamentary Justice Commission voted to alter the “discrimination” clause in the Penal Code to include "discrimination based on sexual orientation" as a crime. Homosexual activists praised the legislation that would result in criminal charges against a person who refuses anyone service, housing or employment on the basis of sexual orientation. If the law had been passed, Turkey could have become the first predominantly Muslim country to pass such a law.

But on July 6, 2004 The Parliamentary Justice Commission took up the discrimination clause and decided to replace it with the discrimination clause that exists in the Constitution. According to the tenth Article of the Turkish Constitution, discrimination based on language, race, skin color, gender, political opinion, religion, denomination and similar reasons is prohibited, but it does not directly refer to sexual orientation. This process has been decided by the parliamentary committee of the Turkish Parliament, and the debate is just now starting in the full parliament. A friendly word from the German Ambassador to the ear of the Turkish Government can make a big difference in the thinking of the Turkish Government who is so keen to be a member of the EU!

Another example is Nepal. Nepal is currently experiencing very serious instability as you all know. Reports from an ILGA member from Nepal clearly state how the situation also recently became very radical and violent for LGBT people, both institutionnally and physically, in day to day life. In spite of this, ILGA is considering holding its Asian Conference in Nepal to make a stand. German diplomats in Nepal can be a great source of strength and protection if and when we go ahead with this conference.

Last year, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights saw the biggest ever LGBT presence, with 40 activists coming from all parts of the world. ILGA itself was able to organise a team of 12 activists. They came to support the resolution on "human rights and sexual orientation” better known as the Brazilian resolution. It claims that sexual diversity is an integral part of Universal Human Rights. As you know, this unique resolution has again been postponed. I need not tell you that, if ever passed, it will be very useful in fighting homophobia in many corners of the world. I invite you to use this historical opportunity to raise the issue of sexual diversity with governments in countries where LGBT people and their rights are ignored. But many countries might very well be sympathetic to our cause: we need your help to secure the broadest co-sponsorhip possible, especially in Latin America and the Caribbean. This will also be fundamental, as the resolution cannot appear to be a “western initiative”.

I could give you more examples; but I hope the message is clear: an Ambassador can be a great human rights activist, provided that he or she has the knowledge, willingness and commitment to human rights… On our website we have the legal situation as far as we know in almost all countries. My suggestion for you would be to take a look at the reports of Amnesty and our legal survey for the country you are based in and include the position both legal and social of LGBT people in the dialogue you have with the governments AND with the NGOs you work with and support.

Fighting against all these widespread and recurring human rights abuses is the aim of ILGA. We have been fighting against and articulating the plight of the world LGBT community for 26 years. It is, however, one of the “New Challenges in International Human Rights Policy” for you.

There is no hierarchy of oppression. If we want a world free from discrimination, oppression on the grounds of sexuality is as important as the other forms of discriminations. I say this because this is the first ever meeting at an ambassadorial level in a country which is considering how its representatives abroad can tackle discrimination on the grounds of sexuality.

I thank you very much for this initiative and for inviting me here today.

Kursad Kahramanoglu
Secretary General of ILGA
The International Lesbian and Gay Association

September 6th 2004
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