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IGLHRC collaborator Marcelo Ferreyra on UN premises in Geneva
Gays in the U.N.? We'll get back to you.

in WORLD, 03/06/2010

Egypt led a coalition of conservative countries in blocking a well-known New York-based gay rights organization from gaining accreditation as a full-fledged advocacy group by the United Nations, prompting complaints of discrimination by the United States and Britain.

The action came in a meeting at U.N. headquarters of an obscure NGO committee that approves the accreditation of thousands of private lobbyists and advocacy groups that want to work at the United Nations. Since 2007, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission has sought U.N. "consultative status," which would allow it to obtain a grounds pass and participate more formally in U.N. meetings on human rights, health, and other issues. But each year, a coalition of conservative countries led by Egypt, Pakistan, and Qatar have delayed action on the group's application, posing dozens of detailed questions they claim have never been adequately answered.

"It's very clear that the vote to block our application from action in the NGO committee is a clear case of discrimination," said Sara Perle, a spokeswoman for the group. "We're not the first NGO to face this kind of discrimination in this committee and I'm sure we won't be the last."

On Thursday, the United States sought to force the committee to vote on the merits of the group's application, but Egypt invoked a procedural "no action" maneuver that will delay consideration for a year.

"This NGO is committed to combating discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity," said Kelly Razzouk, the U.S. representative at the meeting. "It has contributed to valuable research on HIV/AIDS and its work is well known to this committee." The U.S. representative said the group has "answered over 44 written questions, giving delegations more than enough time to ask questions and have those questions answered."

But Egypt's representative, Wael Attiya, said his government was still not satisfied with the U.S. group's answers to a series of questions on how it defines sexual rights. "We have reviewed the answers and thanks. We believe the questions were not answered in a straight way." Attiya also expressed concern about whether the group might promote a worldview that could subject religious leaders to persecution. If a "preacher says that a relationship between a same-sex [couple] is wrong, will the preacher be hunted?" he asked, according to official notes taken at the meeting by a delegation.

Angola, Burundi, China, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, and Sudan backed the Egyptians. Turkey abstained. The United States intends to protest the Egyptian action when the matter is brought before the larger 54-member Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), which oversees the work of the NGO committee. ECOSOC generally rubber-stamps the committee's decisions. But that action can be overturned if a country forces another vote in ECOSOC.

"We know from the past that their further responses will never satisfy certain delegations," according to a statement by Britain's representative, Cristina Barbaglia. Along with Romania's delegation, Barbaglia supported the American call for a vote. "Member states are allowed to ask questions, yet at a certain point we have to stop fooling ourselves," she said.

Barbaglia said that the NGO committee -- which is comprised of 19 countries -- "has only rejected applications for consultative status from organizations that have carried out actions against a member state or that have been connected to terrorist activities. The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission obviously does not fall into this category. To reject them, therefore, only serves to undermine this important principle."

ECOSOC has previously overruled the NGO committee, approving an application for consultative status last year by a Brazilian gay rights group. But Perle's group would be the first American lesbian and gay rights organization to be granted consultative status.

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