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UNITED NATIONS 2005

in WORLD, 24/03/2005

How long will LGBT rights be ignored at the UN?

August 6th 1992. For the first time ever, homosexuality was openly addressed at the United Nations. In the name of Human Rights Advocates and ILGA, Professor Douglas Sanders decried how Lesbian and Gay rights had received no attention in the human rights work of the UN. He called it "a serious omission". 11 years later, in 2003, Brazil presents a resolution on sexual orientation at the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, immediately stopped by a solid block of countries. After Brazil’s decision to defer its discussion in 2004, the question still remains unanswered: how long will LGBT rights be ignored at the UN?

When the resolution was introduced in 2003, ILGA naturally praised it as a historic move and organized an international campaign to support it in acccordance with its members’s decision at the 22nd ILGA world conference in Manilla. ILGA Members also decided that the association will campaign for the inclusion of gender identity in the resolution. The campaign, which a specific website - www.brazilianresolution.com - was set up for, culminated in 2004 with the handing of a petition of 45,000 signatures to the Chairman of the UNCHR, including those of almost a thousand LGBT associations and other civil NGOs supporting the resolution.

A solid block of countries, under pressure from the Organisation of Islamic Conferences and the Vatican opposed the passing of the text at the UNCHR in 2003. In 2004, realizing that the resolution still did not have sufficient support to ensure passage, Brazil decided to postpone discussion until 2005.

Though the resolution has never been debated at the UN, it has created a unique opportunity for LGBT organisations to come together around a common goal. In 2004, the joint efforts of LGBT and Human Rights NGOs (Arc International, IGLHRC, Human Rights Watch to name but a few) resulted in the biggest ever LGBT presence in the history of the United Nations with close to 40 activists from all parts of the world. ILGA participated in this collective effort inviting a dozen activists to Geneva. These activists, all strongly committed to the struggle for equal rights in their respective countries gave speeches, participated in panels during and within the UNCHR, and liaised with national delegations. Thanks to an invitation by Minister Sergio Cerda, head of the Argentinean delegation to the UN, a group of activists led by ILGA had the opportunity to express their concerns on human rights violations on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity to the GRULAC, the UN Latin American and Caribbean group.

Fears that Brazil will not push for a debate on the resolution in 2005 have been building throughout the year. An “International dialogue on sexual orientation and human rights” convened by Arc International and the Liu Institute gathered 60 activists in Geneva in December 2004. During the discussions a general consensus was formed and called for the implementation of a much broader strategy that would use several different approaches to replace the previous reliance on a successful vote on the Brazilian Resolution. The different elements of this strategy are:
- Building a stronger basis for LGBT rights within international human rights law by sending information to all the existing UN human rights bodies such as the Human Rights Committee and other treaty bodies and special rapporteurs;
- Working towards a cross-regional resolution or resolutions on sexual orientation and gender identity in 2006;
- Building on the success of the Resolution on Arbitrary, Summary and Extra-judicial Executions last year. Passed with an increased majority in the 60th UNCHR Session, it mentions sexual orientation as a ground for protection;
- Starting a campaign to counter the use of religion by different fundamentalist groups (Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu etc.) that target LGBT people.

All of these UN-related works reaffirm the necessity of our continued presence during the coming sessions of the UNCHR. Even though the resolution might not be presented this year, ILGA will try to build on the work initiated in previous years to ensure that the issue of sexual diversity and gender identity remains a focus of discussion. Contacts with a series of donors should allow ILGA to organize a team of activists to be present during the first two weeks of April. ILGA will also hold its World Board meeting in Geneva during the same period. It is likely that a similar delegation than to the one ILGA brought in 2004 will be able to participate in our lobbying efforts at the UN, making statements to the UNCHR plenary sessions and lobbying their national delegations.

ILGA is also working on organising panels to be held during and within the UNCHR. Thanks to an invitation by the ICJ, the Intl. Commission of Jurists, ILGA will co-sponsor a panel on Human Rights violations on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. Days following this first initiative, ILGA plans to hold three panels which will address what we feel are key issues:
- Explaining why gender identity must be included in order to protect transgender individuals;
- The relationship between homosexuality and religion, with particular attention paid to the situation of LGBT people living in non-secular states (notably Muslim countries)
- Addressing the issue of discrimination in the workplace and highlighting the positive role of international trade unions.

Though it is difficult to say what will happen during the next session of the Commission on Human Rights, one thing is clear: the Brazilian resolution has been a singular opportunity to put LGBT rights back where they belong, on the international human rights agenda. Unfortunately, discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity remain to this day the only grounds for discrimination not specifically addressed by a UN Resolution. Our work at the UN therefore needs to be seen as a long term strategy: beyond our presence in 2005, the next ILGA World conference will be held in Geneva in spring 2006. Its title “UNited we stand” is a clear statement of the growing importance we give to the recognition of the LGBT community and its rights by the United Nations. The conference which will take place during the 62nd session of the UNCHR will be another example of our commitment to this work.
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